Monday, September 21, 2009

Somewhere above the Rio Madre de Dios

Southeast Peru. We're flying into Puerto Maldonado, a frontier city near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia. From there, we travel upriver by boat into the Tambopata National Reserve, a protected area that is part of the southern Amazon Basin. We have flown inland from Lima on the Pacific Coast, over the Andes Mountains to Cusco, and now south into the jungle.

From the air, I see vast stretches of green -- broken only by the winding rivers that feed the Amazon. There are animals and birds and even indigenous people who are rare, endangered, and specific to this region. But even as I revel in the strangeness and the beauty, I think about the changes coming from the east. A transoceanic highway is being built that will cross South America and link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The road will pass through Puerto Maldonado and open this area to trade, transport, malaria, people, and a more modern world.

Manifest destiny. I am completely cynical about the aims and outcome of this road, this progress. Who profits? Not the local people. Not the jaguar, nor the macaws nor the monkeys, nor the vast diversity of plants and animals of this region. Who stands up to the mining companies and the big oil and gas and lumber conglomerates? Who refuses the drug trade, the animal trade, the human trade?

Wanted: A new breed of human beings. A paradigm shift. A critical mass. A new definition and model of progress that improves more than it destroys. Needed immediately across the globe. Needed urgently in the tropical forests of South America. Matter of life and death.

Apply now.

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