The 90’s bus seat fabric is a steaming sponge against my neck, the air a thousand heavy weights against my lungs. With each switch back the bus takes, we descend deeper into the Amazon basin. Although I have left my window open, the humid breeze does little to cool my mom and I; it smells of earthy life, rain, and heat – a perfume that entices and allures, a scent that says “humans don’t walk here.” Covering the rolling mountains are dense forests punctuated by sheer cliffs and plummeting waterfalls. The land looks like the mounds of a broccoli florets: dense, green, impenetrable. The cloud forest of the Cayambe-Coca Reserve stretches from the outskirts of Quito, from where we had left at around 5AM this morning, deep into the Amazon rainforest. We are traveling to El Coca, a city 10 hours by bus into this epic forest, known to be a portal to the Amazon – “Allá, hay tierra desconocida. Es puro monte.” [There, there is unknown land. It’s pure wilderness.] my pápi told me. And the smells, the sights, the uninhabited atmosphere all told me that yes, we are going to the Amazon.
The road twists and turns for hours, the extreme heat following us further and further down. To one side or the other, there is a sheer cliff or steep decline. The humid, dense land seems so inhospitable to the lifestyle I know, and I am reminded that much deeper into this forest still remain los noncontactados, or indigenous tribes who have consciously refused contact with the outside world, and who continue to live their native traditions. This land here, this Amazon, is theirs, I think, how could my people possibly survive or preserve the land like they can? But the bus continues into this jungle, and soon the bus driver’s assistant steps from behind the wall the separates the driver and passengers and announces that we are getting close to the border with Colombia. It chills me – this boarder is known for the FARC, a world-renowned rebel group linked to drug trafficking and kidnaps – but also because of what appears next to the road: a pipeline.
Snaking from much deeper in the great rainforest runs the controversial Amazonian pipeline that carries oil from the Ecuadorian Amazon to processing plants in Colombia. Through this pipeline, Ecuador is bleeding. And as the bus drove the final four hours to El Coca, it became clear that the wound bleeds through El Coca. What they hadn’t told me is that El Coca is an oil town.
Way back in September, while living in Quito, a group of fellows took the opportunity to watch “Crude,” a documentary discussing the ongoing legal conflict between Chevron-Texaco and indigenous groups over events in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Cuddled together on couches, mattresses, chairs and pillows, many of us (including yours truly) were left stunned by the history that the film presented. While “Crude” has strong opinionative currents, two sides are presented: the indigenous groups claim that Chevron-Texaco irreversibly contaminated a large portion of the Ecuadorian Amazon; Chevron-Texaco claim that they never contaminated the Amazon, and that the indigenous groups slandered them in their false accusation. But the conflict is much, much more complex.
Ecuador, some say, houses one of the largest oil fields in the world in its Amazonian Rainforest. Unfortunately but understandably, foreign and powerful nations began stepping in to take advantage of these resources decades ago. As Eduardo Galeano of The Open Veins of Latin America writes, “[Latin America’s] defeat was implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others” 1. Following this sentiment, in the mid-20th century, the oil extraction laws in Ecuador catered to these oil-hungry foreigners. Per the 1990s contract, around 80% of oil revenues went to the oil company while 20% remained for the government by law, resulting in a whopping $2 (after military and administrative expenses) out of every $100 in oil revenue being actually invested in the communities where this oil was drilled 2. The Amazon was being exploited economically, but in the controversial Chevron-Texaco case, this exploitation extended to environmental, cultural, and social arenas.
