Reasons for Hope and Action: the work of the Pachamama Alliance – July 2015
Recently, we were talking about our recent journey to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and we were asked to explain WHY there is a reason to hope that action now may actually make a real difference, and why does it matter so much for the rest of the world?
Here’s our answer:
First, why it does it matter? As we all know, the Amazon is the lungs of the world. Not only that, but the territories at stake contain some of the most bio-diverse eco-systems on earth, which matter in terms of the long term resilience of planetary life and have much to offer humans, as well, of course as having an ineffable right to be here. Then there are the people. As one of the participants on a recent Pachamama journey said “I knew that the Amazon was the lungs of the world, but what I didn’t know ‘til now was that the people are the heart of the world”. In our experience, these people have so much to share with us that is utterly precious. Their strength, gentleness, sensitivity, patience and wisdom is
like nothing we’ve ever experienced. Their knowledge of how to live in community, how to dream, their use of medicinal plants and much more make them “stars of hope” for our time and for our evolution as a species. Their way of life is totally inter-woven with the jungle that they live within.
Ecuador is a tiny country on the equator. Just like the whole world, it’s at a tipping point. If it goes in the direction of sustainable development that draws on the “integration of the best of indigenous wisdom with the best of modern knowledge” (to quote Achuar leader Domingo Peas) then it would be a flagship of possibility for the whole world. Though there is much stacked against this possibility, there is also a lot in its favor, and we think it has one of the best chances to make this ground breaking shift to a new era of possibility for people and the planet.
Next, some background. President Correa’s government of Ecuador came to power on a progressive, social and indigenous ticket. Correa is an intelligent, charismatic man who has done lots of good or the working class and poorest Ecuadorians. He has done many bold things to take back his country’s sovereignty, including removing US and other global businesses to ensure that profit generated in Ecuador stays in Ecuador. His government (with input from the Pachamama Alliance) was the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of nature in the constitution. The Rights of Nature, originally strongly backed by the government, is now acting as “greenwash” and has no legal teeth. Few actual laws have been passed that are congruent with it and only a handful of the many legal cases filed have won in support of the rights of nature. In actuality, economic ‘development’ is being protected, not nature and the people who live within it and want to protect it. The courts are now controlled by the government, and any judge who rules against the government knows he or she will not be a judge for long. Correa borrowed huge sums from the Chinese in order to build the roads, hospitals and schools for his country. Now they want to be repaid, in oil or in cash. Over the last years, Correa has turned against his progressive principles and brands organizations with a commitment to indigenous and environmental rights as violent thugs who oppose the development of Ecuador. ‘Fundacion Pachamama’ (the NGO which was the Ecuadorian sister organization to The Pachamama Alliance) was closed down by the government in late 2013, seen by many as an attack on civil society and the beginning of a new and darker era in Correa’s reign. Through all the real benefits he has given to indigenous people throughout Ecuador (schools, roads, etc) he has divided their powerful solidarity. Many indigenous people see the benefits Correa has brought them without also seeing the way he is eroding their rights to protect their natural habitat. His focus is on economic development. He sees the people of the jungle as “poor primitives” who have to be helped out of their backward and impoverished way of life. He has, of course been invited to go and “see for himself” many times, but has, so far, declined the offer. Correa has tried to sell oil rights to huge blocks of pristine Amazon, seeing this as a necessary sacrifice for the good of his country. Part of this process has been a fake consultation with the indigenous people which is required by law prior to any such deal. Through the work of the Pachamama Alliance, the Achuar now own the title to their own territory, but do not own what is under it (this is the same in European law). So far only the rights to a few blocks have sold, but those include blocks 79 and 83 where the Sápara people live. The oil companies which have bought these blocks are from China, Chile and Belarus, and have very little to lose in global public relations terms. The mood in Sápara territory is a mixture of hope and deep concern. Our feeling from them is that the situation rests on a knife-edge.
Here follow some aspects of why there is cause for hope.
1) Cause for Hope: The Achuar are a powerful, well-organized, intelligent warrior people (about 14,000 people total in Ecuador and Peru) who have never been dominated. Even the conquistadors left them alone, as they were such fierce fighters. They stand tall in their own authority and their own roles as care takers of their land and forest. Until very recently they were united in standing against oil, but the government has recently managed to break that unity with a concerted effort of what amounted to bribes and propaganda. Whether or not this unity returns, many Achuar communities, as well as many individual Achuar men and women are united in being clear that, whilst they live, they will not allow any oil exploration on their lands. They are willing to fight and die for this, and have also pledged to help the Sápara defend their territory if it is invaded.
See: http://youtu.be/XFoDX3FCZZ0 – The fierce passion of a young Achuar leader
2) Cause for hope: The Achuar are part of a global alliance (The Pachamama Alliance) that they themselves called into being 20 years ago. This alliance supports them legally, morally, financially, and with communications, knowledge, support for local projects, and also gives them the resources to
organize themselves. It has worldwide communications, so whatever happens in the Achuar territories cannot be hidden from the world. The Ecuadorian government knows this. For more information see www.pachamama.org Despite Fundacion Pachamama being closed down, the work on the ground and on many levels continues, now financed and directly supported by the US-based Pachamama Alliance.
3) Cause for hope: The global price of oil is currently low so oil companies who are eyeing the Amazon are looking at low returns and high risks. This means a low incentive to try to invest in oil extraction or to buy more oil rights.
