January 26, 2015
+++Note from the authors: The bulk of research for this investigative report was conducted from December 2013 to April of 2014. New alliances/affiliations/stats that have since materialized may or may not be reflected at this time.
Social Panorama of Latin America
he United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has highlighted a slowing of progress in poverty reduction in Latin America, citing “rising food costs and weaker economic growth” as contributing factors. UN economists based in Santiago reported that 164 million people, or 28% of the region’s population, are still considered poor. That is nearly unchanged from 2012. Of those, 68 million of them are in extreme poverty – a poverty that most Americans cannot even begin to fathom.
Yet there are bright spots. ECLAC’s “Social Panorama of Latin America” report (March 2014) notes that Venezuela and Ecuador led the region in decreasing poverty in 2012. The largest drop was in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where poverty fell by 5.6% (from 29.5% to 23.9%) and extreme poverty by 2.0% (from 11.7% to 9.7%). In Ecuador, poverty was down by 3.1% (from 35.3% to 32.2%).
This 5.6% decrease in Venezuela translates into a 19% decline in poverty overall, which Mark Weisbrot, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research, “noted is almost certainly the largest decline in poverty in the Americas for 2012, and one of the largest – if not the largest – in the world.”
Yes – they are extracting oil. (Ecuador relies on oil for a third of its national budget.) Just like the Harper Government, the Obama Government and most all other states that are able.
The main difference is that the US spends it on bombing other countries and killing innocent people – for profit and plunder – while Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador are spending it to lift their people (and others oppressed by imperial states) out of poverty. [Ecuador will increase by more than 50% the budget for Health, the executive will allocate more than 5.6 billion dollars by the year 2017 and also plans to hire about 19,000 doctors. Source]
Of course, the words militarism, imperialism and colonialism are not in the NGO dictionary. Nor is the word capitalism.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that it is the wealthy that created the climate crisis. It is the wealthy that perpetuate and propel the fossil fuel production/extraction economy.
As an example, the entire state of Venezuela accounts for only .057% of global emissions while 50% of emissions come from 1% of the world’s population. (If you can afford to get on a plane and fly anywhere at all, this places you in the 1% category.)
Per capita (per person) emissions: Ecuador: 2.2 tonnes CO2 emissions per capita | Bolivia: 1.15 tonnes CO2 of emissions per capita | Venezuela: 6.30 tonnes CO2 emissions per capita | United States: 19.22 tonnes CO2 emissions per capita | Canada 16.60 tonnes CO2 emissions per capita | Congo: 0.3 tonnes CO2 emissions per capita.
As a further example, ALBA delivered relief aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon (video below published on September 19, 2013), while Imperial states continue to destabilize the Middle East.
The left would like to believe that anti-imperialist states can change the existing world order on their own; that without dismantling the industrialized, capitalist economic system, states such as Ecuador and Venezuela can and must simply shut down their oil production. (Of course, we have no such fantasies for our own voracious nations.) But, such a feat would achieve nothing more than food shortages for their citizens, many of whom are already starving. And on an international level, this will change nothing. Rather, imperial forces would ramp up efforts to destabilize, invade and occupy. Further, leaders of ALBA states do not claim they are capable of such a task:
“Ecuador is not trying to change the situation as it has come to be; yet we will try and protect our people from this unfair world order. This is what the integration of the Latin American nations is meant to help accomplish. United, we will become stronger and gain more weight on the international arena. I insist that even if we can’t change the current world order – as this is something too challenging for Latin America to tackle, we do not have enough influence – we nonetheless have a duty to protect our nations from this unfair and immoral world order driven by the interests of the capital alone.” — Interview with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Oct 30, 2013
How to Co-opt Revolutionary Ideas
Participants sit in bleachers at the packed World People’s Summit on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights, Photo by The City Project
On April 19-22, 2010, following the failure of COP15 (where vulnerable states were grossly undermined), the State of Bolivia hosted The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. A global gathering of civil society and governments gathered in Tiquipaya, just outside the city of Cochabamba. “Particularly notable was the large number of Indigenous people from throughout South and North America, who played leading roles in defining the meeting’s environmental philosophy and drawing up a program for action. Morales urged the delegates to commit to learn and benefit from the wisdom of the world’s indigenous peoples.” [Source] Working Groups included a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, a World People’s Referendum on Climate Change, and the establishment of a Climate Justice Tribunal.
Two primary revolutionary declarations were achieved: The People‘s Agreement and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
The People’s Agreement was and remains the only democratically written climate agreement that actually could have addressed the magnitude and scale of our multiple ecological crises. Further, it came to be recognized by the United Nations, due in large part to the tenacity of a single person on behalf of a single state, Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations, Pablo Solón (from February 2009 to July 2011.) Today, somewhat ironically, Solón is the Executive Director of the NGO Focus on the Global South.