In the late 1980s, Texaco (which was bought by Chevron in 2001) held lucrative drilling operatives in the central Ecuadorian Amazon. In 1992, however, Texaco left the country. The indigenous groups’ legal collective argue that during its exit, Texaco left behind hundreds of large toxic sludge pits in what is called the “Rainforest Chernobyl” – a total spill 30 times larger than the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill3. Although Texaco claimed that it was the fault of Ecuador for not having strict environmental laws, Texaco invested $40 million in a clean-up that included clumsily covering the pits with dirt. The results of negligent practices in drilling and in clean-up have been huge spikes in cancer and rare disease rates in the communities along with wildlife death – for example, childhood leukemia rates in the spill region have increased to four times Ecuador’s average4. And these consequences came at little economic gain – with the substandard drilling practices, Texaco saved only around $3 per barrel. The court case, though, continued after Texaco was bought by Chevron in 2001, and in 2011 Chevron-Texaco was convicted and sentenced by an Ecuadorian court to an eight-billion dollar fine . Chevron-Texaco appealed the decision, arguing that all this “contamination” talk is lies, that any contamination that still exists is from the drilling by Ecuadorian oil companies decades before their involvement and that all accusations are pure slander 5. With the appeal, the Chevron-Texaco vs. Indigenous Collective case moved to the United States.
The results of the case have the potential to completely change the future of the affected Amazonian communities – a victory could mean a more complete form of clean-up that, while in no way equals a reversal of the contamination, would lessen the severe consequences faced by the many families fighting for life. Equally as important, though, is the precedent that this case will set. Will we let petty politics of slander and corporate image allow our fellows and equals die of cancers and illness? What are the costs of cheaper corporate oil products around the world? How much of our world can we afford to let large oil companies control?
To this last question, the facts offer a sinister portrait. El Coca is just one example of hundreds of small Amazonian communities in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Colombia that are being bled out by corporate monsters. When the veins are dry, these people will be left robbed of the resources to speak up. And I consume this blood, this oil. I am the demand, they the supply. How am I not equally robbing these people at the side of Chevron-Texaco?
UPDATE: On March 4th, 2014 the Chevron-Texaco case was closed by a United States judge in favor of Chevron-Texaco based on “false evidence” provided by the indigenous communities. There will be no clean-up.
After a long night in an El Coca hostel, we boarded a motorized canoe to head to the Yarina Ecolodge where we would spend the next few days near the border of the Yasuní National Park. Lining the banks of the river stand proud trees hundreds of feet high, branches full of hanging bird nests like wild, dangling earrings. The air is full of rich, pure oxygen. But as the long, skinny boat bumped over the angry waters of the Rio Napo, hulking motor boats passed by.
“Las canoas que están pasando son del compañías del petróleo. Los pasajeros son trabajadores que viven en El Coca y viajan a los sitios cada día.” [The boats that are passing are of the oil companies. The passengers are workers that live in El Coca and travel to the [drilling] sites each day.] explained one of the staff members on board, pointing to a flame burning high above the canopy in the distance. “Las candelas allá – son donde están los sitios.” [Those flames – they’re where drilling sites are].
My brows bunch. The drilling here, in and around Yasuní, it’s already well underway. As we continue down the lush river and to the lodge, I am left swimming in thoughts. That night, I had the great fortune to sit next to Marc and Boyce, a pair of college professors hoping to lead a course in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Still thinking of Yasuní, I asked Boyce, “What are your thoughts on Yasuní?”
To many people here in Ecuador, the name “Yasuní” means much more than a National Park. While seemingly tucked away deep in a far corner of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the vast park has come to have a great significance to the Ecuadorian people. In the 1970s in the “Oil Boom,” Ecuador began numerous projects to move the nation from “developing” to “developed” status – roads, education, and health were all major focuses in the budding plans. And Ecuador succeeded in revolutionizing the nation in these areas, but at vast costs that the Oil Boom revenue did not continue to support in full. In addition to public spending limits imposed with an IMF loan, vast destruction of the coast in the 1997 El Niño phenomenon, and a drop in oil prices, Ecuador switched from Sucres to the Dollar in 2000 due to hyperinflation 6. Essentially, Ecuador’s economy was changing dramatically and swiftly.
