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Fundacion Pachamama is Dead – Long Live ALBA [Part VII of an Investigative Report]

The Art of Annihilation

February 9, 2015

Part seven of an investigative report by Cory Morningstar with Forrest Palmer

Fundación Pachamama Investigative Report Series [Further Reading]: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII


A Playground for the Rich

“No other industry so flagrantly prospers off of colonialism – none penetrates and threatens Indigenous cultures so deeply.” — Is the Sacred for Sale: Tourism and Indigenous Peoples

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Above: Zoë Tryon, ambassador for Amazon Watch and Fundación Pachamama. Photo from the article “Escape From the Amazon: A Gringo Adventure,” October 7, 2013

Zoe went on to explain that she had done the ritual with over 100 people. ‘What people?’ I asked. ‘Mainly Jewish bankers who had come to exorcise their Wall Street demons and mommy issues,’ she replied in a matter of fact wayA glimpse into further insanity and the western commodity culture that now permeates the Achuar ethnicity is beyond embarrassing. June 6, 2008, The Daily Mail: “Looking at Zoë (Tryon), she is the physical embodiment of this linking of worlds, dressed today for our three-hour canoe ride to the Achuar village in a designer dress by Wheels and Dollbaby (an Australian label she is keen to let me know is stocked in Harvey Nichols), wellington boots and chunky jungle-made jewellery. The respect she has gained among the Indigenous people is remarkable; the Achuar president tells me that he regards Zoë as his people’s ambassador: ‘She is our mother and our sister. We want her to prick the conscience of the world and awaken them to the importance of the rainforest and its people.'”

A glimpse into some of those who visit the Achuar territory can be easily accessed via the internet. In one such article, a guest of “the honorable” Zoë Tryon’s tribal journeys (Tryon formerly resided with Pachamama co-founders, Lynne & Bill Twist) is refreshingly both candid and vulgar, summarizing the full ignorance of an average American traveler. The very traveler we are to believe will be “transformed” by their experience and have their conscience “pricked” (Awakening the Dreamer so to speak) prior to flying back home to save the world. On October 1, 2013, Zoë’s guest to the jungle writes:

“Nick was a billionaire real estate mogul from LA who was going through a divorce from his actress wife…. He told me that his trip to the jungle was a ‘spiritual’ quest…. I told him I was there on a spiritual quest to boost my Facebook and Twitter ‘cred’ and that I hoped to get a bikini shot underneath a waterfall. Zoe went on to explain that she had done the ritual with over 100 people. ‘What people?’ I asked. ‘Mainly Jewish bankers who had come to exorcise their Wall Street demons and mommy issues,’ she replied in a matter of fact way…. The next morning, the shaman got in his canoe and paddled home…. ‘I need to get out of here.’ ‘Where do you need to go?’ she laughed. ‘Back to Quito. To a mall. I need a manicure. A pedicure. I need ice cream. I need Zara and diet coke.’ She looks at me like I’m not serious and then realizes I am totally serious. We organize a plane and I anxiously wait at the end of the dirt runway until it got there. Four hours later we were finally eating ice cream and having our nails done.”

In 2012 Tyron established her own non-profit, One of the Tribe, establishing partnerships with U.S. based Amazon Watch, Fundación Pachamama and Creative Visions. Tyron also serves as an Ambassador for Amazon Watch and Fundación Pachamama.

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Above: Zoe Tyron relaxing at Kapawi Eco Lodge. Photograph:Clare Kendall

The rare exclusiveness, for those who can afford it, is not lost on the elite, rather it is marketedContact with the Earth’s last remaining and most isolated Indigenous peoples must be considered an extraordinary privilege. One could argue that for the elite few who experience such a rare “encounter,” there is little to differentiate between this encounter and most all other colonial conquests in Earth’s history. The rare exclusiveness, for those who can afford it, is not lost on the elite, rather it is marketed: “We will have the rare privilege of interacting with the Achuar People in the early stages of their contact with the modern world.” [Source] The exclusivity and desire of the Euro-American elite is heightened with the understanding that they are among the chosen few to experience, perhaps for the last time, what little remains of pristine nature and Indigenous cultures. The very same pristine nature and Indigenous cultures the West has been destroying for centuries via predatory industrialization and the rabid genocide of Indigenous peoples. Such tourists, having just stepped into the Anthropocene, comprise the very, very few who will encounter the exotic and bear witness to the living vanishing prior to planetary ecological collapse. Not unlike witnessing the last rhino on Earth or any other last remaining species to walk the planet – this “rare privilege” of interaction must be considered one of many ultimate accomplishments for the bourgeoisie’s own personal “bucket list.” The more rare the spectacle, the higher the cost, the more coveted the experience becomes.

As citizens who were spoon-fed the myth of American exceptionalism, it seems likely that collectively, we as Euro-Americans have become so desperate to escape ourselves, we now find ourselves attempting to latch onto Earth’s last authentic living/breathing cultures. Simply for no other reason than we can no longer tolerate who we have become. The atrocities committed in our names have become far too egregious for any respectable citizen to further hide behind a feigned ignorance and blindness. Thus, starved for true meaning, the “otherness” of Earth’s living ecosystems and authentic Indigenous cultures is not internalized or understood – rather, it is voraciously consumed.

It is critical to note that interaction between foreign women and local men has been known (and documented) to cause community conflicts (Tapuy, 1996). One can safely assume bikini-clad foreign women being guided in canoes (by Achuar men) for leisure creates such conflict (and most likely intense jealousy) considering it has been documented that valuable time spent away from families and family responsibilities causes stress and conflict amongst many of the Achuar families/communities. Further, it has been documented that the Achuar are very jealous people, which is said to be a common trait in their culture. To understand the emotions that such selfish actions will undoubtedly evoke, yet still choose to fulfill one’s own personal wants and interests, is beyond the pale.

Cannibal Tours

Cannibal Tours

“[The film] affords a glimpse at the real (mostly unconsidered or misunderstood) reasons why ‘civilised’ people wish to encounter the ‘primitive.’ The situation is that shifting terminus of civilisation, where modern mass-culture grates and pushes against those original, essential aspects of humanity; and where much of what passes for values in western culture is exposed in stark relief as banal and fake.” — Dennis O’Rourke

Of course one does not have to read hundreds of papers via academia (another sector targeted and utilized by foundations/oligarchs) in an attempt to understand how members of isolated tribes might actually feel as fetishized “subjects” of fascination by the middle/upper class, predominantly white tourist. In some rare instances, the “subjects” speak for themselves with their thoughts, insights and feelings, unedited – shared by way of film. Such is the case in the understated masterpiece “Cannibal Tours” in which the interview of a village elder by the name of Camillus is woven throughout the film. Director Dennis O’Rourke (now deceased) communicates the commodification of human interactions (and relations) by simply filming people in their natural state. The raw honesty captured, in particular the thoughts of Camillus (unknown – 1987), is so tender and veracious, the film is almost unbearable to watch. Feelings of confusion, discontent and frustration as felt by the local native people are transparent; the superiority and ignorance of the tourist, demonstrated in effortless candour, is ugly and biting.

