The Amazon River may seem far away from many of us. But the rich ecosystem does have it’s impact on us. It’s resources is being eyed by many of our fellow citizens and the politics of the region – in many cases fueled by bloodshed – should be of concern to many of us here. Arno Kopecky spent a year exploring the region of the river around Peru and Columbia and turned his observations into an interesting read called The Devil’s Curve: A Journey into Power and Profit at the Amazon’s Edge.
Preface Page 1
As dawn breaks over the edge of Peru’s northern Amazon, sixty Peruvian commandos slip into the dry bush above a bend in the highway known as the Curva del Diablo. Three thousand Awajun protesters have been camped on the pavement below for fifty-seven days; to distract their attention from the commandos creeping into position, a second detachment of five hundred soldiers has already gathered on the pavement in plain view of the protesters. Everyone knows something’s coming, but nobody knows what.
In June, 2009. a protest against the influx of foreign oil and mining corporations to the Peruvian Amazon ends bitterly when soldiers gun down 3000 Awajun natives who were blocking the Devil’s Curve, a bend in the main highway from the region to the outside world. Kopecky explores the political and social aftermath of the massacre in detail in this book.
“If you’ve come to hear the truth about what happened, you’ve come to the right place,” said comandante Luis Sanchez, senior jefe of Bagua province’s policia. The comandante had a voice like a coal mine and the headful of thick, greased-back mulatto hair you’d expect from a man in his position . . .
The comisaria Sanchez commands is an aquamarine, two-storey structure built of stone and planted halfway down Main Street. It’s the freshest building in town. Two officers just out of high school stood in front of the entrance when I showed up shortly before dusk. They chatted to passersby and entrants alike with their AKs slung half-forgotten – but never completely – behind their backs. The street was crowded with the hornet buzz of mototaxis; it’s not a big town, but no one walks if they can help it. The high barren peaks of the Andes jutted above the rooftops; below them and just out of sight, but within easy walking distance, the Rio Utcubamba meandered past the edge of town, watering the rice paddies, yucca fields, and coconut trees of an otherwise drab plateau and doing absolutely nothing to cut the swelter or the dust on its way out of the Andes and into the Amazon. Everyone relajado in the afternoon heat.
There was no sign of the mob that ripped through town a few months earlier, heavy as a landslide as it rolled towards the station, destroying city hall, the headquarters of the ruling party’s local chapter, and the other police station a few blocks away. The mob sucked in everyone in its path, tow thousand strong by the time it reached Main Street, a unified mass of gleeful anger intent on crushing this pretty teal building and all the boys inside. Were the two standing casual guard outside among those who, that day in June, had climbed to the roof and started sniping for their lives?
‘It’s all forgotten,” Captain Sanchez assured me. “We police have a good relationship with the people. We’ve even put up signs on the streets of Bagua that read, ‘The police are your friends.’ Unfortunately you can’t see the one that was near here because someone knocked it over, but we’ll put it back up I assure you.”
Kopecky has a great literary style that is uncommon in journalism these days. His words flow together and his descriptions are vivid. This book was enlightening AND a pleasure to read.
Joel (Shimpukat) showed up at ten as promised and we walked to the riverbank beside the plaza. A long canoe was waiting there with several other Awajun in it. Joel and I paid the driver a few soles each and clambered over the other passengers to sit at the bow. The driver pushed us off the bank and guided the lancha into the middle of the river. It was a journey of just under two hours downstream to Numpatkaim, with occasional stops on the way to drop people off at small comunidades clumped along the riverbanks. Often these were nothing more than a pair of thatch huts with a red earthen trail leading down to the water’s edge; between communities, the foliage grew dense and impenetrable straight to the river.
Joel ignored the other passengers and spoke to me about his past and future plans, leaning against the low wood rail as comfortably as if it were a rocking chair.
“I wanted to be an environmental lawyer,” he said, “but I didn’t have the money. I was an orphan. My father died when I was five, and my mother soon followed him. Without any parents to support me, all I could get was an education degree.”
“How did you get even that?” I asked. “It seems most Awajun don’t even learn Spanish.”
“Me anime!” He motivated himself. At eighteen, he moved to the city and found jobs. He was proud of that motivation, his ability to get up and do new things. “That is what makes me an Apu (leader)”
The Devil’s Curve: A Journey into Power and Profit at the Amazon’s Edge by Arno Kopecky is filled with insight and wisdom of the issues surrounding the ecosystem of the Amazon river. A fascinating read.