To maintain some stability and prevent the degradation of recent infrastructure developments, Ecuador looked to the oil fields recently discovered in Yasuní, located in the far east of the small South American nation as a source of revenue. The national park, named by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, supports the world’s most diverse tree community, the highest known insect diversity in the world, a record level of bird and amphibian species, eleven primate species, twenty-three endangered mammal species, and other species of concern according to a 2004 study conducted by Scientists Concerned for Yasuní7. It therefore makes sense that millions of years ago a large quantity of biomass in this very area was slowly transformed into the carbon sludge stores, the basis of “fossil fuels,” that the western world is built upon. Equally significant, though, is that the park is home to numerous indigenous tribes, many of which remain uncontacted by the modern world. It was clear that drilling would come at high costs – a destruction of the world’s lungs and a genocide of indigenous groups some claim.
But Ecuador needed the money. In a 2007 initiative lead by President Correa, a proposition was laid out for the world. Ecuador would not drill in the park if outside funders donated half of the expected revenue that would be collected by the Ecuadorian government if Yasuní was drilled, or around $3.6 billion. Unfortunately, only $13 million was raised, and in early 2014 drilling began in Parque Nacional Yasuní 8.
When I first learned the history of Chevron-Texaco, I thought, wow, what a show by Correa. It is Ecuador’s fault for investing in these projects that it couldn’t maintain. Other nation-states have no responsibility in funding Ecuador’s development, and I’m sure there are other means to raise the money. It was the perspective of a girl raised in a well-off region of the United States, who had just left a macroeconomics course, who was blind to the world. It was in so many ways selfish.
In the Amazon lodge, over our plates of arroz, Boyce fervently replied to the seeming innocent question “what are your thoughts on Yasuní?”
“What happened in Yasuní is a global embarrassment. We had the opportunity to set a precedent, that in the realm of environmental protection we work together, that national borders artificially separate our one earth. But no one stepped up to the plate.”
His response challenged the thoughts I had held for so long. Could he be right? They call the Amazon the lungs of the Earth, not the lungs of Ecuador after all. The rage I remember feeling as a 5th grader learning about the drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge…how is this any different? In silent thought, I listened to the music of the night-time jungle serenading the river, the moon, the darkness. Thousands of insects scratching and chirping, frogs a deep bass drum, owls humming to the dawning darkness, the soft hush of large things moving in the blackness. This land here is of every single human living on our planet, and equally of no-one. The diversity, the magic, and the resources serve us all, and we march on pillaging every nook and corner. What have we let happen?
This global disgrace falls on my shoulders. My country gives tax cuts larger than the $3.6 billion hoped for by Ecuador in tax cuts to its mega-corporations yearly, and yet it was happy to turn a blind eye to a priceless global heritage site. By pausing the Iraq war (which cost $720 million a day) for five days, by taking a moment for peace in such an angry world, the United States could have contributed the entire value of the funds of drilling, not just the half asked for by the Ecuadorian government9. And I can point all sorts of fingers at the United States (which I will do in a moment, don’t worry), but much of the blame falls on me, the citizen. I knew nothing of the Yasuní drilling proposal until living in the capital of Ecuador, until the moment that drilling had practically begun. I let myself read our nicely tailored New York Times and Washington Post when I felt “in the mood.” I let myself ingest the slim accounts of CNN and FOX as portraits of life in the world. I left myself be ignorant.
We are proud of the United States for being democratic (how democratic it actually is, we can talk about another time). Oh, how our national music praises our freedoms and rights and potential as individuals to do something! But what is never sung is the reality of our responsibility: if the government supposedly represents the people and is checked by the people, we the people must educate ourselves and must be activists for the causes that we care about. We must shout, scream, and yell so that hopefully an echo will make our “representatives” think twice. We cannot be passive. I will not be passive.
Laying under my mosquito net, belly full and body aching in the relentless heat after dinner, I couldn’t help but wonder – if the population of the United States had been aware of and educated about the Yasuní initiative, would the result here in Ecuador have been different?
