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Est. April 5, 2002
July 06, 2017 - Issue 706

Transnational Corporations
"Lungs of the World"


"Destruction of Peru’s rainforests
is very much a part of the climate change
that is devastating or threatening the world’s
seacoasts and its inland food production regions."

The forests of the world are among the most important cleansers of the air we breathe and producers of the oxygen we need, and the rainforests that circle the globe are the most important of Earth’s forest cover. All are being destroyed at a death-dealing pace.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the “developed” countries or the “developing” countries, the effects are the same: Unless vast stretches of forest land are protected from indiscriminate logging, all of it would be gone in a matter of a few decades, if wood products corporations could have their way. In the U.S., there is an administration in charge that would open the most sacred places to the development of mining, logging, grazing, and drilling for gas and oil.

The same, and worse, is happening to the band of tropical forests that circles the globe, roughly near the Equator. Peru is one of those unfortunate places, although it is said to be graced with the most biodiverse region in the world. All of that is under threat from the palm oil industry, according to Friends of the Earth (FOE), a longtime environmental organization that has affiliates in 74 countries.

FOE is warning that the palm oil industry is threatening Peru’s rainforests which make up about 60 percent of the nation. Typically, the corporations that go into a country (usually “developing,” and usually poor), making promises of an economic boom, that would provide jobs for the people and enough money for the people to provide for their families.

It so happens that many of those peoples do not want “jobs,” since they live in the forests and would not know the meaning of “a job,” since much of what they need to eat or use comes from the forest. The concept of a job is creeping into their consciousness, however, because the leaders of their countries and the city dwellers know very well the concept of jobs and paychecks, since they often have been driven to the cities in search of a means to survive. The country’s leaders know very well what “economic development” means, because that is the way to wealth for the small elite in the country.

Indigenous peoples, like the Shipibo in Peru, are facing the death of their way of life, as palm oil transnational corporations come to their leaders and promise everything, while in reality, they have no intention to do anything but destroy the rainforests, take whatever is there for the taking, and leave devastation in their wake, when there is no profit left to be taken. On the way toward that end, they leave the forest peoples with no hope of ever regaining their way of life, unless they are willing to wait another few hundred years, if the forests would ever recover to exist in the same way they were when they were destroyed.

FOE recently described the wantonness of the palm oil companies: “One company, Plantaciones de Pucallpa, recently wiped out 5,000 hectares (about 12,355 acres) of pristine jungle. When their profits are under threat, companies like Plantaciones de Pucallpa will do anything to protect them. In 2014, four Peruvian indigenous leaders were assassinated for fighting deforestation, demanding land rights, and protecting our climate.”

This has been repeated over and over, around the globe, in places where the forest dwellers, the indigenous farmers, peasant farmers, subsistence farmers, and others have little defense against the power of the transnationals and their own governments. They have lost their homes, their livelihoods, even their cultures. Once those things are gone, they are usually gone forever. Those who run the corporations that are literally running over the peoples and their land do not care about any of these things. Their view is that they should adapt to “modernity” or just go away, either to the periphery of their once homes, to the cities, or just disappear.

According to FOE, the palm oil industry shows no sign of slowing down. In this year alone, the group pointed out, Peru planted 80,000 hectares of new palm plantations and, in total, the Peruvian government has almost 1.5 million hectares earmarked for future plantations.

Robert Guimaraes, president of an important federation of Amazonian peoples, has been subject to intense and increasing threats for standing up to these companies that are devastating the Ucayali region of the Amazon, according to FOE. There are alternatives to the production of palm oil, but one of the best alternatives, sugar palms, does not seem to be catching on, because there is just not enough profit to be made.

Sugar palms, unlike palm oil trees, do not require the clear-cutting of the forest. They grow in the understory of the forest and the sap can be turned into sugar and ethanol. The products of sugar palms, therefore, are beneficial to the forests and to the people who live there. Sugar or sugar syrup can be sold and the ethanol can be used by the people for cooking and heating, so that wood does not have to be cut and gathered every day for such purposes. It’s a win-win for the people and the environment. But there is not the profit in sugar palms that there is in palm oil, which finds its way into much of the prepared food that is eaten by most of the developed world. Among palm oil’s other uses is as cooking oil, which most countries, rich or poor, use daily.

Destruction of Peru’s rainforests and those of so many other nations is very much a part of the climate change that is devastating or threatening the world’s seacoasts and its inland food production regions (droughts and floods of croplands). That’s why most of the world has vowed to try to curb human-caused greenhouse gases and other environment destroyers, with the exception, of course, of the U.S., whose ruling administration denies global warming and climate change and refuses to take seriously the need to act. The Trump Administration is infected with climate change deniers and even the agency that is charged with protecting and improving the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, is headed now by a denier, whose aim is to destroy the effectiveness of the EPA, itself.

Just as the Paris Accord on climate change is a project of most of the world, so should be the preservation of rain forests everywhere. Most of humankind needs to be thinking about it in all its aspects, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. It matters little whether we ever see the jungles of Peru and the peoples who inhabit them. They are as important to the survival of the planet and its creatures as the million other elements of the biosphere, all of which have worked so well together through the millennia to bring us to this day, when we can decide whether we want it to continue or wind down.

Protection of the forests of the world, the oceans, and all the rest is important, whether we live in rich countries or poor countries, whether we live in cities or in the countryside. And that includes the U.S., no matter what the so-called leadership believes or is willing to do to solve the myriad life-or-death problems that face us. These are things that everyone needs to take in hand to solve, no matter where we come from or our station in life. The crunch is coming and survival is to be decided by each of us, no matter the failures of the rulers of the country.

Everyone has a part to play in protecting those who cannot protect themselves, like the Shipibo in Peru, because the elements of the structure of their lives are the elements of the structure of our lives, north and south, east and west. Protect the Shipibo, protect your own. Willie Smits of Indonesia is showing the way to protect the rainforests and the people who live in them, with sugar palms. And, not incidentally, he’s protecting the habitat of the orangutans and the creatures, themselves.

FOE is calling on all who are willing to protect the Shipibo to contact Peruvian officials and urge them to protect their indigenous lands and their defenders, to halt the plantations, and to stop the violence against the people. The information can be found at Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
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