[permaculture] A Quechua Christmas Carol - Best read aloud to someone you love

Keith Johnson keithdj at mindspring.com
Mon Dec 24 21:09:15 EST 2007


*Good and Evil at the Center of the Earth:*
* A Quechua Christmas Carol*
/by Greg Palast/

December 24th, 2007

[Quito] I don't know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an 
hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his 
father.

I'm not Barbara Walters. It's not the kind of question I ask.

He hesitated. Then said, "My father was unemployed."

He paused. Then added, "He took a little drugs to the States... This is 
called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in 
a jail."

He continued. "I'd never talked about my father before."

Apparently he hadn't. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.

Correa's dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his 
family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was 
the original "banana republic" - and the price of bananas had hit the 
floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire 
adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.

"My mother told us he was working in the States."

His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. 
Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.

At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by 
paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he 
took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking 
framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and 
her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.

/"We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very 
poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these 
children who are cold almost every night."/

It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.

Or maybe there was something else to it.

Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this 
Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the 
streets. He'd won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, 
the owner of the biggest banana plantation.

/Doctor Correa/, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in 
Europe. **/Professor Correa/ as he is officially called - who, until not 
long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.

And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush 
to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don't 
shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which 
held Ecuador's finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the 
"agreements" which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. 
He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious 
interest, to eat their bonds. He said 'We are not going to pay off this 
debt with the hunger of our people. " Food first, interest later. Much 
later. And he meant it.

It was a stunning performance. I'd met two years ago with his 
predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told 
me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, "We cannot pay 
this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can 
we pay?" Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and 
Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He 
was sure they would understand. They didn't. They cut off Ecuador at the 
knees.

But Ecuador didn't fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, 
secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela's president and obtained 
emergency financing. Ecuador survived.

And thrived. But Correa was not done.

Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the 
Ecuadoran refugees in America - to give them loans to return to Ecuador 
with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to 
slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the 
country.

Correa STILL wasn't done.

I'd returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest - by canoe to a 
Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of 
childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of 
open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, 
and its partners. I met the Cofan's chief. His three year old son swam 
in what appeared to be contaminated water then came out vomiting blood 
and died.

Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in 
something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the 
company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.

But it's not just any company he was challenging. Chevron's largest oil 
tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, 
the /Condoleezza/. Our Secretary of State.

The Cofan have sued Condi's corporation, demanding the oil company clean 
up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 
billion. Correa won't comment on the suit itself, a private legal 
action. But if there's a verdict in favor of Ecuador's citizens, Correa 
told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.

Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. 
Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa 
is not deterred.

He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if 
necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who 
sue Ecuador in US courts.

This is hard core. No one - NO ONE - has made such a threat to Bush and 
Big Oil and lived to carry it out.

And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron 
were not amused. I met with them.

/"And it's the only case of cancer in the world?/ How many cases of 
children with cancer do you have in the States?" Rodrigo Perez, Texaco's 
top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the 
Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused 
their kids' deaths. "If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan 
parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum 
industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude -- which 
is absolutely impossible." He laughed again. You have to see this on 
film to believe it.

The oil company lawyer added, "No one has ever proved scientifically the 
connection between cancer and crude oil." Really? You could swim in the 
stuff and you'd be just fine.

The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron's Texaco unit came to 
their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their 
arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi's men had told me that 
crude oil doesn't cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I'm no expert. 
So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at 
Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production - 
benzene, toluene, and xylene, "are well-known carcinogens." Kennedy told 
me he's seen Chevron-Texaco's ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that 
this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.

But it wasn't as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook 
me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a 
chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond 
bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you'd see on country club 
links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal 
hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled 
all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn't 
get a dime. "What about the chairs in this office?" I asked. Couldn't 
the Cofan at least get those? "No," they laughed, the chairs were held 
in the name of the law firm.

Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa's threat to use the power 
of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. 
No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that 
confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush 
Administration. But to this President, it's all about justice, fairness. 
"You [Americans] wouldn't do this to your own people," he told me. /Oh 
yes we would/, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska's Natives.

Correa's not unique. He's the latest of a new breed in Latin America. 
Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected 
President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All "Leftists," as the 
press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are 
dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of 
nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of 
bouffant blonds.

When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to 
Chavez as, "the monkey." Chavez told me proudly, "I am /negro e indio/" 
- Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in 
the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to 
endure many jeers of "monkey." Now, all over Latin America, the 
"monkeys" are in charge.

And they are unlocking the economic cages.

Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is 
ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil - but 
every time he lost his money or his investors' money, his daddy, another 
oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man 
out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow 
off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his 
powder from some guy up from Ecuador.

I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with 
their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy 
cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.

But maybe it's just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is 
Good and Evil.

Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who's been good and who's 
been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve 
staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil 
sludge out of the Cofan's drinking water.

Or maybe we'll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief 
Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the 
hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 
the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage 
done by Exxon's oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega's beaches. It 
was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on 
the island's shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as "smart" bombs 
exploded in Baghdad and Basra.

Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, "Well, I guess 
we're all Natives now."

Well, maybe we are. But we don't have to be, do we?

Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of 
the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I 
can assure his daughter that she didn't have to worry that her dad would 
forget about "the poor children who are cold" on the streets of Quito.

Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.

-- 
Keith Johnson
"Be fruitful and mulch apply."
Permaculture Activist Magazine
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