My Confessions, Your Confessions
After too few days, my mom and I boarded a last minute flight to Quito, arriving in the high sierra from the deep rainforest basin in a little under half an hour. In twenty-seven minutes, that heavy air was replaced by the crisp dryness of the Andes. It was like waking from a dream – sudden, unexpected, and too soon.
I began my solo journey south from the Quito area after my mom left on her flight back to the States. Each night, I dreamt myself back to the Amazon. Always, I was walking through jungle under the hot mid-day sun. All the animals and plants were resting in the intense heat – it was quiet enough to hear the thousand little marching feet of leaf-cutter ants. The fragrant forest floor bounced beneath me, sun flecks dappling the soft earth and undulating vines like spots on the back of a giant leopard. These dreams were magical.
But on my fourth night, I began to read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” and the dreams began to change: great gashes ripping open the forest floor, the ants disappearing. Most striking, however, is that the earth was bleeding – thick, hot streams bubbling out of the soil and streaking down hills. What I read in this text had and continues to haunt me.
In “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” John Perkins recounts his true story of the life of an economic hit man (EHM). EHMs, Perkins explains, are individuals indirectly trained by the government (the United States in Perkins’ case) to trap target nation-states into the hegemony of the hit man’s nation. Incredibly, the tools used in these grand schemes are legal: the EHM makes recommendations for developing nations that use U.S. companies and massive loans to encourage huge economic returns (of which the predictions are incredibly inflated) in the developing country. The developing nation will usually follow this plan, but “the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years…[and the compensation demanded] often includes…control of a canal, control over UN votes,” and more10. While Perkins mentions his role in U.S.-Saudi Arabia “relations” and Panamanian “development,” what caught my attention was the discussion of Ecuador in the EHM context.
Perkins cites that since the 1970s Oil Boom in Ecuador (that was cited earlier as the trigger for the infrastructure development projects), “the official poverty level grew from 50 to 70 percent, [and] under- or unemployment increased from 15 to 70 percent which is not uncommon for EHM targets” 10. From what political posters and news reports here claim about the benefits that Yasuní drilling will offer to the continuing development projects from the 1970s, this statistic surprised me. Of course, it’s important to remember that an unknowable number and variety of factors contribute to the well-being and economics of a nation. But equally important are the precedents set by oil drilling operatives throughout recent history, a particularly relevant one being the Chevron-Texaco case.
Further on, Ecuador is mentioned as a big target of the United States: currently, Ecuador is the 8th largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., and some say that the oil fields in the Amazon are larger than the middle-eastern fields11. Being a U.S. citizen, I am all too aware of how vitally important keeping oil prices low (and oil sources secure) is to the basic function of the giant North-American nation. Per Perkins’ explanation of the workings of the EHMs, as Ecuador was realized by the U.S. as a potentially huge player in future oil supplies, and in memory of recent conflicts with OPEC, Ecuador became a target for “development project” proposals in the 1980s. However, Ecuador’s President Roldós refused these plans and sent proposals for revolutionary hydrocarbon laws to the Ecuadorian Congress that had the potential to completely eradicate foreign oil interests from the country. Additionally, he ejected the Summer Language Institute (SIL) which was suspected to be using crude tricks and bribery to gain oil corporations drilling opportunities on community and tribal lands in the Amazon – all actions that begun to paint him as a major threat to U.S. oil interests in early 1981.
“Conveniently,” some might say, President Roldós died in a mysterious plane crash on May 21st, 1981. He had just gone to a community in the far eastern Amazon to discuss oil initiatives after speaking in Quito about his proposed hydrocarbon law. He had suspected an assassination plan, and prepared two planes – a decoy and his actual flight – to leave the small Amazonian community. At the last moment he boarded the decoy plane, the wrong plane, and evidence suggests that a bomb had been onboard.
