As we have learned from the events of last week in which hard-working taxpayers were forced against their will to bail out Wall Street with at least $700 billion, free markets and free trade are only free to the rich; the rest of us are forced to pay dearly for those markets and trade while receiving little or no benefit in return. Many of us, sadly, must pay for those "free" markets and trade with our very lives.
Copyright -- Gleison Miranda/FUNAI
A case in point is Peru with which the U.S. entered into a Free Trade Agreement ("FTA") at the end of 2007. Now, less than one year later, the country is in the midst of mass demonstrations and strikes aimed at protesting the fruits of this "free" trade arrangement which, among other things, permits easy access of multi-national lumber and oil companies to the rich resources of the Amazon Rainforest. It would be regrettable enough that these companies would be permitted under the FTA to destroy the rainforest, literally the lungs of the world. And, with 72% of the Peruvian Amazon already under concession to oil and gas companies and with more to come under the FTA, that is exactly what is happening. See, "Oil and Gas Projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to Wilderness, Biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples."
What is worse, the free exploitation of the Peruvian Amazon is now leading to the mass displacement and mass deaths of formerly "undiscovered" indigenous tribes. According to the non-profit group Survival International which defends the rights of indigenous peoples, the recent photo of members of an "undiscovered" tribe taken in Brazil (pictured above) turned out to be members of a Peruvian Amazon tribe displaced by loggers.
As David T. Rowlands, Phd., noted in a recent article entitled, Red Gold, Black Gold, An Amazonian Nightmare, "[N]ot since the dark days of the nineteenth-century rubber boom has so much destruction been visited upon these isolated rainforest tribes, who currently face the very real prospect of annihilation." Rowland explains that these tribes are being wiped out by multi-national companies in search of mahogany and oil. The loggers are particularly brutal, Rowland relates, routinely torturing and murdering the indigenous peoples who get in their way, and forcing the others to flee. As he notes, and as Survival International corroborates, "[T]ypical death rates exceeded 50 percent within a few months of first contact--a replication of the original pattern of conquest and colonization in the Americas." And, "since ratification of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement," the pace of the development in the Amazon, particularly by the oil industry, has "been greatly boosted."
Survival International has a wonderful, though disturbing, short film on the process of dislocation and slaughter of the "undiscovered" Amazonian tribes of Peru which I urge you to take a look at HERE. Take a close look, for we shall see more of this type of violence and destruction if the Colombia FTA is passed by Congress.
While the effects of free trade in Peru are horrendous, the good news is that people there are fighting back. For example, this past September, mass protests by the indigenous peoples themselves forced the Peruvian Congress to overturn decrees of President Alan Garcia -- decrees made to bring Peruvian law into line with the FTA -- which would have opened the Amazon rainforest even further to mineral exploitation by multi-nationals. The indigenous tribes continue to protest the assault by the oil and lumber companies and the threat by President Garcia to reinstitute the decrees overturned in September. And now, the indigenous tribes are being joined in struggle by laborers who, led by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), are striking for more just salaries and health benefits. Further demonstrations are taking place to force mining companies to pay a just share of taxes to the regions in which they mine.
I urge all those reading this post to support these struggles by (1) donating to Survival International so that it can continue its work to protect the indigenous of the Amazon; (2) writing the Embassy in Peru to protest the government's treatment of labor and indigenous in Peru; and (3) writing your Congressional representatives to urge them to oppose such Free Trade Agreements in the future, including the Colombian FTA which is still up for consideration.
Finally, we should all take inspiration from those who, like the people of Peru, are fighting against the exploitation being carried out in the name of free markets and free trade. We too need to strike and demonstrate against a government which, on a bi-partisan level, ignored the voters and taxpayers by forcing us to bail out the profiteers on Wall Street while giving us nothing in return.