 “The commodification of human relations is highlighted through such photography of the locals, whereby the tourists (‘equipped with their essential “weapon”-camera’) assign monetary values to the interactions with the locals by payments. This action also introduces the element of power inequality between tourists and the natives, whereby the tourists are viewed as the one with monetary power, and the power to ‘control’ the locals, even to the extent that the locals, in the attempt to meet the tourists’ expectations, will alter certain elements of their cultures or rituals just to cater to the tourists’ likings. Through such examples, the notion of ‘re-colonisation’ can be seen whereby the whites (tourists) are seen as the wealthy and powerful group, whereas the locals are seen as the powerless with little wealth, that they have to rely on the money gained through tourism to keep their economy going.” — Commodification of culture and human relations [Source]

Although the documentary is filmed in Sepik River in Papua New Guinea (released in 1988), almost 30 years later we can recognize parallels. Note the scrappy Coca-Cola truck situated in the village (27:20). Just as Coca-Cola, having conquered the globe, has ventured into isolated jungles in the quest to unearth new untapped markets (as market share must grow indefinitely), industrialized/globalized and parasitic capitalism, having also conquered the globe, must also find new markets. As a response to this predatory economic system, we witness the targeting and sophisticated seduction of the last peoples remaining in isolation – within pristine natural settings, ripe for commodification. Note the face-painting (formerly reserved for traditional ceremonies), turned into a marketing component and an exotic novelty for the Euro-American tourist. Today, Indigenous peoples are rapidly abandoning their enviable subsistence economies – in exchange for impromptu, makeshift markets on the airstrips as the wealthy tourists descend. In a desperate attempt to sell their wares, they are in pursuit of the greenback – the greenback, backed by nothing.

“[A] Luxury top class tourist lodge with opportunity to encounter Achuar culture” — Trip Advisor Website

One could argue that since the filming of this documentary, the Euro-American has become more enlightened, with ecotourism NGOs and managers more cognitive of “politically incorrect” behaviour. Yet New York Times art critic Ken Johnson disagreed with such an assumption. Johnson once stated that if Voltaire were still around to tell the story of globalization, two of his principal character types would be “the enlightened, transnational citizen of the world and his imbecilic twin, the tourist.” It is crystal clear which character type the movie Cannibal Tours captures, yet what is not clear is the fact that under the system of industrialized capitalism, in tandem with Western ideologies of privilege and consumerism sweeping the globe, the choice of which type of traveller one wishes to emulate has already been decided.

“O’Rourke’s camera shoots the whole of a social relation that is taking over the world, the relation between the seeing and the seen. This double anthropology subtly shows how connoisseurship and condescension are linked, and how little the Western tribe of tourists understand their own culture.” — Camera Work Website

Cannibal Tours – Dennis O’Rourke’s 1988 documentary (Running time: 1:08:06)

Cannibal Economics

“The desire for profit without exploitation runs so strong, like that for ‘true love,’ even intellectuals can trick themselves into finding it where it does not exist, where… it can never exist.” — Cannibal Tours by Dean MacCannell

Consider the following study notes on Posada Amazonas eco-lodge, built in 1998. It is owned by the Indigenous Ese-Eja community of Infierno (Peru) in partnership with Rainforest Expeditions:

“[A] capitalist mindset has not only been introduced to Infierno but […] it also in some ways has been imposed upon them… this paradigm shift among community leaders whose conversations now include discussions of cost benefit analyses, product quality control, and marketing niches. The ethnographic literature also suggests a connection between ecotourism and the adoption of the Ecologically Noble Savage paradigm… this paradigm shift stemming from the commodification of the rainforest where the previous practical traditional use has been transformed into an instrumental tool for conservation and commodification for sale…. [There is] evidence not only of the adoption of the Ecologically Noble Savage stereotype in the Community, but the people’s active appropriation of it.” [Source: Take a Picture with a “Real Indian”: (Self-) Representation, Ecotourism, and Indigeneity in Amazonia, 2011]

In other words, evidence suggests that today, many formerly isolated Indigenous have learned (taught via the Euro-American) to successfully exploit the West’s idea/stereotype of the “ecologically noble savage” and effectively manipulate the tourists thereby fulfilling the exact function of branding and marketing agencies. In effect, the ecologically noble savage persona/stereotype is a growing commodity created specifically for foreign consumption, via ecotourism.

Kapawi: A Gift of Debt

“Neither the travel company nor the Achuar made a profit, and in 2008 Canodros transferred ownership of the lodge back to the Achuar. The future of this eco-jewel is now at risk.” [Source]

“Allí está el progreso, confía, sin embargo, por ahora extrañan el aporte mensual que Canodros les entregaba puntualmente hasta el 2007, por el arriendo de su territorio.” — April 18, 2010

“It has been enormously successful as a social experiment, and as a means of attracting external funding for conservation, health, communications, transportation and education, but not as a money-making venture….” [1]

According to a World Bank resource document (written by Nature Conservancy in partnership with USAID), the Kapawi development commenced with a stunning initial investment of USD $1.8 million by USAID.

While the document states clearly that “logging, oil exploitation and intensive agricultural projects had not been developed in the area when the Kapawi project was initiated in 1994 (Koupermann, 1997),” it is also quite clear from existing documents that many Achuar were convinced/came to believe that the ecolodge was the only way forward if the tribes were to resist oil development from destroying their communities.

“As my Achuar friend Domingo Peas said, ‘We are not business people, we never did it in the past… but we must learn in order to protect our territory and our forest,’ says Paulina Rodriguez, operations manager of the Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve.”

There is no doubt that the descriptive and emotive text coupled with the sensual, prototypical rainforest imagery (utilized to “sell” Kapawi) conveys to the audience that it is only by way of ecotourism, and ecotourism alone, that the Achuar can continue their mission of conservation. This is in stark contrast to the fact that the Achuar practised truly sustainable conservation for centuries before colonization began only decades ago. This constructed message is also in stark contrast to the fact that tourism has greatly contributed to and continues to exacerbate an ever accelerating planetary climate crisis.

According to the El Universo newspaper (ironically founded by El Universo heir Perasso who conceptualized the Kapawi development with Kouperman):

“Pachamama, a vital ally: Pachamama Foundation, dedicated to accompany the Indigenous peoples in defense of their territory, is supporting the tourism operation in Kapawi since its inception eleven years ago. ‘We will continue to work with them when they take control of the ecolodge, for which they provide training and alternatives for sustainable development,’ said Belen Paez, executive director of the Ecuadorian arm of this entity headquartered in San Francisco (California, USA). In addition, the German Reconstruction Bank allocated 3.5 million euros (about $ 4.9 million) to the sustainable development of the Achuar people, a portion of which will be for Kapawi.” [El Universo, October 21, 2007, Source. Emphasis added.]

It is not clear where or how the 3.5 million euros designated to the sustainable development of the Achuar people (a portion for Kapawi) by The German Bank for Reconstruction (Kredietanstalt für Wiedraufbau – KfW) was spent … or how it was/is to be re-paid. [Note that the bulk of this loan appears to be for “the zoning and protection of Indigenous territories, via Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) applied in the framework of ‘debt-for-nature swaps’ (e.g., in Ecuador).”] It is critical to note that the normalized concept of “debt-for-nature swaps” – “offered to” the very resource rich/poverty stricken states who have suffered under centuries of colonization and gross exploitation – must be considered the most nefarious of injustices. [From 2004-2011, KfW funded €3.58 million for the Tropical Forest Conservation Morona-Pastaza project in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and the Nacionalidad de los Achuar en Ecuador (NAE). Source]

 “The western economy has eroded the traditional economy. An example is in the sale of chichi [a homemade drink]. Now, many Achuar are less inclined to work or support each other without pay.”