October 10, 2010 – Tianjin, China: “The proposals of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth have been maintained and expanded upon in the new negotiating text on climate change that emerged from the last round of negotiations in Tianjin, China. Throughout the process in Tianjin, attempts were made to substitute the negotiating text, which contains the positions of all countries, with a text that would be limited to recognizing the principal elements of consensus for Cancun.
The negotiating text that will be taken up in Cancun includes, among other elements, the following proposals from Cochabamba:
- Reduce emissions by more than 50% for 2017.
- Rights of Mother Earth.
- Full respect for human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and climate migrants.
- Formation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal.
- No new carbon markets.
- 6% of GDP in developed countries to finance climate change actions in developing countries.
- Lifting of barriers to intellectual property that facilitates technology transfer.
- No commodification of forests.”
[Source: Communiqué by the Plurinational State of Bolivia]
By the following year, although key issues of the People’s Agreement were presented in the Durban negotiation text, (again due only to the work by the Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations), [Dec 7, 2011] the People’s Agreement, more and more was quietly being marginalized and buried by even the more legitimate climate justice groups. After Durban, the People’s Agreement was displaced, in its entirety, by a gentle call for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.
The call for a “Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth” was then replaced with the call for “Rights of Nature.”
On April 12, 2012, in response to a Rights of Nature event, a NYC activist inquired on an International Climate Justice listserv: “The rights of mother earth enshrined in the Cochabamba Declaration. Is there a reason why Global Exchange isn’t promoting CD here? Seems like an ideal and key document to promote our fight against greed and for science-based climate policy, respecting indigenous rights and Mother Earth both inside the U.N. system and beyond.”
There was no response.
Almost immediately following the success of the 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth of, a new alliance was created named the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature, which created/assigned an executive committee. “Their intention was to explore ways to expand the concept of Rights of Nature as an idea whose time has come.” [Source] This campaign is also referred to at times as The Rights of Mother Earth campaign.
Thus, the ground-breaking declarations (The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth of April 2010) were lifted out of the hands of the people – back into the hands of U.S. foundation management/ control.
The website for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (created on September 6, 2010) is registered to Thomas Linzey, founder of CELDF and advisor to the New Earth Foundation. On the CELDF website, one finds the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights – CELDF Draft Rights of Nature Ordinance, dated April 15, 2010.
A few months later, on October 13, 2010, CELDF publishes the article Global Alliance for Rights of Nature Formed from Historic International Gathering in Ecuador: “A groundbreaking International Gathering for Rights of Nature was organized by The Pachamama Alliance and Fundación Pachamama in September, where conscious individuals and organizations who have worked to promote the recognition of Rights of Nature, met to expand this concept around the world. Out of this four-day meeting in Patate, Ecuador, the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature was formed…. Fundación Pachamama and The Pachamama Alliance were active participants at the Conference and behind the scenes.”
In the December 2010 publication of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, it is reported, “In August of this year, the Legal Defense Fund co-convened an event hosted by Fundación Pachamama in rural Ecuador. Its purpose was to formalize an international organization which will advocate for legal frameworks that recognize legally enforceable rights for natural communities. The Legal Defense Fund was then selected as the organization which would provide drafting and campaign assistance to communities and nations following the lead of the over two dozen communities in the United States which have recognized rights for Nature, and the country of Ecuador, which has become the first country in the world to recognize natural rights within its constitution.
It is of interest to note that the Pachamama Alliance and its “sister organization,” Fundación Pachamama, supported the inclusion of Rights of Nature in Ecuador’s Constitution, and also endorsed the call for a World Conference of the Peoples regarding Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights. Further, despite the REDD partnerships on behalf of Pachamama Alliance and Foundation, as referenced in documents, the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature (with Pachamama Alliance as founder) appears, on the surface, to be against any commodification of the commons. As an example: Tweet: “July 25, 2012: Rights of Nature – The Road to Rio+20 – http://t.co/vjyiVn7n.
It is of further interest that prior to both the formation of the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature (August 2010) and the World People’s Conference (April 2010), the website Rights of Mother Earth was created on February 16, 2010. It is registered to Robin Milam, Administrative Director for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and a Pachamama Alliance Journey Leader.
Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain for what other reason Pachamama Alliance would co-found Global Alliance for Rights of Nature, other than to do what foundations do best: control, manage, shape and contain movements with revolutionary potential. Perhaps CELDF, in this case, is successfully contained for the most part, in a carefully supervised box – wondering why there is so little focus/awareness on this “movement.” One thing is certain – there is very little interest in promoting this campaign.