4) Cause for hope: The Pachamama Alliance is working with high level universities in Ecuador and the US to create an alternative plan for Ecuador independent from oil extraction. The Alliance have always been a forward thinking, realistic organization who want to work with the government for the good of all. With low oil prices Ecuador necessarily has to contemplate oil-free economic strategies.
5) Cause for hope: Since being formed 20 years ago The Pachamama Alliance has been successful at protecting the entire southern Amazon of Ecuador in partnership with their indigenous partners who inhabit this area (Achuar, Sápara, Shuar, Shiwiar, Sarayaku-Kichwa). It is still pristine. For a small
organization with a tiny annual budget even compared to an oil company’s hourly profit, this is a result of potent action on many levels. The Alliance recently received recognition from a Harvard study, which noted their work as exemplary on Participatory Sustainable Development. People such as Margot Anand, Deepak Chopra, John Gray, Jack Cannfield and many others agree with and support The Pachamama Alliance wholeheartedly.
6) Cause for hope: Achuar and Sápara communities are working with the ‘Pachamama Alliance’ and other NGO’s to create local, sustainable economic development based on micro eco-tourism and other innovative ideas that are good for the community, good for the forest and good for the world. Examples are the Sápara Naku project (Manari’s community) and Sharamensa (The Achuar community project of Domingo and Augustine). Visionary leaders, like Domingo Peas and Manari, who have represented their people and indigenous rights on the world stage are feeling that the time is right to commit to their local flagship projects.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QF1kiVE1iQE- Manari speaks during our Journey there in January.
7) Cause for hope: President Correa’s government is vulnerable right now. He lost Quito (the capital) in the last local elections, and the intelligentsia has turned against him. He is trying to hold onto power in moving towards an attempt at dictatorship. The Ecuadorian people have a strong indigenous movement (which 10 years ago could stop the country). This movement has been divided by clever government tactics, but there are some powerful indigenous leaders who may be able to bring back the unity and strength of their movement, especially if Correa becomes more explicitly outrageous.
8) Cause for hope: Correa came to power on a strong mandate for indigenous rights and green issues. He has done many good things for the ordinary people of Ecuador and is very intelligent. It may be that he can change his mind and come to understand that, far from being impoverished people, the tribes of the deep forest and their way of life, protecting the lungs of the world, are deeply precious for us all.
9) Cause for hope: Correa is a catholic. The Pope is pretty radical on green issues and if someone can manage to get an accurate message to the Pope he may be one of the few authorities in the world able to guide Correa to a better way. Currently it is thought that the Pope has been persuaded by Correa’s apparent commitment to sustainability (e.g. the constitutional ‘Rights of Nature’ which are not being supported through in action) and believes the “greenwash” propaganda rather than having access to real information about what is happening.
10) Cause for hope: Sarayaku. Pachamama Alliance lawyers successfully defended this action in a 10-year fight. See the video: ’Children of the Jaguar”
11) Cause for hope: Augustine, the young tribal leader who speaks so passionately in the video told us that their ancestors had foreseen this time. They had foreseen that the Achuar would reach out to stand with and for the forest with people from all over the world. And they foresaw that the forest WOULD stand. The Pachamama Alliance is results from that reaching out, and we (including you if you are still reading this) have heard the call.
12) Cause for hope: The world is watching. Ecuador is a tiny country with the potential to become a flagship example of what is possible if, as Domingo says, the best of indigenous wisdom is integrated with the best of modern knowledge, to take care of people, planet and the well being of our future generations.
Why is this so urgent now?
Cause for urgent action. It’s a critical moment in time. It’s probable that in a few years it will be clear globally that for the survival of life on earth we HAVE to keep oil and coal reserves in the ground. The question is: “can keep them in the ground now, and keep the forest intact for the next few years?” These areas of the Amazon are still there. The Ecuadorian government is trying to sell off the oil reserves now. The Pachamama Alliance is one of the most effective organizations in this through their true partnership work with indigenous communities. The Ecuadorian government’s action in the enforced closure of the Fundacion Pachamama – an NGO – has meant that the Pachamama Alliance has
a huge funding gap at this most critical time. It also means the work in Ecuador lost vital European funding from governments and charities that had funds slated for Latin American NGOs. This means that the money you raise now for the Pachamama Alliance is more important than ever to maintain their positive and protective influence on the ground in Ecuador.
Why does this matter?
The Amazon is a huge CO2 sink, giving a strong stabilizing effect to the world climate. The forest contains an immensely rich bio-diversity that is an essential part of life proofing our planet. The indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon embody a way of being which is a star of hope and possibility for us all. If we lose these, the Amazon rainforest, often called the lungs of the world, and the people, who have been called the heart of the world, and the bio-diversity, part of the life of the world, we lose a huge part of our planetary inheritance, and a huge aspect that underpins our hopes for the future of life on earth. The territories of the Achuar are still intact, still virgin, still in their full bio-diverse glory. There is so much to protect. And these territories are severely threatened right now. Please stand with the Achuar and with the Pachamama Alliance and with life on earth. The time is now.
So there you have it. On our recent journey in the Amazon we were often faced with the agonizing question: ”What will happen?” And we know that we don’t know. But we do know that what happens depends on what many, many people do, or don’t do, … including you and me. If you want to take this opportunity to step up and become a donor partner to the Pachamama Alliance, you will be supporting work on many levels that has the best chance of success. There are no guarantees, but energy and money invested in hope in this way has every chance of paying high dividends in terms of real hope for the future.
With love, Susannah and Ya’Acov Darling Khan