The Kapawi development appears to have transitioned from a Western-perceived independence and freedom, to a global and very real indebtedness, liability and perpetual servitude. Considering that the results mirror our very own entrapment within the industrialized capitalist system, it is safe to assume that this was the plan from inception.

“With up to 45% of their total income coming from direct employment in Kapawi and a further 21% deriving from handicraft sales (Rodriguez 2000:3), ecotourism is now a vital factor in the local economy. The problem is that while the community may eventually be able to control the enterprise, it has no control over the market. If Canodros, the company managing and financing Kapawi, with its experience and connections in the travel business, cannot bring in the tourists it needs in order to break even, it is unlikely the Achuar will be able to, especially when faced with growing competition from other operations in the region and in neighboring countries.” [1]

It is publicly stated of the Kapawi development that “the initiative’s board is composed of five people – representatives of Achuar com­munities both from the province of Pastaza and from the province of Motona Santiago, and a President of the Achuar Nation of Ecuador (NAE) – all of whom are Achuar. The board meets every six months to carry out an analysis of the project.” [Dec 20, 2012] However, again, the reality appears to be somewhat different.

“Mr Crespo is also on the board of the Kapawi Lodge, an internationally famous, pioneering tourism project. Deep in the Ecuadorean Amazon, rainforest warriors from the Achuar people now manage a luxury ecotourism resort, supported by the board.” World Finance Website

On The Business Year website, it is disclosed that economist and director general of Analytica, Ramiro Crespo, is currently Vice-President of the Paideia Foundation and Director of the Kapawi project. [“After receiving a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, Ramiro Crespo went on to pursue a Master’s in Economic Development at Georgetown University. He was an economic commentator for four years at Radio Bolívar. In addition to holding the position of Director General of Analytica, he is currently Vice-President of the Paideia Foundation and Director of the Kapawi project.” The Business Year – October 2012 | Bio]

Analytica is an investment bank in Ecuador specializing in debt restructuring, research, mergers and acquisitions, and trading. Analytica also sponsors a university in Quito, Universitas Equatorialis, offering degrees in environmental engineering, with Fundación Natura, the local chapter of the World Wildlife Fund.

“Analytica is among the hundred most important companies in the world in 2010 according to British magazine World Finance. Recognition ‘World Finance 100’ list rigorous nomination and selection, Analytica places with companies like Apple, BMW, ING Bank, Citigroup, Coca-Cola and Toyota. Between 35 institutions worldwide including HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup, Analytica is the only company in the list of a country in Latin America specializing in financial services. The merit of the professional team of Analytica evidence the increasing sophistication of regional financial sector. The premiere was announced in Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum meeting held in late January 2011. The annual list of the best companies and individuals in the year, ‘World Finance 100’ accompanies the publication of the World Finance Magazine, January / February 2011, essential source for global investors with its look to emerging markets.” Analytica Website

The amount of debt that Kapawi has incurred (so it appears) could be staggering even by Western standards. Consider that Pachamama administers Aerotsentsak, the airline corporation created, operated and eventually to be owned by FINAE. The costs associated with maintaining an airport, airplanes and an airstrip, even if small, must be intense. What of the original loan ($1.9 million) by USAID? What of the money invested by Conodros Tourism Corporation? What of the 3.5 million euros allocated by the German Bank for Reconstruction (KfW)? Was this withdrawn as initially agreed upon when the project was “given” fully to the Achuar approximately four years ahead of schedule? [“After this period, Canodros will withdraw all investment and the Achuar will manage the entire operation.”][Source] As part of the contract that would allow Canodros to transfer full ownership to the Achuar four years earlier than originally agreed upon, Conodros agreed to create a two-year trust fund and pay for extensive upgrades/renovations. [2] That Conodros would invest a further substantial amount of money in Kapawi – in order to terminate a contract – suggests that ending the partnership, even at a significant cost, was still a far better business transaction than maintaining the contract for four more years.

A sad irony is that the bulk of the monies received [3] from the Kapawi development (before being “given” full ownership) were spent on the never-ending maintenance of the airstrip and the school/education (“The School of Ecotourism”). Further, for four full years, the little monies allocated to the Kapawi communities were taken by one family. [“Because of the poor use of funds (40% for the community of Kapawi), and because of people who took advantage of the Achuar trust, good faith and naiveté, there is money [missing] from four years, and no one knows how or on what it was spent.”][Source]

“Meager profits flow back into the surrounding Achuar communities, which have been able to build schools; they allow lodge guests to visit.” – Travel and Leisure

Today Kapawi is desperate to increase the volume of wealthy tourists, whom they are now dependent upon. New high-end excursions that added to the resort’s itinerary include “Private Canoe River Cruise by Candlelight,” “Romantic Ceremony at Kapawi,” “Achuar Wedding in the Community,” and the “Natem Ceremony.” [Natem ceremony: “Interestingly, a day before, the shaman mentioned that he is now a catholic, which is [an] oxymoron.” Source]

It would appear that, tragically, the Achuar Indigenous peoples (among countless other Indigenous communities no doubt), in good faith yet via coercion, have inadvertently subjected themselves to loss of full control over their territories. One must contemplate how these massive bank loans are secured, considering the only asset (albeit most valuable) the Achuar could offer as guarantee would be pristine rainforest/land. Through heavy debt and financial obligations and a relatively new, strategically developed dependence on the global economy (via the necessity for an infinite stream of wealthy foreign tourists), Indigenous communities now participate in the continued colonization, or in the case of REDD (the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program), the neocolonialization of Indigenous resources and people.

“Colonial Mentality” critics argue that “people, once subject to colonial or imperial rule, latch onto physical and cultural differences between the foreigners and themselves, leading some to associate power and success with the foreigners’ ways. This eventually leads to the foreigners’ ways being regarded as the better way and being held in a higher esteem than previous Indigenous ways. In much the same fashion, and with the same reasoning of ‘better-ness,’ the colonised may over time equate the colonisers’ race or ethnicity itself as being responsible for their ‘superiority’…. [I]mportation or continuation of cultural mores or elements from former colonial powers may be regarded as a form of neo-colonialism.” [Source]

“As profit outweighs protection, the sustainability of nature is rewritten as the sustainability of capital; the protection of nature is inverted to be the protection of profits; and the morality of democratic multigenerational planning is transmogrified into the pursuit of competitive advantage in the free market of nature.” Managing the Other of Nature: Sustainability, Spectacle, and Global Regimes of Capital in Ecotourism [Source]

Although it is said (by NGOs and foundation-financed academia) that eco-tourism projects such as Kapawi were conceived as a means to employ the Achuar and to provide revenue to combat the pressures of multinational corporations, one must wonder how this would in fact keep the multinationals at bay, then, or today. Of course, NGOs were not about to say back then what they will not say today nor will say in the future: that the key reason for involvement is ultimate control of the land and soft-power colonization of the people with their integration into the industrialized capitalist system. Like the multinationals, corporate NGOs also froth at the mouth over the prospect of exploiting these same territories – the NGOs financed by the very same multinationals, via tax-exempt foundations. Like circling vultures, the rapacious capitalists – even the self-proclaimed “compassionate capitalists” – leave no stones unturned. As discussed prior, if those in power of vulnerable states do not walk the delicate tightrope of somewhat satisfying the insatiable system, they will soon face the consequences of the West taking what they will not give willingly. Nature finds herself surrounded by predatory capitalist pathology.

