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In the 1980s, Peru was almost bankrupt, and was struggling with problems such as national debt, drug trafficking and guerrilla warfare. After President Albert Fujimori took over dictatorial rule of Peru in 1992, he drastically changed the economy, inviting foreign investment. By 1994, Peru had become the fastest growing economy in the world. But why then were Peruvians still amongst the poorest in the world?
The answer to this question becomes clearer by revealing the identity of this new brand of modern conquistadors: foreign companies. Peru's economic boom has been profitable to these foreign companies who come to Peru to utilize the country's vast natural resources. But these companies rarely give anything back to the local communities. In many cases, the environmental destruction associated with extracting these natural resources leads to the death of thousands of locals, as was the case when Pizarro first conquered the Incas.
For example, in the Yanacocha area of Peru, the U.S. mining company Newmont has been mining for gold. Last year alone, Newmont mined over one and a half times as much gold as Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors took from the entire Incan empire! But even though Newmont's profits in the U.S. were over $94 million in 1996, they only put $4 million back into the local Peruvian communities. The small local communities surrounding Yanacocha do not have running water, sewage, telephones or electricity! Even though they live on land worth millions of dollars, the local farmers still must struggle to survive. And survival is getting more difficult as Newmont's operations grow. Their local rivers have been severely polluted by the toxic cyanide the company pours over the ore to extract the gold. Local crops of corn, rice, sugar and olives are starting to disappear.
Further inland in the Amazon region, oil companies like Mobil and Shell are quickly becoming the biggest conquistadors, taking over vast amounts of land from local indigenous communities to drill for natural gas and oil. The lives of the indigenous communities of the Urabamba Valley where Shell plans to set up operations and of the Madre de Dios Jungle where Mobil has based itself, are under severe threat. The widespread pollution and deforestation associated with oil extraction could have devastating results in these towns and villages . The Yanacocha area, the Urubamba Valley, the Madre de Dios Jungle -- these are just a few of the many places where foreign interests are growing rich by exploiting Peru's natural resources. In fact, Shell is expecting to make over $6 billion in the Urubamba Valley. But what will the indigenous locals be left with when all the oil resources are exhausted and Shell moves on?
Our theme here in Peru is environment and development. This will tie in closely with our indigenous peoples theme in Guatemala. Last month, Shawn wrote about how foreign companies, including Shell, are contributing to environmental devastation in Guatemala. During the next few weeks, we will give you more details about how the development of this new breed of conquistadors is harming the environment and the indigenous Peruvian communities who have lived in harmony with the environment for thousands of years. We will also meet groups who are working to stop this destruction, and show you ways that you too can help.
460 years ago the natives only had bows, arrows and daggers to stand up to the cannons and artillery of the conquistadors. But today there are non-profit service organizations and world wide pressure and attention to stand up to the money and power of the new breed of conquistadors.
Shawn - Snake-Cats at the Lanzon de Templo Viaje
Kevin - Hungry? How about some Cuy?
Kevin - The Ventanillas: A View to Die for-twice!
Shawn - Inspiration at High Elevations: Huapi Mountain
Making a Difference - Constant Threat at Big Mountain
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