In the real world, “likes” and “shares” offer no reprieve whatsoever to our ongoing and accelerating ecological devastation/collapse. However, what is significant in Twitter/social media is who/what organizations are chosen by NGOs and paid “activists” to “follow.” This is especially significant in respect to the first Twitter accounts chosen (to follow) as these principal choices demonstrate clearly who and what ideologies they NGO/individual align themselves with. And although it is true that social media, despite the endless attention it receives, offers no stay of execution whatsoever to our ecological/climate crisis, in the world of the non-profit industrial complex, social media is of paramount importance – precisely because it has no true impact beyond 1) collecting intelligence (in all forms) for the world’s most powerful advertising moguls, corporations and the establishment, providing an unprecedented wealth of information that previously was difficult and costly to obtain, and 2) building brand recognition (thereby increasing foundation funding). Thus, to demonstrate how there is no serious effort to promote Rights of Nature, the following information speaks a thousand words.
The Rights of Nature Twitter account is essentially dead with a total of 46 tweets and 44 followers since its inception on Earth Day, April 22, 2011. The Facebook group fares slightly better with 664 members. Compare this with the Pachamama Alliance FB page with almost 40,000 “likes” and a very active Twitter account. (Accounts accessed December 13, 2013 under the twitter name RightsOfNature. The Twitter name/link has since been changed to Rights4Nature.) 
The Rights of Nature Twitter account follows 16 individuals/orgs including Nature Conservancy (#1), RSPB (UK’s largest “nature conservation” charity), founding members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, the founders of Pachamama Alliance, Al Gore’s Climate Reality, Hawken’s Wiser.org, 350.org and Bill McKibben. As of December 13, 2013, no Indigenous groups whatsoever were followed by this account. (Accounts accessed December 13, 2013 under the twitter name RightsOfNature. 
During 2013, this account was used for little more than one purpose: to promote “ecological tourism” via Pachamama “Journeys.“ [Rights of Nature – Amazon Rainforest Wisdom Immersion Journey Leader: Robin Milam… Cost: $3,475] As of December 19, 2013, one more tweet has been issued – a request for organizations to join Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature in requesting the re-opening of Fundación Pachamama.
The address provided for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is 2036 Nevada City Hwy #193 Grass Valley, California 95945.  Researching this address also leads one to The Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce (128 East Main Street, Grass Valley CA 95945). Robin Milam is listed as the webmaster. Her business is listed as One World Awake, which shares the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature address.
Ecological Tourism – More Hypocrisy
“Eco-tourism, as defined by the World Tourism Organisation, represents only 2 to 4 per cent of international travel spending. Suppose it grew to the point where it dominated the tourist industry. Could such a large-scale industry be managed in a small-scale way? Can anyone who has flown half way around the world in a jet powered by subsidized fossil fuel and puffing out greenhouse gases qualify as an eco-tourist?” — David Nicholson-Lord, 2002
The hypocrisy is rich (literally). Pachamama Alliance chides the Ecuadorian Government for drilling oil in the Yasuni, all while their ecotourism boutique/niche – catering to the lifestyles of the rich – is absolutely dependent upon the expansion of fossil fuels. Travel expenses as reported on Pachamama’s Alliance’s 990 form accounted for over a cool half million in 2011 ($592,557). Here, the irreconcilability of preserving capitalism with preserving the planet cannot be overstated.
Success Story One: Runa
Robin Fink is the Program Director at Fundación Pachamama (since November 2009) and Board Member at the Runa Foundation (Fundación Runa) (May 2012 to present). In her role at Pachamama Alliance, Fink works closely with the Indigenous Achuar of the Ecuadorian Amazon. 
Runa Corporation is a privately held company in the food and beverages industry. It’s also an excellent case study of what the new “green economy” looks and feels (as in marketing/branding) like. [“Runa LLC is a privately held organic Amazonian beverage company that processes and sells guayusa. The company is based in Brooklyn, New York with offices in Quito and Archidona, Ecuador.” WIKIPEDIA]
In the 21st century, most every corporation has a foundation. The benefits (for oligarchs and corporate entities alike) of establishing a foundation are formidable. Securing/protecting interests under the guise of philanthropy and tax evasion represent a mere two of many benefits. [“Fundación Runa” provides tools and resources to indigenous communities and farmers’ associations working towards their vision of sustainable development in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We focus on two core areas; community development and environmental management. We provide technical assistance and financing to farmers associations and cooperatives to build capacity and inspire entrepreneurship. We work with local stakeholders to conduct participatory research and strategic planning for conservation and sustainable land management in the Ecuadorian Amazon.”]