“An insider who is employed by a leading green group explained to the journalist Johann Hari the motivations: ‘It’s because they will generate a lot of revenue this way. If there are national targets, the money runs through national governments. If there are subnational targets, the money runs through the people who control those forests – and that means TNC, Conservation International and the rest. Suddenly, these forests they run become assets, and they are worth billions in a carbon market as offsets. So they have a vested financial interest in offsetting and in subnational targets, even though they are much more environmentally damaging than the alternatives. They know it. It’s shocking.'” — Some Key REDD+ Players

Consider that if on average there are 1,000 visitors at Kapawi per annum (a number cited in several documents), at an average rate of US$3,000 per tourist, this equates to a revenue stream of $3 million per year. Now consider there is no mortgage, no property tax, no utility bills. One must contemplate why there is no profit. After lawyers, consultants, auditing technologies, eco-services, audits, environ­mental impact assessments, marketing agencies, advertising, tourist agencies, teachers, biologists, experts, accountants, engineers, travel expenses, one must contemplate how much of this income finds its way back to imperial states versus how much remains in the community. The answer is likely a reprehensible one that few wish to acknowledge.

While on the surface, CBE (community-based ecotourism) projects support traditional knowledge and cooperation, in real-life, Indigenous communities are told they must be competitive as international tourism is pushed as imperative to survival along with other free-market prescriptions. Ultimately this amounts to cultural assimilation – or annihilation. As yesterday’s missionaries instilled the fear of God, today’s modern-day missionaries instill the fear of operating losses. Further, as Lebanese-Australian professor Ghassan Hage (Future Generation Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne) demonstrates, accumulation of capital underpins an ideology of race, in which multiculturalism works best when citizens yearn and strive to achieve Whiteness. [4]

Considering that foundations such as Rockefeller et al strategize for the protection/expansion of hegemonic power decades in advance, one could reasonably hypothesize that community-based ecotourism was developed and incremented as a deliberate stop-gap measure to control rainforests (via said protection) until a solid economic system/infrastructure for the commodification of all nature was firmly in place. Although such a theory may seem a bit far-fetched, it is not inconceivable considering foundations and “think-tanks” lead in the intense study of, and shaping of, behavioural change. The time involved in commercializing all aspects of society until saturation was achieved amongst the populace (ensuring tomorrow’s “consumers” would submissively acquiesce to an ideology of mass-commodification and privatization) would have been well-understood by foundations and think-tanks alike. Considering the 21st century explosion of land grabs, in tandem with the race to privatize and commodify the Earth’s remaining commons with little focus remaining on ecotourism, such a theory is deserving of further investigation.

DIRECT ACTION –THE ONLY TACTIC THAT HAS EVER WORKED

And although Americans, passive by decades of conditioning, may believe that integration into the industrialized economic system may be the only “solution” against the short-term “temptations” that present themselves when multinationals arrive to plunder for the First World, further reading tells us that the Achuar have far more effective methods than we do. Consider the blog post on February 28, 2008 written by a Kapawi tourist. In the post, the author writes that “Recently, Ecuador’s Minister for Energy arrived here in Achuar territory. He was accompanied with armed men and came representing the Burlington oil company to make an ‘offer’ to buy the Achuar’s land for oil development. The Achaur swiftly refused the deal and to prove their point, kidnapped the Minister for several days before returning him to Quito unharmed. The story went unreported in the national press.” This is not an uncivilized act (as both the colonial and modern-day missionaries would have you believe), rather, it is a no-nonsense act of self-defense. Despite the access to information made possible via the internet, similar success stories of true direct action that are truly effective continue to be grossly marginalized if not censored altogether in most all media. [June 7, 2013: Colombian guerilla group holding Canadian mining executive hostage takes aim at Ottawa; August 27, 2013: Kidnapped Canadian mining exec freed by Colombian rebels (“Last month, Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corp. said it was pulling out of Colombia.”)]

Further, the Achuar’s neighbours to the north, the Targaretti tribes (in the central Ecuadorian rainforest) have managed to stay isolated from industrialized “civilization” (industrialized civilization being the most uncivilized way of living that has ever existed). The Targaretti are the last tribes in Ecuador to refuse contact with Western civilisation and continue to live a traditional and nomadic way of life. One could argue that this tribe has no means of protecting/obtaining legal claim to their ancestral lands (because they have no monetary means of obtaining legal representation, etc.) and that this fact leaves them in a most precarious position, unable to defend themselves against the bulldozers and oil companies who are now encroaching upon their lands. Yet, the simple truth of the matter is that the Targaretti peoples fully understand what privileged Euro-Americans collectively refuse to acknowledge: the state only fears what it cannot control.

“On the one hand, eco-tourism has been presented as a negotiated response to the imperatives of ecological preservation within an ecocidal system of global capital. On the other hand, it is an insidious and largely unsuccessful attempt at articulating the social misery of global capital with(in) distinct cultural and environmental limits.” — Kerala: Exploring Future Frontiers in Tourism Development, 2000 [Source]

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Next: Part VIII (to be published in 2016)

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation, Counterpunch, Political Context, Canadians for Action on Climate Change and Countercurrents. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can follow her on twitter @elleprovocateur]

[Forrest Palmer is an electrical engineer residing in Texas.  He is a part-time blogger and writer and can be found on Facebook. You may reach him at forrest_palmer@yahoo.com.]


EndNotes:

[1] Paper: Community-Based Ecotourism in Ecuador and Its Contribution to the Alleviation of Poverty

[2] As part of the agreement to transfer the Kapawi ownership early, at the end of 2007 Canodros committed to create a trust fund that would hold autonomous assets of US$296,512 with CEKSA (Complejo Ecoturistico Kapawi S.A.) as the beneficiary. This trust was to cover the working capital, the air transportation operation and the payment of labour. The trust fund was to last two years until December 2009 with any funds not dispersed being transferred to CEKSA. As well, Canodros S.A. committed to the reconstruction of the facilities. This additional investment was reported to be US$748,056.05. Reconstruction included new cabin foundations, roofs, complete renovations of bathrooms, repairing the boardwalk, and an updated/improved sewage system. The main assets for Kapawi were also replaced. This included canoes, outboard motors, refrigerators, freezers and kitchen equipment. As well, an update and improvement of the photovoltaic system was undertaken that would allow for a savings of 1500 diesel gallons per year. (The October 2001 appraisal valued Kapawi assets at US$1,036,690 (infrastructure US$826,034; equipment, furniture and household goods: US$210,656.)

[3] Kapawi development income according to a 2003 report published in 2005 (prior to the Achuar being “given” the establishment): (US funds)

  • The income from the $10.00 per guest fee that went directly to Achuar territory based on an average 1,800 tourists amounted to an average of $18,000 per year
  • The income from the monthly rent/concession fee as per agreement by Canodros Tours was approximately $3,400.00 per month which amounted to about $40,000 per year. [This amount was renegotiated and increased to a higher amount in the midst of the contract when the Indigenous noticed a substantial increase in tourists with no increase in payment.]
  • The estimated annual income to Achuar from Kapawi was approximately $58,000 and broken down as follows:
  • 40% ($16,320) to one community: Kapawi (10 Quichua & 13 Achuar families)
  • 40% ($16,320) to one association: Amunday Association of six communities
  • 5% ($2,040) to FINAE for administrative costs
  • 15% ($7,120) shared among 53 Achuar communities

The community of Kapawi spent their money (40%) on:

  • Maintenance of the 800-metre airstrip through manual labour (“work that never ends”).
  • Health: In case of emergency, such as a bad case of malaria, funds are offered, 50% as a loan, and 50% as a donation.
  • Education: $80 per month. The School of Ecotourism in the community of Kapawi can be reached in 50 minutes by canoe from the lodge. They use funds to buy books, pay teachers, and for transportation. [It is not clear who the teachers (teaching tourism) actually are. It is unlikely that the teachers are Achuar.] In this document, Cristina Serrano of Canodros Tourism is cited as the leader/representative of the Ecotourism School.