I remember sitting in my Quito host family’s house on the big “U” of living room furniture when my host mom brought up some spy novela, soap-opera, she had watched that day. “¿Sabes que? Tuvimos un asesinato aquí también. Presidente Roldós murió hace años. Recuerdo cuando dió su lectura final acá en Quito – era sobre los cambios que quería hacer. Eso cambios iban a cambiar nuestra patria. Y murió en un “accidente.” Pero todos sabemos que no era accidente nada. Los EEUU le mató, y el presidente que le siguió después quitó todos eso planes. Que dolor de ver ese lindo futuro apagado en un momento, como el viento hace a un fósforo. Que vergüenza.” [You know what? We had an assassination here too. Presidente Roldós died years ago. I remember when he gave his final speech here in Quito – it was about the changes that he wanted to do. These changes were going to change our homeland. And he died in an “accident.” But we all know that it wasn’t at all an accident. The United States killed him, and the president that followed after ended all these plans. What pain to see this beautiful future blown out in a moment, like the wind does to a match. What shame.”
What shame is right. But not for Ecuador, as she meant, but rather for the United States. This memory set beside the context of economic hit men formed an even greater, uglier beast in my mind. But what tinted my dreams those nights journeying back from Quito to San Pedro were not the general accusations that the U.S. is taking highly questionable action in pursuing its world politics – news sources have been publishing exposés on the illegal drone warfare and monitoring in the Middle East for months, and that is just one of many covert operations that we can assume have been and are still executed. What bothers me is that I never recognized how these U.S. influences create history-deciding results until living here in Ecuador. I am left wondering what might have happened if Roldós had continued as president – would Ecuador be developed instead of developing? Would Chevron-Texaco have been reprimanded for their impact in the Amazon? Would drilling in Yasuní have been necessary? And on a micro level, I wonder if my Quito host mom would have described her spy soap-opera as a surface level entertainment, and smiled in memory of Roldós for his direction of Ecuador towards a more independent future. It scares me that the interests of one nation, “my” nation, could have the power to change so much, and that as a citizen of that very country, I didn’t realize the many places the U.S. has shaped.
So thinking back to the source of this angst, was it the work of U.S. networks and EHMs and spies that made the Ecuadorian president and his plans for an independent future vanish? Are these networks still running strong today? Do I even believe that EHMs exist?
I don’t know.
New York Times critics among a slew of others have called Perkin’s account nonsense and made-up. In his prologue, Perkins states that it was hard to find a publisher because the contents had the potential to damage the reputation of both publisher and the organizations named. Without a doubt, the contents of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” are highly controversial.
What I do believe is that the U.S. happens to get its way almost every time, “happens” being used loosely. What I do believe is that oil interests drive the United States in many decisions; in Ecuador we see the Chevron-Texaco case and failed Yasuní initiative as two small but greatly impactful examples. What I do believe is that there have been a series of precedents set by the United States taking dramatic action to influence the course of history; the series of interventions and assassinations across Latin American – Guatemala, Guyana, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela, and many more – have arcing and unfeasibly broad global consequences12.
Looking into the future, I am afraid for Ecuador. If even a small portion of what Perkins states is true, this small nation where I live will suffer. With big corporation operatives like those usually involved in petroleum, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the people suffer. To my mind jump images of my own trip to the Amazon.
The long, serpentine pipeline weaving from deep in the Amazon. El Coca, a town essentially fenced in by hundreds of oil properties. The monstrous flame burning high above the lush forest canopy.
And it is my lifestyle that drives this vampiric drawing of our earth’s blood. In the suburbs where my family lives in the States, the zoning laws create communities so separate from shopping areas that our self-focused mindset means we have to drive. Cars are practically a right. Plastics and other petrol-based items are everywhere and seemingly irreplaceable – bags, clothing, packaging (and the packaging inside of that packaging), homes, and so much more. Oil, oil, oil. And with the way the United States works, I realize that a bump in oil prices or a lack of oil would mean chaos and a complete unravelling of our mindless, consuming system. I realize that for my community in the United States to survive the way it is, “so that I can share it with my children,” I need Yasuní oil. We need Yasuní oil. I need Chevron-Tesaco to win its Ecuador case. We need Chevron-Tesaco to win its Ecuador case. I need the United States to fight for this oil interest, my oil interest. We need the United States to fight for this oil interest, our oil interest.
