Have you ever visited a place more peaceful? More isolated from the conflicts of the world? Think again. Even in the deepest parts of the rainforest, there are the echoes of international conflicts.
Did you know that the rainforest was the site of a war that broke out between Ecuador and Peru? A territorial dispute erupted in fighting on January 26, 1995, in the remote, rugged jungle mountains of the Cordillera del Condor, where a stretch of border had never been clearly marked and where deposits of gold, uranium, and oil supposedly lay. (Read more at http://www.onwar.com/aced/chrono/c1900s/yr95/fecuadorperu1995.htm) Peru reported losing several warplanes and almost 50 soldiers; Ecuador's official toll was about 30 dead and 300 wounded, but the casualties on both sides most likely were greater because the defenders of the rainforest from the oil czars were indigenous people. The war threatened to re-ignite in 2002. Here's how John Perkins described the situation in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman: "This war...would be fought by a few thousand indigenous warriors equipped only with spears, machetes, and single shot, muzzle-loaded rifles...The oil workers...had trespassed on lands where they were not allowed. In the end, the people of the forest went on a hunger strike in protest. Amnesty International has expressed concern that there are more conflicts between commercial interests and indigenous peoples that are unreported." There are also border conflicts between Bolivia and Brazil, deep in the forest, over transport of natural gas.
The stakes are high. Most countries--like Peru--have significant debts to the IMF and the World Bank. In order to pay these debts, countries must open areas to development and raise the cost of basic commodities. A 1991 epidemic of cholera in Peru was blamed on a rise in prices for basic commodities that was made necessary by international debt. (People began drinking untreated water in the cities.)
Read more about the impact of debt on the rainforests at http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0815.htm
A New Field of Study
As in North America, the people of Latin America are intensely interested in the rights of their indigenous peoples. While this field of
study did not become a formal area of scholarship until the 1980s, it is now the subject of both research and many popular nonfiction books.
While the government has very little reach in the rainforest, everyone knows the "customary laws." In the Andes, these rules are based on traditional principles of reciprocity, duality and equilibrium. The laws can change as residents respond to new situations.
One of the areas of law today that is very different than in the traditional societies is land ownership. Even a few decades ago, land was owned by the comuneros not by individuals. Today an individual family can get a deed to a ribbon farm along the river and that land can be left to children. That is causing a change in the way that families use their land. Slash and burn farming, which produces crops for only a few years, is rapidly being replaced by conservation farming.
Read more about changes in law at
There are also many efforts to correct the history of indigenous peoples in our textbooks. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann is a great source of information about the archaeology, anthropology and agriculture of Mesoamerica before the intrusion of Europeans.