A View From the Edge
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the leader of the capitalist, commercial, world, America, played a heavy hand in allowing a pristine wilderness to be opened up. Under the guise of bringing civilization and commerce to underprivileged people and gaining access to Brazil’s untapped wealth, our senators and Dept. of Commerce committees approved, loaned the money for and patted themselves on the back for a series of developments in the Amazon rain forest: first the Pan-Amazon Highway, then the pipeline, next a massive dam, and, finally, a stream of under-privileged workers allotted jungle land for crop production.
By now, most of you reading this will know what a farce this turned out to be. The riches amounted to gold mines where slave labor and heavy mercury pollutants procure ore for a select few of Brazil’s richest families and banks. The road cut through, divided and, importantly, allowed access to German, Japanese and American logging companies, stripping the rainforest of unique and nonreplaceable species and habitat. The farming amounted to grassland that produces pestilence-ridden cattle at a steer per-acre rate that falls short of West Texas. The energy produced by one of the world’s largest dams is devoted to industry on the coast, leaving the Indians, whose land was stolen, often without even a light bulb, although they were told they would be “uplifted” into the 21st Century.
The point is, even knowing the lies of the Amazon, knowing our governmental and industrial role in all this, we then had senior U.S. officials in the White House happily referring to a new jungle-cutting pipeline, this time in West Africa. Potential? Yes, for utter destruction, corruption and corporate greed. Under the guise of the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (you remember them, they refuse to allow members of the public access to their secret talks and plotting), Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Petronas (a Malaysian oil company) they agreed to spend $3.5 billion building a pipeline from Chad through Cameroon to a coast supertanker depot at Kribi. The amount they set aside for environmental clean-up? $1 million. Yes, it’s a joke.
And so now comes the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), a $4 billion proposal for a pipeline stretching from Lake Albert in Uganda, stretching 900 miles through pristine wildlife sanctuaries in Tanzania to the coast’s Port of Tanga. Oh, and that part of Tanzania’s coast? Home to the Dugong, sea-swimming crocs, and incredible coral reefs. Kiss them all goodbye. Who is paying for this pillage? China has a 35% stake along with the French company Total, 5% to Tanzania, and a 10% stake from the Uganda government.
Let’s put aside the idiocy of allowing the threat of environmental degradation to transpire on the coast of one of the world’s last great pristine marine ecosystems. Let’s look at that pipeline. To make the path for the pipeline, you need to first cut down all the trees, bulldoze all the streams, ponds and migratory waterways and, not least, put down that all-important roadbed: concrete. Like a prison wall in an instant, gone will be millennia worth of paths, migratory routes and native, tribal, sovereignty. Do you honestly think the remaining ancestors of the slaves, east and west coasts of Africa, will have any rights or might when it comes to billions being spent ?
The environment is a critical factor for all human life. However, once again, lobbied interests have secured the support from the last White House for a development that every scientist and environmentalist group has pronounced as fundamentally insane. In Alaska, the oil pipeline was made to go over, around and, in some cases, make way for migratory herds and yet it still causes environmental degradation. In a West Africa jungle or plains of East Africa, the danger is the worse, especially since such a roadway is a haven for two particular enterprises: poaching and logging. You can kiss the gorilla, black rhino, elephant, and chimpanzees of those regions goodbye.
Start booking a tourist visit of the hitherto private and secretive pygmy people, the Bagueli, who, like the American Indian, will be forced to dance for dollars. And you can expect garden furniture and plywood made from the heartwood of old growth forests of the Cameroons. Like the Pan-Amazon highway, the feeder roads and total access to the “jungle” will follow in quick succession and the rape will be complete.
In case you are thinking this is good for the people of those nations, think again. Chad is known to have one of the most corrupt ruling families in Africa. Cameroon is not much better, nor are Uganda or Tanzania. Maybe some people will be employed as laborers during construction and, in their hard hats and uniforms, they will be the picture of new prosperity on TV.
In the Amazon, the same uniforms years later were cut into loincloths and the hard hats used as dinner bowls. It’s all a matter of time. About the same time as the jungle groans it last unique breath, the workers will be poor again. The difference? The jungle that could always be relied upon to provide a sustainable living will have been pillaged, raped. So go ahead, enjoy your cheap gas. You are getting what you pay for: exploitation of the environment and new slavery for the ancestors of much of our silenced global population.
Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico