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  • DefiantDocumenting the Violation of the Natural World by Latin American Reporters
  • Rupert Medd (bio)

The emergence from Latin America’s history of colonialism, which took and treated local people and nature as marginalized and exploitable subjects, remains an ongoing struggle as the assault on lands and natural resources intensifies. On the local-global scale, already biosphere integrity and land-system change represent two planetary boundaries that have been transgressed, feeding back into the pivotal boundary, climate change. In 1800 these socioecological warnings were brought to light internationally. Then, as now, the stakes are basic community rights, access to resources, and the decolonization of nature.

In 1999 the countries that share the Amazon created an online initiative together with their respective ministries of environment, International Conservation, and the International Center for Journalists. It is titled Premio reportaje sobre biodiversidad (prb, Award-Winning Articles on Biodiversity). Their objective is to support the professionalism of journalists, travelers, and community groups who cover environmental topics. The vulnerability is clear for those at the front line such as Edwin Chota, who was murdered in the Peruvian Amazon in his attempt to halt illegal logging in 2014.

With a general focus on Peru’s Amazon regions, this form of contemporary resistance and testimonial literature by the underrepresented is confronting globalization through a growing environmental consciousness that acknowledges the importance of biodiversity, sustainable practices, and Indigenous rights. Women writers in particular [End Page 169] make extensive use of this online resource in their attempts to confront environmental lawlessness by exploring alternative sociopolitical relations and lifestyles. Guided by their writing, the main aim here is to show how these prb writer-activists are making visible the environmental emergencies by documenting the escalating sociopolitical and ecological struggles within the Amazon regions and to expose further the ecological reality of those living in the margins.

Se dice que en la selva se talan al año unas 250,000 has. de bosques, que contienen unos 50 m³ de maderas aprovechables, y, en consecuencia, se queman unos 12,5 mill. de m³ de madera al año, por un valor calculado de 2,700 mill. de dólares anuales. Esto es, verdaderamente, una vergüenza para un país que se considera pobre, como el Perú.

It is said that in the Selva, 250,000 hectares of forest are cut down annually. In every hectare, 50 m³ is of quality useable wood. Consequently, there are 12.5 million m³ of quality wood burnt annually, and for a total value of 2.700 million US dollars. This is truly shameful for a country like Peru that considers itself poor.

(Brack Egg 1997, 18)

The content of travel writing and journalism written by Latin Americans on their natural environments and concerning Indigenous communities has been politicized over the last fifteen years, as we continue to witness a resurgent environmentalism of the poor. This writing comes as a reaction to the increasing amounts of environmental lawlessness, violence, and intensified resource extraction occurring within the Amazon rain forests—regions that consist of communities and fragile and highly interdependent ecosystems. Their writing styles have merged the act of travel with critiques on the whole framework of modern history, which suggests a “global process involving the expansion of Christendom, the formation of a global market, and the creation of transcontinental empires” (Coronil 2008, 415).1 The formation of this modern, colonial world system is often referred to as “coloniality of power,” and it has four leading components: the control of economy; authority; gender and sexuality; the control of subjectivity and knowledge. In terms of economy within a specific Latin American context, this has amounted to “land appropriations, exploitation of labor, control of natural resources” (Mignolo 2007, 156). In basic terms, the social [End Page 170] theorists who developed this concept have shown how this systematic process has been a defining feature of Latin American culture and history (Moraña, Dussel, and Jáuregui 2008; Quijano 2007, 2008).

For some time, investigative travel has been at the forefront of exposing ecological disasters and crimes.2 While the tropes of nature writing often commercialize the vanishing worlds, unknown tribes, and lost species, the current itineraries of travel...


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pp. 169-210
Launched on MUSE
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