By Pablo Cingolani
When the rich and powerful deforest, they take food out of the mouths of the children of the poor. It did not reach the undoubted fact of having stopped the killings that began a year ago: we must end the system, the apparatus and the superstructure that make killing in the Amazon a normal, habitual, predictable event.
Nora Montero is the widow of Bernardino Racua, the indigenous leader of the Pando peasants who was murdered that fateful September 11 of last year in Porvenir in a shameful massacre of which she became his emblem.
Bernardino was a descendant of Bruno, the tacana hero of the Acre War for Amazonian rubber, and an agrarian leader respected by all his people. On September 11, 2009, his image was displayed on people's shirts and on posters that framed the stage where the first anniversary of the massacre would be commemorated.
There was expectation. Evo would come to preside over the ceremony. There was also a lot of fear: there was a rumor that the landlords' hitmen would kill again. There was also division: the government - with its inertia to prosecute those guilty of the massacre - had not been able to convince all the peasants to carry out a unitary act. At the same time, a similar rally was taking place in the city of Philadelphia.
But Nora was there, accompanied by some of her children and relatives, nervously walking through the dusty streets of Porvenir. The town had been filled with soldiers who had armed different security cords that had to be crossed until reaching the field and the bleachers where the act would take place. On a side stage, Luis Enrique Jurado from Chaco and the troubadours from Negro y Blanco rehearsed the chords of their songs. An announcer tried to convince people - about three hundred people - to cheer up, get together, shout some slogan. The work was difficult: fear permeated everything. You saw it in people's eyes; You touched it, you breathed it Many of the executors of the massacre, several of those who shot and murdered at close range, lived there, in Porvenir itself. And worse: they were making themselves seen, they were showing their faces. A year later, without justice for the massacred, they showed their claws again.
Among the people who came and went waiting for the Evo, we saw Nora. A reporter for the state television channel was interviewing her. We waited around until we could face it. She was desperate. What she confessed to us on camera is still recorded: during the previous interview, someone had been watching her. Challenging. Threatening. Provocative. He was the murderer of her husband. He was Bernardino's murderer.
The Evo arrived and the act began. Nora was seated next to the president of the world's first Plurinational State throughout the event. When she was summoned to speak, she was unable to do so. She barely managed to say a few broken words, as her tears kept falling. Did Evo know why Nora cried and cried?
While all this was happening, and the military prefect placed by the government made a speech to please his boss, and Evo repeated the historical injustice against the indigenous peoples and peasant communities but did not say a single word about the anguishing situation that arose. He continues to live in Pando, while the musicians sang his lyrics that spoke of homeland, liberation and unity, some of which, because they are well known, would surely also chant the massacres who were walking loose meters from the president's box, a man , another peasant leader, went with a prosecutor, house to house in Porvenir, to notify those accused of homicide. Nobody dared to show their faces and in truth, you had to have balls to do it.
Since it became known about the candidacy of Leopoldo Fernández Ferreira, the highest political authority when the massacre occurred and who is being held in preventive custody in La Paz for his responsibility in it, to the vice presidency of the state accompanying former captain Manfred Reyes, the The political climate of Bolivia's only fully Amazonian department became unbreathable.
If the peasants and indigenous people of Pando had to endure another humiliation, this was it. For this reason, many are those who fear the worst for December 6: that the murderers of their brothers will win at the polls. Some resign themselves. Others think that they will have to be faced. They all agree in pointing out the government's responsibility: one year after the massacre, the situation in Pando has not changed. Impunity, hatred, intolerance, continue to prevail, the atmosphere of no man's land reigns. It is that the causes that precipitated the massacre, the landlord and economic power structures of the most isolated department of the country, have not changed.
* * *
We flew over the department of Pando. It was created in 1938 on the territories of what was previously called the National Territory of Colonies, and before the Acre when the Rubber Barons believed themselves to be the owners of everything. When they began to arrive, at the end of the 19th century, this contempt for the indigenous began that continues to this day.
Thousands of them were slaughtered and enslaved to work in the rubber plants. Seventy years after the end of the rubber boom, latifundismo began to appear, the new enemy of the indigenous people, the peasants and the jungle.