The community of Amunday Association spent their money (40%) on:

  • $150 monthly to two communities
  • $100 monthly to three communities
  • $30 for education in the School of Education

 

[4] Ghassan Hage, expanding on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory, theorized on the notion that multiculturalism is a “field of accumulating whiteness,” adding that multicultural cohesion exists primarily when Black and Black bodies gain cultural and symbolic capital – by accumulating Whiteness. [White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society] Hage aligns a desire for cultural capital with a yearning to accumulate Whiteness, which he ardently differentiates from being White: “‘Whiteness’ is an everchanging, composite cultural historical construct. It has its roots in the history of European colonisation which universalised a cultural form of White identity as a position of cultural power at the same time as the colonised were in the process of being racialised…. As such, no one can be fully White, but people yearn to be so. It is in this sense that Whiteness is itself a fantasy position and a field of accumulating Whiteness.”

Fundacion Pachamama is Dead – Long Live ALBA [Part VI of an Investigative Report]

The Art of Annihilation

February 5, 2015

Part six of an investigative report by Cory Morningstar with Forrest Palmer 

Fundación Pachamama Investigative Report Series [Further Reading]: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII

 

The Achuar

The Achuar are a group of indigenous peoples in the Amazon, with a rich, ancient culture. Their territory resides over 700,000 hectares of the last unspoiled region of Amazon tropical rainforest in Ecuador. Until the 1970’s, they lived untouched by the modern world. Since 1991, the majority of the Achuar in Ecuador belong to a political organization called FINAE (Federation of Ecuadorian Achuar Nationalities). Today, the organization is called NAE (The Ecuadorian Achuar Nationality or Achuar Nation of Ecuador) and the Achuar people that NAE represents are organized into ten regional associations that contain a total of 68 communities and approximately 8,000 Achuar people. [2]

Pachamama Alliance Website: “The Achuar are a group of indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin, currently numbering around 6,000. Their ancestral lands – nearly 2 million acres in all – straddle the modern borders of Ecuador and Peru, a remote area that has allowed them to preserve their way of life with little outside influence or colonization.” Yet this is hardly true. The information that follows on the Pachamama Alliance site states as much: “Throughout their history, the Achuar have been self-sufficient and autonomous, sustaining their family groups through hunting and gardening. Once semi-nomadic people, most Achuar now live in small villages, a result of contact with Christian missionaries in the 1960s. While their remote territory largely protected them from colonization, the Achuar did experience some change to their ancestral way of life and observed the destruction of neighboring indigenous cultures and communities.” It is incredible and simultaneously incredibly patronizing that while Pachamama Alliance acknowledges the Achuar have been self-sufficient and autonomous – at the same time they influence and encourage the Achuar to become part of, thus dependent upon, thus trapped in, an economic system incapable of reform. Pachamama continues that “[W]hile the Achuar expressed that their work with Pachamama in Ecuador was important, they also insisted that it was equally important for their Northern partners to ‘change the dream of the North’ – to work within their own ‘modern’ culture, shifting it from wasteful consumerism to a less destructive, more sustainable paradigm.” While this may sound lovely, Pachamama’s “work” in Ecuador does not contribute to “changing the dream of the North” – rather, it enables the nightmare of the North to continue.

“Nate [Saint] had spent the past three months flying over an Auca village he called Terminal City, showering it with candy, pots, combs, tools, machetes, and even photos of the smiling men holding the same gifts to familiarize the Indians with their suitors. He had made fourteen drops in all. If he did not occupy Auca territory soon, Rachel [Saint] [3] would.” — Thy Will Be Done, Operation Auca, The Akha Heritage Foundation

 

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” — James Joyce, Ulysses

Video (below, 4:27): “… the third wave of missions into the jungle… Take a look at the way CLIPAE (Council of Indigenous Leaders of the Ecuadorian Amazon Region) is raising up Indigenous people to serve the Indigenous Church…. The work is not easy and some of the villages are extremely remote, at times taking up to 8 or more days to walk to.”

http://vimeo.com/36366029

One could argue that the authors of this article demonstrate paternalism in rejecting the notion that the Achuar were/are free in all decision-making capacity and have embraced Western values of their own free will. There is no doubt that these dynamic men, women and communities embody an ethical intelligence far exceeding any intellect claimed by the Euro-American. That being said, an ethical intelligence is no match to the pathology espoused by defenders/believers in a predatory capitalist system dependent upon infinite growth where White “values” embodied in the global economy are forever sacrosanct and must/will always dominate and prevail.

The colonization of Latin America has never ended. Like a chameleon, it simply changes it colours. Like a parasite, it simply changes its hosts.

Earlier it was suggested that we try to imagine Soviets establishing Soviet NGOs espousing Soviet ideologies/policies on American soil during the Cold War. Few would argue that such an undertaking would have been tolerated then or now. Now, for a just a moment, try to imagine if Muslims were setting up residence in Ecuador and throughout Latin America – distributing the Koran throughout the jungles. In this scenario, one’s instant reaction (anxiety/panic for most Euro-Americans) has already been programmed/pre-determined by the establishment via psychological warfare. White skin: good. Brown skin: Irrelevant. Black Skin: Danger. Islam: Extremists. One can send their regards to the Obama Administration who propels the international terror psy-ops campaign largely targeting Muslims and Muslim tribes. Publicly, the U.S. “save” tribal people of Amazonia while Muslim tribal people in the Middle East are framed as terrorists or fanatics. Both forms of power (soft power versus hard power) are imperial in nature.

Kapawi: Integrating the Achuar with the “Modern” World

Michael-Allosso-our-Achuar-guide

Frenemies. Michael Allosso, The Ocean Conservancy, our Achuar guide: “We flew in small planes into the remote jungle near the Peruvian border. Here, a group of indigenous people called the Achuar (unknown to the outside world until 1972) are developing ecotourism as an alternative to oil company deforestation.” [Source] For more on The Ocean Conservancy read Marine Protection Reserves as Privatization Scam, Wal-Marting the Oceans.

 “Along with television, tourism is one of the most potent agents of globalisation – tourists are the shock troops of Western-style capitalism, distributing social and psychological viruses just as effectively as earlier colonists spread smallpox, measles and TB in their wake.” – Green Tragedy: The Blight of Eco-Tourism, June 12, 2002

Replace television with iPads. Add the spread of TB to animals, and measles into the rainforest, and welcome to 21st century eco-colonialism.

Consider that in Chobe, Botswana, mongooses are thought to have caught the human disease TB from rubbish heaps outside a tourist lodge that were contaminated with the human pathogen. Less clear is how the meerkats became infected. [Source] If human pathogens are infecting animals via ecotourism ventures, then we must consider how Indigenous tribes, having been forever isolated from the outside world, can protect themselves from these same pathogens that have been transmitted to animals.