When one observes the heavy hitters on the Runa Foundation Board of Advisors, it is certain that many are betting on this company being acquired by Pepsi or Coca-Cola in the not-so-distant future for the tune of hundreds of millions. Most recently Coca-Cola swallowed up the majority of “Innocent” Drinks for an estimated £100m. [“The three Cambridge graduates who launched Innocent Smoothies have sold the bulk of their remaining shares to Coca-Cola for an estimated £100m – 15 years after dreaming up the idea for the healthy drinks company on a snowboarding holiday.” Financial Times, February 22, 2013] The Runa Foundation Advisors include Yolanda Kakabadse, president of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) since 2010, Trustee of the Ford Foundation, President of International Union for Conservation of Nature (1996-2004); Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF (2005-2010, US Secretary of Agriculture (2001-2005), named 46th most powerful woman by Forbes in 2009; Doug Hattaway, president of Hattaway Communication since 2001, Senior Communications Adviser for Hilary Clinton (2008); Michael Conroy, Board Chair of Forest Stewardship Council since 2010, Board Chair of Fair Trade USA (2003-2010; Jacob Olander, Director of Forest Trends’ Incubator since 2008, Co-founder of EcoDecisión since 1995, Expert in conservation finance and payments for ecosystem services; Florencia Montagnini, professor of Tropical Forestry at Yale University since 2001, research advisor to the Smithsonian Institute’s PRORENA program since 2001, expert in tropical forestry and agroforesty systems.
On the Runa blog, under the post At Runa, We Don’t Actually Farm Guayusa, the company states:
“In this way, we foster the local entrepreneurial spirit, build sustainable and transparent partnerships with the farmers, and proactively work together to break a long history of paternalism and exploitation that has negatively impacted these communities.”
Yet this is not true. In reality, drawing more people into a suicidal system based on perpetual infinite growth is anything but sustainable. [“Never has failure been so ardently defended as success.” — Voltaire’s Bastards] Further, as this corporation grows (the sole purpose of the venture), the introduction of Western identities ensures the introduction of Western values into the Ecuadorian Amazon – ensuring the erosion of culture and identity. The erosion may be slow and subtle, yet it is inevitable, as Western culture has always ensured.
To seek out Earth’s last remaining peoples who are the pure epitome of true sustainability, and then introduce them to capitalism and build a dependence upon the capitalist economic system under the guise of “local entrepreneurial spirit” is paternalism and exploitation at its best. Any venture that cannot sustain itself in a local economy, sustained by local resources, contributes to further annihilation of the planet, regardless of the sophisticated language/marketing that delivers nothing more than what we wish were true.
Runa founders Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie met in an entrepreneurship class at Brown University. Together, they put together a business plan that would “turn Ecuador’s cultural heritage into an income generating opportunity for farming families.” They launched the business in December of 2009.
Runa Corporation is a business built on an Amazonian tree leaf called guayusa, native in the Upper Amazon regions of Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. Traditionally, indigenous families (Achuar) wake up together at dawn to drink guayusa. They sit around the communal fire drinking gourds full of guayusa until sunrise. During this time, the village elders teach the youth about ancestral myths, hunting techniques, social values, and about what it means to be “Runa” in the Indigenous cosmovision. The guayusa ritual continues to be a cornerstone of Kichwa culture, a practice that brings the family and community together around the simple experience of drinking tea. Community shamans, known as yachaks or rukus in Kichwa, will also play a traditional bamboo flute (known as kena) and a two-sided weasel-skin drum, and sing soft rhythmic songs during these early morning hours. The shamans also interpret dreams from the previous night, and make recommendations to guide the community and help them live in harmony with the rainforest. After drinking the first gourds of guayusa, children are often sent to go bathe in the river and receive its strength and cleansing for the day to come. [Source]
Every day, Runa pays three different indigenous farmers $35 each for fresh guayusa leaves to make guayusa tea products sold through their online store to the US and Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic region. Runa states that they have raised the income of 300 farmers by 25% each, whose family income averages $30-70 per month. Runa sales are expected to surpass $1 million for 2012. [August 27, 2012 | Source]
According to Runa, every day the corporation pays three different indigenous farmers $35 each. As they have compensated 300 farmers, let us assume the three different indigenous farmers are representatives of 3 co-operatives: 3 x $35 = $105 | $105 x 365 (days) = $38,325 | $38,325/$1,000,000 *100 = 3.83% of the revenue. $38,325 of a $1 million revenue stream (2012) represents a 3.83% of revenue “shared” with the famers without whose land and labour, harvest and generosity there would be no product at all. (Note that the 3.83% of revenue received from Runa has been divided up amongst the 300 farmers. This equals $127.75 for each farmer per year. This equals $10.65 per month per farmer – which verifies Runa’s statistic of increasing the average farmer’s annual income of $30-$70 per month by approximately 25% if one uses $30 as the benchmark.) 