So this is my confession: I believe that our world needs change, now. In our politics more than anything, so that intentions to preserve our peoples and lands come before money and power. But what this change will mean for me, for my life, for my future scares me so much. I can either choose to continue living as I had in the past, or I can strive for a world where those Amazon dreams do not become just dreams, just memories. What it comes down to, though, is that I have to make that choice and act now.
What is your confession?
Why We Hate You
Weeks had passed since I arrived back to San Pedro El Valle from the Amazon, and the deep tan accumulated on my hands is starting to fade. Still, my finger tips glow a golden brown against the stark white of the plate of patacones, double-fried green plantain patties that I bring to the table for breakfast.
In silence, I take a sip of the freshly boiled whole milk from our neighbor’s cow, the rich fat coating my lips. Pápi Lauro, my only company this morning, picks up a patacón and cracks through the crispy shell with his few remaining teeth. The lingering morning air is crisp and cool.
As our deepest conversations always start, Pápi Lauro mentions que estaban dando anoche en las noticias, what was shown on the news last night. Apparently it had been a montage of Ecuador-Peru War clips and photos.
Pápi Lauro nibbles a little more patacón, and I wait – I know he will dive into his thoughts.
“Este guerra con Peru. Ellos robaron bastante terreno, casi la mitad de Ecuador, y todo era Amazonía. ¿Pór que? El petróleo. Era una vergüenza para mi patria como los reportajes internacionales la trataron la guerra como un chiste no más. Recuerdo las alamas sonando en Cuenca, gritando de los ataques que vendrían. Recuerdo viendo en las noticias que la frontera dibujada en los mapas de guerra de Perú avanzó a la Universidad de Cuenca – acá en El Valle sería Perú ahora. Recuerdo los hijos de mis vecinos muriendo, sin capaz de nadar pero mandados a las lagunas de la Amazonía. La guerra no era un chiste.” [This war with Peru. They stole so much land, almost half of Ecuador’s territory, and it was all Amazon. Why? The oil. It was shameful and an embarrassment to my homeland how the international news treated the war as a joke. I remember the sirens going off in Cuenca screaming of the coming attack. I remember seeing in the news that the boundaries drawn on the Peru maps of war advanced to the University of Cuenca – here in El Valle would have been Peru. I remember neighbors’ sons dying, unable to swim but nevertheless sent to fight in Amazonian swamps. The war was no joke.]
But what surprised me most was his next comment: “Por eso odiamos a los Estados Unidos – pues, no hablo de usted Maddy, pero de su gobierno – porque ellos hicieron nada. Esa guerra era injusto, y la nación más poderosos del mundo hizo nada. ¿Por qué? El petróleo. Ellos sabían que Perú daría el petróleo.” [This is why we hate the United States – not you, Maddy, but your government – because they did nothing. This war was unjust, and the most powerful nation in the world did nothing. Why? Because of the oil. They knew that Peru would give them the oil.]
This is why we hate the United States.
Whenever I ask what people don’t like about the U.S., the answer is surface level. Every once and awhile I hear “racism,” but no one ever uses hate.
To be honest, it stung to hear the United States condemned by someone I care about so much. As much as I agree that the U.S. often doesn’t act in the interest of our global community, often because of oil, a part of my heart lives in that country with people I love very much. Where is the balance between being a U.S. citizen, a young woman lucky enough to have been born in a powerful nation known for its opportunities, and being a U.S. citizen, a bystander of atrocities?