On December 16, 2011, it was reported that “a major outbreak of measles in Kapawi, province of Pastaza, forced authorities to declare a quarantine in the community living around 300 indigenous Achuar…. We have contacted Kapawi Lodge who informed us that operations at the lodge are running smoothly and everything normal – no changes in terms of tourism operations. All staff have been vaccinated.” It is not clear where the measles were contracted from, yet it begs the question as to how Indigenous tribes, including children and elderly who have no immunities to these diseases, can possibly protect themselves. One can be fairly certain that if these communities are receiving vaccinations, such highly controversial conduct would not be readily discussed with the public.

“[D]iscussions about local participation, even in the most inclusive eco-tourism planning, often entail a discourse about the ‘use’ of local cultures for knowledge, employment, and commodity production (Drake 1991). Such discussions limit potential local resistance to development or ‘resentment’ (Olindo 1991) by ‘educating’ locals for employment – so as to have locals function in the service of eco-tourism and not against it (Boo 1991).” — Managing the Other of Nature: Sustainability, Spectacle, and Global Regimes of Capital in Ecotourism, by Joe Bandy [Source]

“Kapawi (lodge) has helped FINAE prepare for such contact with the outside world by linking them to a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in San Francisco that provides technical expertise and funding for a variety of Achuar projects. According to its website, the Pachamama Alliance was created to help ‘preserve the Earth’s tropical rainforests by empowering the indigenous people who are its natural custodians…. Since its inception in 1995, the Pachamama Alliance has raised roughly a million dollars to help revitalize Achuar culture and tradition, defend Achuar lands, and build leadership and capacity in FINAE.'” [1]

One must wonder how Americans help “revitalize Achuar culture and tradition” by creating a dependence on a money economy – development under the guise of conservation? And although Pachamama Founders would have the public believe they were called by the Achuar via what amounts to luminescent dreams and ethereal smoke signals, the spiritual stratagem could be considered liberal marketing bravado for today’s transcendental philanthropist and celestial capitalist.

“Almost twenty years ago Carlos Pérez Perasso, co-founder of Conodros S.A., a Galapagos Islands tour operator, linked up with Daniel Kouperman, an experienced adventure tour guide familiar with the Amazon jungle, to help create a hotel in the rainforest. It took them more than a year of discussions with the Achuar before the project could proceed.” [Source]

Perasso (1935-2002) was the former director/heir of the newspaper El Universo, entrepreneur, and founder of the tour operator Canodros. (His son, César Pérez Barriga, is current president and deputy director of the Buenos Aires Canodros as well as manager/heir to El Universo newpaper.)

Daniel Kouperman is a co-founder of Pachamama Alliance and past president (and board vice-president) of the Pachamama Foundation situated in Ecuador.

“Construction began in ’94, and by mid ’95 Daniel asked a group of ‘purposeful tourists’ to come down and help organize support for the project. Among the first group were two exceptional people, Lynne and Bill Twist, who became the founders of non-profit NGO, The Pachamama Alliance, which established a partnership with the Achuar. Construction was completed in ’96 and began operation in April of that year.” [1]

“Ordoñez (manager of the Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve) says that the intercultural management is complex. The transition of Kapawil Lodge from Conodros to the Achuar, though formalized years ago, is still a work in process. ‘The Achuar colleagues did not comprehend 100 percent how to manage the company,’ he says. That, however, is slowly changing, thanks in part to the Pacha Mama Foundation, a non-profit organization that was created precisely to support the Achuar of Ecuador through various projects.

 

“One of those projects was Aero Achuar in which Pacha Mama helped the community acquire an airplane to establish their own air transportation service. Kouperman, who is also president of the Pacha Mama Foundation in Ecaudor, says two young Achuar members have obtained pilot licenses and are in their first 500 hours of training. Another Achuar member is a fully trained and licensed mechanic.

 

“Pacha Mama was also involved with training future managers of Kapawi. An agreement among Pacha Mama, the NAE (Achuar Nationality of Ecuador), and the Universidad Especiales Turisticas (UCT), has sent four Achuar youth to work towards a degree in Hotel Management at UCT. ‘They are the first [Achuar] who have had education in hotel management … and in a way are looked upon as examples because they are the first to study something in order to take charge of the company. It is a heavy responsibility,’ says Ordoñez.” [December 9, 2011, Source]

“Not all of the changes introduced by Kapawi have been easily assimilated by the Achuar. One challenge has been determining how to divvy up benefits produced by the lodge. “Issues come up, politics are involved, there are struggles for power,” noted Andre Barona. For example, the eight different associations of FINAE receive different amounts of money from tourism, but three of the associations closest to Kapawi generally receive the highest income. One community, Kapawi, receives $700 per month. Of Kapawi’s (the community’s) eighteen families, five dominant families of Quichua descent control most of the money. FINAE and Achuar leaders are generally intimidated by the more powerful Quichua families and so have done little to reclaim money.” [Source: Stanford School of Business Case Study, 2003]

The above documented observations begin to aptly demonstrate how a Eurocentric vision (ecotourism development) first initiated by an outsider (the CANODROS tourist corporation), with the assistance of the U.S. Pachamama Alliance, creates new divisions among the Achuar. The observations below begin to demonstrate how Western values and ideologies begin to permeate into Achuar communities. In the case of a private business venture, the required penetration of Western value is vital:

“To sell Kapawi, Canodros maintains a sales office in the U.S., and participates in travel marts around the word, in any given year hosting booths in Brazil, Argentina, Chicago, Berlin, Costa Rica, New York, Chicago, and Geneva. Time will tell whether such efforts were useful either for the idealistic goal of helping the Achuar integrate with the modern world on their own terms, or for the more practical goal of generating a good return on Canodros’ business investment.” [1]

 

“Another test for Canodros has been mixing two very different cultural modes and perspectives, all in one tourism operation. ‘One of the main challenges of our work is finding a balance between respecting the Achuar culture and way of living, while at the same time having them respect the needs of the business. You have to be patient and have limits,’ offered Jaramillo. ‘Often things come up. Someone comes from community, misses his family, or needs to go hunting. They tell me, “You white people need money, but I don’t need it.” Then they take a machete and just go in the forest. I’ve had cases when I have to go and do a job for them.'” [1]

 

“Visibly, however, Achuar may not appear as traditional as tourists would like. Though they continue to use some of their Achuar necklaces and headbands, and though they paint their faces for special occasions, most often they wear western clothes. Kapawi cultural experiences were described in Traveler’s Magazine this way: ‘There’s no glossing on Achuar villages themselves, which to First World eyes look desolate and poor. The Achuar wear Levi’s and t-shirts with logos….'” [1]

 

“‘Right now, they don’t feel they own the project. They know it, but don’t feel it,'” related Jaramillo. “At this point, if the project loses money, they won’t care. Kapawi has been exerting so much effort while the Federation has been able to sit back.'” — Gabriel Jaramillo, administrator at Kapawi [1]

 

“Yet, despite the awards, Kapawi has had to struggle to sustain profits and keep the tourists coming. ‘It’s definitely not easy to run Kapawi,’ conceded Andre Barona, General Manager for Canodros. ‘You have to be committed in at least two senses: for the impact you want to make and the bottom line. No one gets stock options for lessening impact.'” [1]

ClayInCanoe_fullsize

Photo: Tourists in a boat with an Achuar naturalist/guide at Kapawi Lodge, Ecuador, 2005.