The latifundistas, following the disastrous example of their Brazilian neighbors, who in the 70s and 80s of the last century began hallucinatory actions of massive deforestation of the forest in the states of Acre and Rondônia to dedicate them to livestock (and later to soy and agribusiness ), they devastate the forest without disgust to turn it into pasture and put some cows to ruminate that justify the possession of thousands of hectares.
This process of forest devastation persistently and painfully cornered the indigenous and peasant communities that depend on it for their survival, essentially based on the extraction of Brazil nuts, the only profitable product that sustains a low-income popular economy but basis of an alternative development model with environmental preservation.
That is why every square meter that landowners ravage the jungle, through uncontrollable fires (called chaqueos), is one square meter that they take away forever from the traditional inhabitants of the mountain and their extractive work and protection of their environment from which they feed. Literally, when the rich and powerful deforest, they take food out of the mouths of the children of the poor and humble.
It is not difficult to understand the conflict, therefore it is not difficult to understand that the problem of land, territory and the defense of the forest is the fundamental reason for the massacre last year. They are two antagonistic views.
One, that of the poor, defends life, that of the Amazon forest and, therefore, his own but also that of all of us, that of the whole world. If deforestation continues, climate change will worsen and the consequences will be suffered by all.
The other, which is linked to the transnational offensive against the Amazon (which has its emblems in the great infrastructure works promoted by the Brazilian government of Lula such as the mega dams of the Madera River and the Transoceanic - or the future Inambary dams in Peru and that of Cachuela Esperanza in Bolivia, which is also promoted by the Brazilian president) seeks to end it and calls for the death of those who oppose it, if necessary. The same death that devastated in Baguá-Peru against the indigenous people who opposed mining and oil activities. Or the recent death of an indigenous person in Ecuador.
That is why we fly over the geography of the department of Pando: to see the size of the devastation. We went in a small Cessna plane of the Bolivian Air Force, accompanied by a young peasant leader. We start from Cobija, the Pandina capital, and follow the winding course of the Acre River in the direction of Bolpebra; From there we returned following the meanders of the Tahuamanu River, flying over the Future of the Slaughter, and then we continued flying over the road to Puerto Rico and Conquista.
What we saw is terrifying and very sad, too sad. How I wish that the one who reads me, saw the damage they have already done to the jungle and feels it piercing their heart. We flew over entire regions where the landscape was desolate: the burnt, dry, yellowish land reminded you more of the Sahara desert than of a region that was disputed because it was home to the largest number of rubber trees in the world.
Not only was deforestation evident, but desertification was evident: we saw too many streams that no longer exist, scars from a corpse of what was once a forest. Some farms that we fly over - whose owners are referents of the civic and political power that unleashed last year's massacre - reminded you of the images that can be seen in North American movies: green meadows where meek cows grazed ... if they like to play at being so much? Cowboys, I say, why don't they go to Texas?
We returned to Cobija loaded with impotence, our nerves filled with so much illegality, with ten or more fires in our eyes, with images that we will never forget and a certainty: speeches on the defense of Mother Earth in international forums must end, while not taking action. There is an obvious environmental disaster in Pando, it is the work of the landowners and Evo should punish him.
What rights of Mother Earth do we speak of when every winter they are trampled without measure, illegally deforested, streams dry up, rivers are polluted, thousands of animals are killed, the jungle is inexorably ending? The locals despair: not only are they riddled with bullets, they are killed little by little every time a tree is burned.
From the air, the no man's land, where the law of the strongest and no other prevails, is seen more clearly for what it is. A crime against humanity, as UNASUR said that it was also the massacre where Bernardino and the rest of the comrades were killed.
* * *
If what has been narrated so far, it is not enough to outline the tragic panorama that is lived in Pando, it is enough to note the drama of the looting of wood in the most remote provinces of the department. The ultimate no man's land.
During the rise of neoliberalism, governments boasted that Bolivia was the country with the most certified forests in the world and that Pando was almost paradise: more than 90 percent of its surface was intact. None of this is evident when one goes to Federico Román, the province furthest from the capital of Pandina, and which is only accessible from the city of Riberalta, the sanctuary of the barraqueros, the owners of the companies dedicated to the collection of chestnuts and the logging operation, located in the Vaca Díez province of the Beni department.
