In Defence of Nature
Hugo Blanco on the social and environmental struggle of indigenous people in Latin America
Hugo Blanco speaking in Edinburgh
Those fighting for social and environmental justice in Scotland were honoured by the recent visit of Peruvian activist Hugo Blanco.
Hugo was a leader of a major struggle for land rights by Peruvian peasants in the 1960’s. In the face of brutal opposition from landowners and the state apparatus the movement succeeded in taking control of large areas.
Hugo was jailed when a rally protesting against the murder of an 11 year old boy by police, was attacked. He was jailed and became the focus of an international campaign demanding his release which drew the support of thousands including Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sarte and Che Guevara.
Guevara said of his struggle: ““Hugo Blanco is the head of one of the guerilla movements in Peru. He struggled stubbornly but the repression was strong. I don’t know what his tactics of struggle were, but his fall does not signify the end of the movement. It is only a man that has fallen, but not the movement. “One time, when we were preparing to make our landing from the Granma, and when there was great risk that all of us would be killed, Fidel said: ‘What is more important than all of us is the example we set.’ It’s the same thing, Hugo Blanco has set an example.”
Hugo was eventually released but was forced into exile. He was in Chile when the Pinochet coup took place and was lucky to escape after taking refuge in the Swedish embassy. Upon returning to his native Peru he was elected to parliament and stood for President, despite this he still faced beatings and arrest at the hands of the police.
Hugo was forced into exile once more after the military coup of Fujimori. At present Hugo has been able to return to Peru where he edits the journal Lucha Indigena (‘Indigenous Struggle’).
Below we reproduce a translation of Hugo’s talk in Edinburgh where he spoke about the struggle of indigenous people and the impact of environmental disaster on them.
The aim of capitalism is to make money. If in the process they have to damage people and degrade the environment well that is tough.
Probably they may lose some sleep or shed a few tears over that but it won’t stop them fulfilling their holy commandment of making some money.
Al Gore the ex-vice president of the USA was very worried about global warming. He had a friend apparently – a British capitalist who offered a large amount of money for people come to come up with solutions to Global warming. But people said he contributed to global warming with the airline he owned but he gave a great answer.
“What do you want me to do? He said it is true I contribute to global warming but if I withdraw from the market it will just be taken over by British Airways. If I am the owner of a company or factory that is damaging the Ozone layer or environment and close it down out of love of my grand children another capitalist will just do the same thing.
So it does not even depend on the awareness that a capitalist may have or individual desire to do something about it – it depends on the system It depends on the big companies that are the lords of the world. They are the ones who decide if a factory opens here or there.
In Copenhagen a hundred thousand people said let’s change the system not the climate. It is the system that is the enemy and the system we have to change.
Another slogan those one hundred thousand people were chanting in Copenhagen was –
‘if the climate was a bank they would have saved it long ago’
So global warming is the worst threat facing humanity today in my department in Cusco there was a river of mud that went straight over a community .
There was communities where only the roofs were above the mud and hundreds of hectares of agricutural land was destroyed and crops rotted - but that is just an example.
In Pakistan quarter of the country was flooded and every month there are many tragedies around the world.
In the centre spread of our paper ‘Lucha Indigena’ Indigenous Struggle every month we have a list of all the crimes of capitalism that month and every month there are more of them and they are getting worse and worse. After Katrina in New Orleans some of the victims tried to sue the big companies responsible for global warming.
But the mainstream press in the hands of these capitalists tell us these are natural disasters.
There is nothing natural about them, they are provoked by global warming. And those that are mainly responsible do not want to cede any ground in admitting responsibility.
So while there was a bit of agreement at Kyoto and Copenhagen. Obama arrived at the end of the meeting with a piece of paper at the end of the meeting and tried to force everybody else to sign it.
In Defence of Nature
But global warming is not the only attack on nature.
For example in Peru the struggles of the indigenous people are fundamentally in defence of nature. Things such as open cast mines are very damaging to nature. They take water away from agriculture and pollute and contaminate the water that is left.
Taking oil out of the ground also damages nature so in the Amazonian area it pollutes the rivers and kills the fish the indigenous communities live on . The Hydro electric projects are also the enemies of nature. Again they take water from agriculture to produce electricity for the mines.
All these battles are going on now in my country. There is a big dam project they are planning to build that would involve expelling thousands of indigenous people from the land . The electricity from this dam project would not even go to Peru but to the multi nationals in Brazil.
Another attack on nature is known as Agri business because it practices mono culture which is fatal for nature – they apply the logic of the factory to nature saying the more you produce of a single product year after year the better.
And as a result they have to use chemical fertilisers herbicides pesticides which also kill off nature. But they do not mind because after they have killed off the land in Peru they can move on to Colombia or Honduras or where ever or even Africa and Asia.
On the other hand small farmers know that their ancestors lived off that land and their grand children will have to live off that land so they take care of that land they rotate the crops.
So one year they might sow beans that takes nitrogen out of the air and feeds it into the ground and the next year potatoes that takes the nitrogen out of the ground.
They practice mixed agriculture so they sow different crops together that imitates nature in the soil.
They know that some kinds of soil needs to be rested for a while but it is not useless because while it is resting they can out some animals on. So all those struggles are going on today in Peru.
The multinationals have the government as their instrument to help them in this attack on nature.
As our president has a rather sick sense of humour he chose the 5 June which is international day of defence of environment to launch an attack on those defending the environment in the Amazon region.
So indigenous people are struggling to defend mother earth but the attack is not only on nature itself because the indigenous communities because they see the communities trying to defend nature.
The governments of Peru and Mexico almost simultaneously passed similar laws to dissolve indigenous communities, some of the laws aimed to attack nature and some the communities themselves. Because where there are indigenous people there are indigenous communities. These indigenous communities are recognised by many constitutions including Peru.
It is a form of political power often marginalised by the central power of the state but still a form of political power.
When I talk about indigenous people I am not just talking about Latin America, there are indigenous people in North America and the rest of the world - in Canada, the US, Africa, Asia and in some places there are communities of communities. In these communities it is not the individual who decides but the collectivity that decides.
These communities of communities exist in some of the Amazon parts of Peru. In the Cauca region of Colombia it is recognised in the constitution of Colombia. In the Cuna islands of Panama it is also recognised by the Panamanian constitution. That was one of the achievements of the Cuna revoltion in 1929.
The best example is in Chiapas where the indigenous communities govern themselves for the last 16 years and EZLN has the job of defending those communities against what they call the bad government.
The Zapatista zone is governed by what they call the good government.
These government structures are rotational and if they want to change any member of these boards they recall them.
They earn no money for this which is not like democracy as we know it where people fight for positions where they can gain lots of money.
EZLN members are not allowed to take part of these indigenous communities government.
We are proud of being indigenous people.We are brothers of all the world.
The first call of an international meeting against neo-liberalism was by the Zapatistas with 70 groups attending.
It agreed two pillars which are defense and love for mother earth and that the problems of a community should be resolved by that community
Happiness is not ‘having many things.’
Transcript and translation by Norman Lockhart and Ian Bruce.