As previously stated, Kapawi, the most expensive ecotourism development in the Ecuadorian Amazon, was to be given entirely to the Achuar in the year 2011. By that time, it had been estimated that Canodros would have paid $664,959 in rent (a rate later renegotiated/increased), and $150,000 in accumulated tourist fees to the Achuar (10.00 per tourist), along with helping leverage several hundreds of thousands of dollars in NGO contributions. Yet, the transfer happened ahead of schedule:

Pachamama.org, November 1, 2009: “Nearly two years ago, Kapawi Ecolodge was transferred to full ownership and close to full management by the Achuar nation. As anticipated, it has been a time of much change and learning for the Achuar, as they develop a deeper understanding of what it means to successfully run a world-class lodge located right in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Kapawi Ecolodge has always been very special to Pachamama as the two organizations came into being at around the same time. Since then Pachamama has been a close ally to the Achuar supporting them in this bold and challenging project.” [Source]

Yet while Pachamama Alliance boasts publicly on their website that “Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve is a thriving refuge run by the indigenous,” the reality, again appears quite different.

Although this early transfer is essentially framed as a “gift” by the generous developers/colonizers, in reality, it has been given back years ahead of schedule, [4] at least in part because it was a financial drain to the Canodros tourism corporation:

“A travel company called Canodros is running it. The agreement was that they would run it on Achuar land for 15 years and then give it back to the Achuar people, but sadly the owner of the company has now passed away and his sons didn’t share his vision for Kapawi as it wasn’t making much money. So they’ve decided to give it back after 10 years and unfortunately they haven’t been doing what was planned, training people or looking after the employees in the way that we would like to see them looked after.” [August 21, 2007, Zoe Tryon – Anthropologist and All-round Amazonian Woman]

Compare the above version to the “I Am Achuar” website which is registered to a private registrant in California:

“As planned, Canodros transferred the ownership of Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve to the Achuar on January 1, 2008. The project is now operated by the Achuar through their tour operator CEKSA (Complejo Ecoturistico Kapawi Sociedad Anonima), a legal structure that has a category of a Tour operator, in charge of the ownership, operation and management of the lodge. [Source: http://www.iamachuar.org/] It is worth noting that the Achuar now have the responsibility of a legal corporation.]

To be clear, we have an indigenous population that was formerly sustainable in a true sense, now fully responsible for a corporation – a struggling tourist resort – with all/any liability, debt and stress that accompanies it. [Although some reports regarding the feasibility/profitability of Kapawi are conflicting (Rodriguez reports that earnings of over $1 million in direct and indirect contributions for the Achuar were distributed to local communities from Kapawi’s profits between 1996 and 2005 ($1,226,000) [Source]), the fact that the Canodros corporation incurred great financial cost to unload it approximately 4 years prior to the contract ending, is most telling.]

 At the beginning of years 1970 the Achuar was the only Jivaros that [had] not suffered any loss of culture due to the contact with the western world. In 1995, the Achuar signed an agreement to develop the project Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve, which became his first source of income. On 1996, Pachamama Alliance was founded on San Francisco, California. At the same time, the Pachamama Foundation, its Ecuadorian office was founded in Quito. [Source: Canodros Website]

lynne-allen-gilberto-lynne

Photo: North American tourist marries Achuar tour guide

Pachamama excels in sharing stories of eagles and condors …. Yet one can be quite certain they will not be sharing stories of American Kapawi tourists who married their Achuar tour guides any time soon. One cannot know exactly how many times this occurs, yet at least one instance is evident, as described by the Kapawi tourist/U.S. citizen, Lynne Allen, on her personal blog. Allen recounts that on her last canoe ride of her 5-day stay, her guide professed his love for her. Allen describes her frustrations in obtaining a VISA for her new husband [“I tried sponsoring Gilberto on a student visa to the United States. The U.S. immigration people were not cooperative, despite the fact that he was admitted to the University of Florida’s language program, a six-month-long intensive. I had to guarantee that I had $9000, so my bank wrote me a letter verifying that fact…we soon realized that a spousal visa was probably our best chance to be together.”], as well as his integration into American values [“I introduced him to some of my family’s customs, such as a rather over-the-top Christmas, with loads of presents, well-filled stockings and a huge dinner with friends.”]

Allen states “[T]here has been no transition from the old culture to the new one and the villagers have picked up the worst of the new culture. They have little or no education or training. But they do have cell phones, internet accounts, televisions and DVD’s. They would pump up the generator and watch movies on television despite telling me stories about how they had nothing. Everyone would call me on their cell phones and ask for money.” – A Shuar Indian from the Amazon Jungle of Ecuador and A North American Teacher Find True Love (Emphasis in original.)

And we are to believe this is success?

Economic Colonialism via the School Curriculum

“Neocolonialism is the practice of using capitalism, globalization, and cultural forces to control a country (usually former European colonies in Africa or Asia) in lieu of direct military or political control. Such control can be economic, cultural, or linguistic; by promoting one’s own culture, language or media in the colony, corporations embedded in that culture can then make greater headway in opening the markets in those countries. Thus, neocolonialism would be the end result of relatively benign business interests leading to deleterious cultural effects.” [Source]

Disciplined capitalists of hegemony leave nothing to chance. The Kapawi eco-tourism project would be no exception. A high quality English instruction program commenced in the Kapawi Achuar community and Kapawi Ecolodge in November 2005.

“Create a program designed specifically for the needs of the Achuar community in terms of content and teaching methods, to maximize, not only the efficiency of the results, but also the enjoyment of studying English and the acceptance of the English program as part of the community by the Achuar.”

At the beginning of the description of the project, the author highlights the “temptation” of the Achuar (“it is very difficult for them to resist the temptation” (of short-term revenues). It is not surprising such terminology is used in reference to the Achuar when one considers a Catholic mission is situated in Kapawi:

“Volunteers will be living in the Catholic mission at the community (there is no religious pressure) which provides a very comfortable stay and volunteers will have their own room. There are four very nice sisters who work at the mission and the school who make one feel very welcome.”

A reference to the Catholic mission is also found on the Kapawi blog: “The community worked with the people from the hotel for the installation of almost 500 meters of pipeline so that in a future we can take the water near to the village house and from the catholic mission which is in Kapawi.”

“Unfortunately, Achuar leaders trained in the short term won’t be the ones managing the project in 15 years; rather, today’s twelve-year-olds will be in charge. With that in mind, Kapawi has helped get materials about tourism and ecotourism added to the regular school curriculum. Meanwhile, an environmental education project funded by a private donor connected with Pachamama offers six weeklong workshops each year to grades one through six.” [1] [Emphasis added.]

“The community has a school built by missionaries.” [Source]

 “It was a proud moment for the Achuar nation who clearly understand that university education is essential to the development of future Achuar leaders, not just in eco-tourism management but in all fields if the Achuar are to achieve a sovereign, holistic and sustainable development that strengthens the Achuar nation as a whole.” — Pachamama.org, November 1, 2009 [Source]

Profitability must be prioritized over safeguarding both living ecosystems and culture, as that is the nature of the capitalist beast. Even legitimate concern can only lend itself as far as the profitability of eco-tourism may allow. Profit not only outweighs protection; in the 21st century, profit, along with growth, is sacrosanct.