Bear the farmers’ earnings (above) in mind when, in a nod to history continuing to repeat itself, Coca-Cola buys up the majority of Runa for a cool £100m or so in the not too distant future. Runa foundation advisor Yolanda Kakabadse, of WWF, just happens to also be a member of the Environmental Advisory Board of CocaCola.
“… we also receive about $500,000 from USAID, from the US government, the Andean Development bank, the German government, a couple other NGOs who were very impressed by our model.” [Source]
Runa has received grants totalling $500,000, from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (approximately $250,000) and Corporación Andina de Fomento (a Latin American development bank). Funds have also been given by the German government/GTZ. In November of 2011 the company closed a $1.6 million round of angel investments. In January of 2012 the founder sought $2 million in a Series A equity round. [Source]
One NGO that was “very impressed” by the Runa model was Fundación Natura. As a result, an alliance was formed between them to develop an “agroforestry” project to “domesticate” the guayusa plant – a crop which has never been technically managed.
“Furthermore, we are moving along on a number of other fronts, including fleshing out our alliance with Fundación Natura (the largest conservation NGO in Ecuador) to develop our project to plant guayusa and other agroforestry trees in Ecuador….” — Founder Tyler Gage, May 6, 2009 [Emphasis added]
“Additionally, we are pioneering the sustainable cultivation of a crop that has never been technically managed, so it has taken lots of trial and error to refine our agroforestry model and planting techniques.” — Founder Tyler Gage, July 15, 2010 [Emphasis added]
Developing the Rainforests
Fundación Natura (Nature Foundation) is Ecuador’s first environmental NGO. Founded in 1978, Fundación Natura grew rapidly due to large USAID grants and money derived from debt-for-nature swaps engineered by WWF (Meyer 1993; Echavarria 2010). [Source] These swaps had an important effect: they contributed to shifting responsibility away from the government to private organizations by channelling funding via domestic (though foreign funded/controlled) NGOs rather than through the government agency in charge of managing protected areas. [Source: Globalization and Resistance: Transnational Dimensions of Social Movements, 2002] This strategy of foreign interests bypassing government is compelling considering the fact that USAID would like to see NGOs given legal recognition (further discussed in the final three paragraphs).
Fundación Natura is associated with the World Wide Fund for Nature – WWF, is a member of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a member of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and a member of international environmental networks such as the Latin American Network of Forests (RLB), Conservation International (CI) and Climate Change Network. [Source]
When USAID, WWF et al are expanding/promoting a new “agroforestry” agenda, it means one thing – that this method serves to benefit the elites. Carbon offsets, biomass and biodiesel are just a few of the false solutions that hold promise for the agroforestry projects in developing countries.  In developed countries, such as Canada, the single enticement is the carbon market. 
“The potential of using carbon offset credits from agroforestry projects for farmers in developing areas has become more prevalent in both Clean Development Mechanism and voluntary carbon markets.” — Carbon Credit Payment Options for Agroforestry Projects in Africa, 2011
The traditional Kichwa  farm in Ecuador is called a chakra. The chakra farming technique involves integrating food crops (or animals) into the trees of the forest. As an example, cacao trees are grown among other fruit trees and crops under the shade of a forest – simultaneously tending to the land for more than one purpose. Chakras have been farmed sustainably for centuries.
The term “agroforestry” was coined in the mid-1970s as part of a research study led by John Bene of Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
Agroforestry could be described as the West “modifying” / emulating the traditional chakra to accommodate their own worldview via a Euro-American lens. Agroforestry systems often involve clearing vital underbrush to plant new crops as well as the cutting of trees. Selected trees are then replanted to provide firewood, food, medicine, and other non-timber forest products (that will benefit the West) – such as Runa’s guayusa. We can also safely assume genetically engineered trees are part of many agroforestry projects. Indeed, the paper “Genetic Improvement of Agroforestry Trees” was presented at the 2014 IUFRO Forest Tree Breeding Conference in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2014. In 1991 it was noted that “the initial euphoria about agroforestry has died down…” but just two decades later with “climate wealth opportunities” abounding, the push for agroforestry is making a comeback.
“…the potential applications of biotechnology in agroforestry research are unlimited.” — The Literature of Forestry and Agroforesty, 1996
Agricultural schemes (with development programs/training provided by those in the West) are intended to “consolidate and replicate the production system of ancestral chakras, fish farming, sustainable tourism, safety and food sovereignty-oriented marketing.” [Source] But behind closed doors, it is without doubt the promise of the lucrative carbon market that has industry and the non-profit industrial complex salivating.