And that stinging did fade. Interestingly, though, the thoughts this conversation left me with somehow triggered all of the connections between readings, discussions, movies, and more, that this blog barely begins to represent. “The connection” I see between so many memories from these past few months is between Ecuador, the United States, the Amazon, and oil. How these intertwine, I will leave to you. My perspective has obviously seeped into the presentation of this piece, but what I will say directly here is that I am afraid and revelling. How did he know? How is it that my partially deaf, “poor,” campesino host dad knows what my “advanced” schools never taught me about the United States‘ oil thirst? Why doesn’t CNN or NBC or the New York Times or Washington Post headline articles on what the people thousands of miles away understand about the quickly intertwining entity that the United States and petrol are becoming? How was I so ignorant, thinking the U.S. government gave “aid” to help those in need? How am I still so ignorant?
Moreover, I understand foreign anger, hatred we could even say, towards the United States a little better. The United States is violating international law – drone warfare, illegal invasions in Panama and Iraq – similar to those of Germany leading up to WWII in its invasion of Austria and expansion of military despite post-WWI Treaty of Versailles terms. I’m not saying that the United States is a Nazi Germany. But WWII showed us that the international community can only aguantar, tolerate, so much before fighting back.
In the Amazon, I saw microcosms of the world as it unfolds today. The nature of the environment is harsh and merciless – an extreme number of plants and animals exist fighting for energy and nutrients. If one falls behind, it loses in the race, and the stronger individuals immediately take its place. This is the nature of life. And this reality is only amplified in the Amazon, where the norm is extreme. But humans have a distinguishing element from this “nature” – our humanity, our compassion. We have the potential to preserve not only ourselves, but what is left of our earth.
My querido Pápi Lauro, I hope that your grandchildren have no reason to hate the United States.
We can find many, many omens etched along the path our world has followed. But among us, there is always a seat for hope, a potential to take heed of the whispers warning us. So I leave you with a prophecy.
“Nearly every culture I know prophesies that in the late 1990s we entered a period of remarkable transition. At monasteries in the Himalayas, ceremonial sites in Indonesia, and indigenous reservations in North America, from the depths of the Amazon to the peaks of the Andes and into the ancient Mayan cities of Central America, I have heard that ours is a special moment in human history, and that each of us was born at this time because we have a mission to accomplish.
The titles and words of the prophecies differ slightly. They tell variously of a New Age, the Third Millennium, the Age of Aquarius, the Beginning of the Fifth Sun, or the end of old calendars and the commencement of new ones.
Despite the varying terminologies, however, they have a great deal in common, and “The Prophecy of the Condor and Eagle” [from here in the Ecuadorian Andes] is typical. It states that back in the mists of history, human societies divided and took two different paths: that of the condor (representing the heart, intuitive and mystical) and that of the eagle (representing the brain, rational and material). In the 1490s, the prophecy said, the two paths would converge and the eagle would drive the condor to the verge of extinction. Then, five hundred years later, in the 1990s, a new epoch would begin, one in which the condor and eagle will have the opportunity to reunite and fly together in the same sky, along the same path. If the condor and eagle accept this opportunity, they will create a most remarkable offspring, unlike any ever seen before.
“The Prophecy of the Condor and Eagle” can be taken at many levels—the standard interpretation is that it foretells the sharing of indigenous knowledge with the technologies of science, the balancing of yin and yang, and the bridging of northern and southern cultures. However, most powerful is the message it offers about consciousness; it says that we have entered a time when we can benefit from the many diverse ways of seeing ourselves and the world, and that we can use these as a springboard to higher levels of awareness. As human beings, we can truly wake up and evolve into a more conscious species.
The condor people [of our world] make it seem so obvious that if we are to address questions about the nature of what it is to be human in this new millennium, and about our commitment to evaluating our intentions for the next several decades, then we need to open our eyes and see the consequences of our actions—the actions of the eagle — in places like…Ecuador. We must shake ourselves awake. We who live in the most powerful nation history has ever known must stop worrying so much about the outcome of soap operas, football games, quarterly balance sheets, and the daily Dow Jones averages, and must instead re-evaluate who we are and where we want our children to end up . The alternative to stopping to ask ourselves the important questions is simply too dangerous” 10.