A detour from the road about to be paved that connects it with the city of Guayaramerín, allows entry to Cachuela Esperanza, the former headquarters of the Casa Suárez, whose historical buildings remain there to remind us of the shameful time of the years of the boom of rubber, and that will be flooded, along with the entire population, now dedicated to tourism (the cachelas - river rapids - are impressive and the beaches, very beautiful), if the hydroelectric project mentioned above takes place.
Here you cross the Beni river. If you're very lucky, you'll do it on the prefectural ramshackle pontoon. If not, you will have to beg to be crossed by the modern and fast pontoon of the Maderas Bolivianas Etienne company, Mabet by its acronym, which moves dozens of trucks per day. Trucks carrying wood. Without any control, except that of the company itself. As we crossed the river, we entered the dominions of the Lords of Wood, with their police, their bars, their dams. A country within another country. The forest concession is ironically called Los Indios.
In this forest concession - which should be in the process of being abolished given the new Political Constitution of the Plurinational State and that even under the laws in force in the neoliberal stage only represents the right to use the forest for the extraction of wood and no type of proprietary right on the land, much less the restriction of the right of free movement and movement through the sovereign territory of Bolivia, it is acted as if Nicolás Suárez were still alive.
A few kilometers after leaving behind Puerto Consuelo –where the pontoon disembarks and re-enters the department of Pando-, there is the company's gate that blocks the entire road. Inside, there is a private security police booth whose managers are responsible for registering anyone who enters what they say is "private property", including the road itself. From now on, we refuse to register. We were also warned about the entry and exit times.
From there the land of Mabet began within the no man's land. Four hours further inland (we saw the demarcation signs for two other concessions: Río Negro, also owned by Mabet, and San Joaquín) we arrived at the Río Negro, a fluvial artery that connects the entire eastern part of the department and empties into international waters. of the Abuná River, arcifine boundary between Bolivia and Brazil.
If the presence of private police and roadblocks was enough to get outraged, what we saw in the Negro river was already maddening: the company had built a dam of logs and earth to make the trucks pass, interrupting the normal course of the water, its animal life and that of the riverside settlers.
The dammed water is the lair of one of the jungle titans and had already claimed its first victim: a young chestnut tree, whose name no one knew since there are hundreds who throw themselves into the forest each harvest season, had been devoured by a sicuri (anaconda) at the end of the summer. As of now, that death was not published in the newspapers.
When we left the Los Indios Concession, there were still issues to be surprised about. We went to the booth of the National Police of Puerto Consuelo to complain and denounce what is happening in the Country of Wood within the country called Bolivia. One of the policemen began to point out two people and said of them that they were drug traffickers, another of the endemic evils of the Amazon. The following dialogue was played, words more, words less:
- You are here to enforce the laws ... right?
- Yeah right.
- And then, if they are known drug traffickers, why don't you arrest them?
- Because they kill here. And it is not for me that I am afraid, if not for my family, sir.
Red Zone: truths that lacerate the conscience in no man's land; truths that everyone knows and few count in no man's land. Truths of the earth that should cease to belong to anyone and return to belong to those who always cared for it to make it the home of all.
* * *
So far this urgent chronicle as a result of a month-long trip to document the state of the human, social and environmental rights in the northern Bolivian Amazon.
What we assumed, a priori, to be terrible became fearful, stark and heartbreaking. The need for the State (over the abstract right of the State proclaimed by Álvaro García Linera) is becoming more and more evident.
A State, like ours, a pioneer in the world in the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and peasant communities, urgently manifests itself in a concrete, creative and effective way in the vast Amazon. It did not reach the undoubted fact of having stopped the killings that began a year ago: we must end the system, the apparatus and the superstructure that make killing in the Amazon a normal, habitual, predictable event.
The only way that this essential presence of a pro-life state is full, deactivating the persistence of a state of affairs dominated by terror and landlord power and promoting the absolute validity of human rights, is by listening to the voice of the victims, which is the most liberating form of protection.
If Evo listened to the social organizations of Pando, if he agreed on departmental policies with them, the change would begin in the Amazon. The change that all the Amazonian people long for.
Otherwise, the executioners will return and the rivers of the jungle will turn red again. Otherwise, no man's land will be more alien than ever and the fate of the peasants and indigenous people of Pando will be in their hands alone. And from them, and I want this to be understood and assumed in depth, not only their destiny depends, but also ours.
In no man's land the fate of everyone's land is at stake.
Río Abajo, October 6, 2009