Not surprising, the agroforestry model is anything but a perfect reproduction of the forest in its natural state. A study by Matthias De Beenhouwer, Raf Aerts and Olivier Honnay discloses that when a natural forest is converted into an agroforest, the total species richness declines by eleven percent. For forest species, the differences were larger, with a decline of 35% (natural forest to agroforest). Faring worse are the ecosystem services* (water filtration, nutrient rich soil, and other services that the forest ecosystems naturally provide). Management intensification decreased provision of ecosystem services by a strong decline of 37%. (*Note that the research of quantitative carbon sequestration was not included in this study under ecosystem services).
“Forest species richness and total species richness were significantly lower in the more intensively managed than in the more natural land use categories. Response ratios showed that the decline in total species richness was higher when comparing agroforest with plantation (?46%), than when comparing forest with agroforest (?11%)…. Response ratios showed that management intensification decreased provision of ecosystem services with 37% when comparing forest with agroforest and with 27% when comparing agroforest with plantation. Our data suggest that species richness decline follows a concave yield function whereas ecosystem service decline follows a more convex yield function.”
The study is clear: anthropogenic disturbance jeopardizes the ability of tropical forests to sustain ecosystem services.
The loss of species, in tandem with the decline of species richness and ecosystem services in a world of accelerating ecological collapse must be considered critical losses. It is reckless to market agroforests as intelligent/progressive substitutes for rainforests in their natural state.
“Whereas the non-forest species show no significant decline, species confined to forests were the first species to be affected by management intensification, demonstrating that even in an agroforest matrix, natural forest is irreplaceable for their conservation.” (Gardner et al., 2009; Gibson et al., 2011; Muñoz et al., 2013)
However, the NPIC, working hand-in-hand with foreign corporations such as Runa, use the above study to argue that even though agroforests incur critical and significant losses, and there is no replacement for a rainforest in its natural state, agroforestry is less damaging than plantation/monoculture agriculture.
How kind of the empire, its banks and its tentacles (the non-profit industrial complex) to develop systems that are moderately less damaging than a full conversion to monoculture. Let us be clear: just as “less cancer” is still cancer, “less species loss” is still species loss, “less ecosystem damage” is still ecosystem damage. In less than one year during their first year of operations, Runa planted over 75,000 trees in more than 120 hectares of agroforesty plots.
“Runa provides direct market access, agroforestry training, and holistic development services to Amazonian farming families.” One must seriously question what the white Euro-American could possibly offer to the Amazonians in regard to holistic development and growing food in their forests.
To be clear, this leaf (the guayusa), rich in ethnic mystique, “packaged” with deep culture by the Indigenous people (to be branded/marketed to those in a commodity culture – devoid of meaning) IS the product. Yet, as sales increase (exponentially, which is the goal), the actual percentage of revenue to the farmers will decline.
USAID has “given” Runa a grant to reforest 1200 acres of degraded lands with guayusa. When one looks at this simple “gift” along with the dossiers of the advisors to Runa, there is little doubt that carbon markets and REDD – to be sought and implemented – are a goal behind the scenes in the boardrooms. There is also little doubt that Indigenous communities in many instances will not be made aware of the revenue stream that will take place under the guise of the “new economy.”
Of interest is Eliot Logan-Hines, listed as Co-Founder and Executive Director of Runa Foundation. Logan-Hines attended Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He went on to co-author Chapter 18 (REDD policy options: Including forests in an international climate change agreement) of the 2009 publication Forests and Carbon: A Synthesis of Science, Management, and Policy for Carbon Sequestration in Forests.
Of course the future Guayusa plantations will be made to sound brimming with biodiversity with a focus on environmental stewardship. In some instances, perhaps they will be. Both credibility and legitimacy are always essential elements for all such altruistic business ventures. And in many instances, where the growth is not dependent upon the actual and visible destruction of the forest (such as logging), the preservation of biodiversity costs the investors nothing while increasing their legitimacy.
One can argue that there must be increased farmer income, and with such “green” politically correct ventures as Runa’s, this can happen alongside the restoration of the Amazon. Yet, drunk on the idea of a “green economy,” there appears to be a collective amnesia in acknowledging that the sole reason the Amazon is being obliterated in the first place is due to the industrialized capitalist economy. We ignore Einstein’s common sense observation on what constitutes insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Capitalism dictates that whatever must be done to ensure green – as in dollars, not planet – must be done. It is essential that poverty (created by the industrialized capitalist system) be alleviated and eradicated throughout Latin America. Unfortunately, Western industrial capitalists believe this massive undertaking can only be realized within the confines of an industrialized capitalist system, which depends on exploitation of the World’s most vulnerable, essentially making this daunting task impossible.