There are murmurs of scary things that are passing in our world. To many of these stories and accounts, I choose to close my eyes and ears. In blindness and deafness, in ignorance and unawareness, I keep myself from going crazy with guilt and fear. When I think back to my quick dip into the Amazon, I often sense that I remember only the bright sun and am covering the dark night – that I am hiding much of the exploitation and sadness from myself. The time is approaching that we as one global people will be condemned to a future; atmospheric CO2 levels will soon reach an irreversible level, wildlife extinction rates are climbing, and more and more people are dying of cancer. But fortunately, we have an opportunity now to choose the path before us if we shift our blinders far enough to the side to see a sliver of the frightening present. We can save what is left in places like El Coca, to clean up oil spills and destruction in the Amazon, and speak up in the politics of our nations if we mobilize now.
The biggest enemy to this change, though, is our own forgetfulness. I know I am pretty fired up about intentionality and conscious decision making right now, but it’s easy to slip into buying cheap clothing smuggled into Ecuador from Peru, or using plastic instead of paper. In the now, the cheap and easy are such strong drivers that the impact of my choices easily fall to the wayside. These “ifs” of opening our eyes to the now and mobilizing are easily fossilized as permanent “ifs” – these types of actions often remain uncommitted to because while appeal to our morals, the execution seems too grand.
Today, I am making a commitment to more consciously watch my gasoline and plastic use, consider the ethics of the companies I purchase from, and advocate for my values of safe and healthy environments for the people, plants, and animals around us. Dream Change, a project by John Perkins, offers a few starting resources that I highly recommend: http://dreamchange.org/resources/. Essential to this change, though, is my continuing education. Being aware of global events might even help me keep more Yasunís, Texaco-Chevrons, economic hit men, and wars from passing. From awareness will come meaningful action, and from this action, I hope to set an example that will shape the global shift already happening around us.
I leave you now with a quote. May it ignite in you a passion to join me in seeking the future we need, the future of the Eagle and the Condor.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” –Barack Obama
1 Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America: 5 Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Transl. by Cedric Belfrage. New York: Monthly Review Pr., 1973. Print.
2 “Ecuador – Transparency Snapshot.” Revenue Watch Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.revenuewatch.org/countries/latin-america/ecuador/transparency-snapshot>.
3 “The Worst Case of Oil Pollution on the Planet.” SOS Yasuni. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.sosyasuni.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=106:the-worst-case-of-oil-pollution-on-the-planet&catid=17:general>.
4 “Chevron’s Toxic Legacy in Ecuador.” Rainforest Action Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://ran.org/chevrons-toxic-legacy-ecuador>.
5 “History of Texaco and Chevron in Ecuador.” Texaco in Ecuador: Environmental and Health Claims. Texaco, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.texaco.com/sitelets/ecuador/en/responsetoclaims/>.
6 Beckley, Spencer. “Populism and Its Lasting Effects on the Ecuadorian Economy.” The Politics of Empire. N.p., Aug. 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://thepoliticsofempire.wordpress.com/tag/populism/>.
7 Proposed Petrobras Road into Yasuní National Park. Save America’s Forests. Scientists Concerned for Yasuni National Park, 25 Nov. 2004. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://saveamericasforests.org/Yasuni/Petrobras/Docs/7.%20ATBC-resolution.pdf>.
8 Acosta, Alberto. “Why Ecuador’s President Has Failed the Country over Yasuní-ITT.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 04 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/04/ecuador-president-failed-country-yasuni-itt>.
9 Lydersen, Kari. “War Costing $720 Million Each Day, Group Says.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 22 Sept. 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/21/AR2007092102074.html>.
10 Perkins, John. “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2004. Print.
11 “U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Company Level Imports. U.S. Energy Information Administration, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.eia.gov/petroleum/imports/companylevel/>.
12 Saunders, Sakura. “CIA in South America.” Geopolitical Monitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/us-interventions-in-latin-american-021/>.
13 Crude. Dir. Joe Berlinger. 2009. DVD.