"Satipo, Amazon Basin, Peru--On the fourth floor of the National Museum in Lima, there's a photo exhibit of Peru's long "dirty war" against the leftist Shining Path guerrillas during the 1980s and '90s. A series of wall-sized photographs illustrate two decades of bombings, roundups, secret arrests, and massacres that left 70,000 dead. The exhibit has been criticized for both overstating and downplaying government atrocities, a sign that this era in Peru's history remains controversial. Just two weeks ago, former president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights crimes committed during the war, fueling a fierce national debate over what actions are justified in the name of security.
But there's one aspect of the exhibit that seems particularly relevant today. A small room in the museum documents the little-known role of Peru's Ashaninka Indians, who drove the Shining Path from their rain forest redoubts in the late 80s with bows and arrows and Army-supplied machine guns, suffering up to 10,000 casualties as a result. Now, 20 years later, the Ashaninka are resisting yet another incursion into the Peruvian Amazon, the world's fourth-largest rain forest. But this time, they're not fighting Maoist guerrillas. They're fighting developers.
In recent years, the Peruvian government has been handing out exploratory and development concessions to international firms lining up to prospect the forest's rich stores of minerals, lumber, gas, and oil. The frontier towns in the Amazon Basin are booming. Roads are multiplying and stretching ever deeper into the jungle. Where roads can't reach, the forest is dotted with dirt helipads offering entry for equipment, engineers, and security personnel. Look at a commercial map of Peru and you'll see a quilt of concessions covering nearly three-quarters of the rain forest--far more than in any other Amazonian country. Small firms like Occidental, Burlington, Harken, Plus Petrol, and Repsol are doing the early work, paving the way for bigger firms to roll in later."
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(The New Republic 4/24)