True “philanthropy” would be an anonymous gift to communities to develop/create their own localized gift economies and co-operatives – entirely free of outside influence and “partnerships” – with absolutely nothing in return to the “philanthropist” nor his/her associated interests. This would be a true demonstration of sincerity in the long-awaited task “to break a long history of paternalism and exploitation that has negatively impacted these communities.” Of course, true autonomy for non-whites is of no interest to today’s “green” and “social” capitalists.
Adopting/stealing progressive language of social movements is nothing new for the elites. Note the word “participatory” (as in participatory democracy in socialist countries) below:
“It’s more fulfilling, more sustainable, more exciting, and more participatory,” said the founders in regards to the company operating a triple bottom line.
Note the rarely spoken fact that business trumps all social needs:
“Wain Collen, Education Director of Fundación Pachamama, emphasizes that ‘NGOs who aim to help indigenous communities most often end up causing more problems than they solve, ‘Our advisors and industry experts continue to remind us that above all, we need to run a successful business, regardless of how social it is. Without a strong, successful business we can’t generate any benefits for anyone.”
When asked about some challenges of running the “social enterprise” (formerly known as a corporation), the founders mentioned the process of acquiring “knowledge” as a big obstacle: “As university students we were accustomed to the ready availability of any and all knowledge any time all the time. However, in Ecuador concepts like ’email’ and ‘the Internet’ are still very, very new….”
Yet, if there is any silver lining to be found in this latest version of “white saviours empowering Ecuadorean farmers,” it is this: Runa received a $500,000 (USD) equity investment from the CreEcuador Fund – an initiative of the current Ecuador government. “The Build Ecuador Fund (CreEcuador) plans to cash out its investments in Runa in roughly 6 years, in order to use its earnings to make additional investments in sustainable businesses. However, rather than selling shares to a private investor, the fund’s vision is to sell shares to Runa employees and the farmers. [Source: Social Enterprise in Emerging Market Countries: No Free Ride, 2013] Yet whether farmers will be able to afford these shares remains to be seen.
[The source of information for Runa founders commentary is from the article The Path to Social Entrepreneurship With The Founders of Runa, August 27, 2012. It is critical to note that even the source of this “news” (“Social Enterprise Buzz”) is of North American origin.]
Surely whites “teaching” Indigenous populations how to engage in internet “knowledge” as identified and deemed necessary by Western interests (in this image above, note the obvious emphasis on Facebook “education” by an unidentified NGO) is just another example of forcing our suicidal economy, hyper-individualized/commodity culture, and “democratic” “values” on others (who up to that point were fortunate enough to be relatively free of them). As parents, we cannot deny an intense anxiety that questions the psychological impact, effects, conditioning and behavioural change resulting from the consumption/addiction of FaceBook and other social media upon our children. The anxiety weighs heavy, like a rock, as we simultaneously deny and justify our own participation. And yet we raise no objection to those most exploited, most vulnerable, being subjugated as corporate fodder and prey. We close our eyes to the sacrifice – the voracious system must be fed.
This is not to say that the protection of Indigenous rights in the Information Age and the right of Indigenous Peoples to access information and communication technology services and connectivity are not to be respected, Rather it is to challenge the fact that the dominant world view is deliberately constructed by Western ideology, which then is propagated via corporate mass-media echo chambers (internet, print, radio, television, film) – thereby framing, shaping and normalizing predetermined social and cultural concepts that constitute the status quo. Not only is the ingestion of controlled doctrine unhealthy, these ideologies/formal doctrines, conceptualized by the elites, serve to protect the interests of hegemony.  And although we like to convince ourselves that internet technology has been a massive success, as we stand on the precipice of planetary collapse, one could quite easily argue that this “success” is illusory, and perhaps the truth is in stark contrast to what we would like to believe in more ways than one. In the lecture “The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism,” Jodi Dean makes the sound argument that the web has formed part of a profoundly depoliticizing shift in capitalism, which has enabled the marriage of neoliberalism to the democratic values of participation and the reduction of politics to the registration of opinions and the transmission of feelings.
Moreover, upon any formerly isolated person’s introduction to the web, having no prior scope or alternate influence outside of the non-profit trainee/volunteer from the West, how can one not be overwhelmed and ultimately absorbed by the elites’ dominant cultural hegemony? Aside from paternalism and colonialism, this also constitutes a rabid academic imperialism.