[English] “is taught by Professor Kate Krumrei (25 years), volunteer Texas (USA), which qualifies the Achuar as good students, but they must overcome shyness to communicate more fluently with foreigners. During his academic training, Kuji particularly enjoyed accounting classes and costs. ‘The most important thing in business is to establish how much you spend and how much you receive, so know your profit.'” – April 18, 2010

 

“Achuar leader added that young people are the most committed to the operation of the ecolodge, because they believe that through tourism revenue will more and more natives can finish high school, attend college and become professionals.” – April 18, 2010

 

“At Kapawi, there is an English teaching program offered to every worker. Ramiro Vargas, an Achuar guide, traveled to the United States to attend a language school. When he returns, he will replace a non-Achuar naturalist guide; the idea is to continue program until the Achuar are properly trained to run lodge and the marketing structure.” [Source]

A minga (Quechua) is a traditional work cooperative of sorts, a communal work party in the Andes and the Amazon. A fairly new venture (2012), International English Minga (IEM), in partnership with the University of San Francisco, the Pachamama Alliance and NAE, refers to itself as a catalyst for “wide-scale collaboration” giving way to “global community work parties and common purpose” and building “better pedagogy.” The said mingas (which include approximately 17 Americans who fly into the Amazon) focus on the teaching of the English language to the Achuar. Although this is said to be a partnership of exchange, there is no indication of the San Francisco student teachers reciprocating by learning the language of the Achuar – which is endangered. A well-intentioned White saviour/Minga veteran believes that “this Minga will be a catalyst which brings the concept of Minga into this new century – that experts of all kinds will want to come and want to partake in this amazing new way of teaching and learning.” While minga implies it will safeguard indigenous peoples’ interests, it demonstrates superiority and reinforces coloniality by imposing “expert” knowledge from the “West” upon the local people.

One must note the willful (perhaps instilled is more accurate) disregard and avoidance of any examination of White/First World privilege with no meaningful efforts whatsoever to counteract it. Rather, they are completely oblivious to it. Yet, this, too, is to be fully expected in our corporatized educational institutions.

It is of interest that in the photographs provided by the students on the IEM website, the Achuar people are rarely painted when in a natural social setting. Although the face/body painting was reserved as a practice for special occasions, today the painting is fully exploited for the benefit/entertainment of Kapawi tourists and outsiders. Stunning photographs of the beautifully painted Achuar serve as the prime advertising imagery for attracting international tourism. In the 2011 thesis, “Take a Picture with a Real Indian”: (Self-) Representation, Ecotourism, and Indigeneity in Amazonia, Ami Temarantz explores Indigenous identity in the online marketing of three ecotourism lodges, including Kapawi. The paper demonstrates how those (the Indigenous) exploited by such “social experiments” [5] (experiments designed to create dependency upon international tourism and an industrialized capitalist economy), are compelled to engage in the “ecologically noble savage myth” vis-à-vis emotive and spiritual “language that appeals to the Western ecological imagination” – in order to attract the Euro-American tourist in a highly competitive and aggressive industry. Under these social experiments, aspects of everyday life (the lives of Indigenous peoples) may or may not be suppressed “in order to cater to the fetishistic tourist image of ecological nobility” an Indigenous authenticity preferred by the West. Yet, not surprisingly, authenticity is willfully avoided by the tourist when it comes to perceivable threats (dangerous insects, for example) or physical difficulty (such as having to trek through the jungle carrying one’s own luggage). The adoration and desire for authenticity, as if by magic, all but disappears when access to luxury on demand is threatened. As an example, the romanticism of Indigenous authenticity would no doubt quickly dissolve if a tourist had to launder their own bedding each day in the river.

How Indigenous communities, now saddled with intense pressure to allure, seduce and satisfy White privilege, can continue to evolve naturally under such conditions appears to be of little interest to White saviours. Again, as throughout history, the Achuar are presented as the lucky beneficiaries of Western development and ideologies, thereby, yet again, assigned to their historic role as the passive novelties/objects of rapacious colonial ambition.

The success of Kapawi depends literally on the Achuars’ ability to tend to and fulfill the needs, wants, expectations and fantasies of the elite rich – the same elite group responsible for the bulk of global greenhouse gas emissions, thus, the same group responsible for the ongoing genocide of Earth’s most vulnerable peoples, nonhuman life, and our collapsing living ecosystems. (The monetarily wealthiest 1% are responsible for 50% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.)

Further, for how long will the Achuar be satisfied spending their lives literally serving White privilege (“a haven of ease, good taste, and understated luxury”) only to return at the end of each long day (or weeks on end) to dirt floors and discarded Nike t-shirts? How this can truly be considered a foundation to build relationships based upon mutual respect and equality is anyone’s guess.

Airplane pilots, mechanics, flying students to English schools in the US, and university degrees in hotel management: if this does not fall under the description of colonization, one must wonder what does.

 

Next: Part VII

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation, Counterpunch, Political Context, Canadians for Action on Climate Change and Countercurrents. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can follow her on twitter @elleprovocateur]

[Forrest Palmer is an electrical engineer residing in Texas.  He is a part-time blogger and writer and can be found on Facebook. You may reach him at forrest_palmer@yahoo.com.]

 

EndNotes:

[1] Source: Case study: THE KAPAWI INDIGENOUS-CORPORATE PARTNERSHIP FOR ECOTOURISM IN ECUADOR

[2] “Kapawi ?Lodge,? Ecuador:? A? full? partnership? project? with ?the? Indigenous? Organization? of? Ecuadorean? Achuar? nationalities ?(OINAEI).?” [Source] (OINAEI is also referred to as the Indigenous Organization of Achuar Nationality of Ecuador.) OINAEI is now formally recognized as NAE (Achuar Nationality of Ecuador or Achuar Nation of Ecuador).

[3] “Rachel [Saint] was sure that she could testify that the Auca’s destiny did belong to her brother’s sacrifice. It merely confirmed her prophetic visions. The shedding of Nate’s blood atoned for the sins of the Auca (as she insisted on calling the Huaorani, even after learning their language), sanctifying her own calling to bring them out of Satan’s realm. To Rachel, the portrait of tribal life rendered by Dayuma, her informant on the Huaorani language, verified her own belief in a universe molded by the struggle between Good and Evil. Dayuma spoke in a trembling voice of her grandfather’s tales of Winae, the small vampire of the forest night. In these stories Rachel saw not the normal human fear of a jungle full of predators and rubber slavers, but the power of Satan himself. In her mind, there was no question that the tribe’s traditional shaman was a witch doctor doing Satan’s bidding. Likewise, she was sure that the Indians’ polygamy had dark metaphysical, not cultural, roots. The fact that her own brother had suffered martyrdom at the hands of at least one of Dayuma’s brothers was another intimate sign of deep Christian meaning in the Auca destiny of salvation through blood atonement. In June 1957, Dayuma and Rachel began Cam’s (William Cameron Townsend (founder of Summer Institute of Linguistics) whirlwind tour of 27 American cities. A legend was being born.” [The Akha Heritage Foundation]

[4] The transfer of ownership slated for January 1, 2011 took place in June 2008. The Kapawi–Conodros contract signed in 1996 came to an end in 2007. The process (to end the contract/partnership) began in November of 2003 and ended on September 18th of 2007 with the Pachamama Foundation serving as the consultant for the Achuar. [Source]

[5] Paper: Community-Based Ecotourism in Ecuador and Its Contribution to the Alleviation of Poverty