“It is an electronic mass media driven phenomena [sic] which over time will not only expand the frontiers of the multi-national communication firms but will far exceed even the vast reach of the once powerful and hegemonic British Empire. eColonialism outlines the hegemony of the USA as global American media and communication conglomerates seek out and view the global economy as their market to dominate.” — Tom McPhail, eColonialism Theory: Hegemony and the Role of American Media
Video: Academic Imperialism – Claude Alvares (Running time: 12:40)
On March 22, 2012 Pachamama highlighted the Alliance’s latest “success” in introducing/providing Apple iPads to build communications in the Achuar communities citing an “unprecedented opportunity for coordinated communications throughout the logistically isolated, far-flung communities with films that are about Achuar, by Achuar and in the Achuar language.” iPad-type devices and hand-held mobile phones play a vital role in furthering eColonialism. [Prospects for e-Advocacy in the Global South, A Res Publica Report for the Gates Foundation | Source]
Image: Pachamama website: “iPads Offer a Link for Far-flung Communities” – Westernized education, religion, business values and technology, built upon Western ideologies, globalization and capitalism, continue to penetrate and expand throughout the Achuar communities.
Success Story Two: Fundación Pachamama Projects
“Excluding the role missionaries have had on Achuar culture may serve to satisfy the ecotourists’ imperialist nostalgia by convincing them that the Achuar have what the West has lost: an isolated, pristine ‘indigenous’ culture that has not been tainted by the negative influences of industrialization.” Source: “Take a Picture with a Real Indian”: (Self-) Representation, Ecotourism, and Indigeneity in Amazonia, 2011
Pachamama Alliance highlights CEKSA (Complejo Ecoturistico Kapawi S.A.) and Aerotsentsak as two examples of sustainable development, stating “With the partnership of Fundación Pachamama, the Achuar nationality formed and continues to own and manage two very successful companies… [B]oth companies demonstrate the potential for generating income and leadership capacities to support the autonomous development of the Achuar and other nationalities.”
CEKSA is the corporation that manages the award-winning Kapawi Ecolodge.
Aerotsentsak is the only Achuar-owned airline flying to Achuar territory.
It is critical to question the wisdom (and perhaps also the sincerity) of creating an industry that is completely dependent on fossil fuels – and the capitalist system itself (a system dependent upon infinite growth where violence upon Earth’s most vulnerable peoples and life forms is inherently built into the system) – and then calling it sustainable. Not to mention, it’s an industry that rather than catering to the needs of a localized economy and her people, is dependent upon the 1% percent of the world who created/create 50% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2007, the partnership between Makusar, Fundación Pachamama, TrekEcuador, and Mentefactura presented a successful project profile to the Interamerican Development Bank (IADB).) In May 2010 the Tiinkias Ecotourism Center (TEC) received its first visitors group: a 16-member tour from The Pachamama Alliance, in what could be considered a scouting trip to an eco camp that was still missing several components and finishing touches. In January 2011 the TEC started welcoming periodic groups, and received about 100 visitors, which more than doubled in 2012 and is slowly and steadily growing. The TEC also started combining its adventures with visits to Kapawi Ecolodge.
“But the benefits of tourism have a corollary, and Mr. Tsamarin [Luis Vargas) lamented them: the loss of communal values and a new market mentality, alcohol abuse, litter, men cutting off their traditional ponytails. The Achuar now want to expand a controlled form of tourism farther into their territory, and have built a camp in the forest near the remote community of Tiinkias to offer visitors a more rustic experience than Kapawi. I would be the first tourist there.” [Source]
There is no doubt that such “success stories” are modern day fairy tales for the progressive left. Real life utopias where the 1%, including the liberal left, can immerse themselves in the lair of absolute opulence: “a haven of ease, good taste, and understated luxury” – both literally and metaphorically. [Source] [1998: “Kapawi is targeting the high-end market, with an all-inclusive price of nearly $300 per person, per day, cost that includes transportation from Quito.”]
What exactly underlies the Pachamama statement that “both companies demonstrate the potential for generating income and leadership capacities to support the autonomous development of the Achuar and other nationalities.”
Here it is critical to recognize that the geographic areas deemed necessary for development by Pachamama and corporate interests are populated by Indigenous people who literally live off (and on) the land. These are Earth’s final remaining lands that have been untouched by industrialized civilization, and are still, in many instances, absolutely abundant where climate change has not yet induced drought and devastation. Lynne Twist, co-founder of Pachamama, confirms this in her book The Soul of Money: “Twist lived for a time with the Achuar people, who for thousands of years have lived a rich life in the rainforest with no need for actual money.” [Soul of Money Book Review]
Yet, vital critique regarding the underlying ethnocentric and capitalist standards for initiating, managing and evaluating such “sustainable” developments appears to be of little to no interest – to anyone. Like the warm golden sun, beautiful and intoxicating as it shines upon our skin, collectively we bask in the lies that allow us to continue insanity without reflection – uninterrupted. The embraced ignorance, like the warmth of the sun, is luxurious.
Nature Tourism Gold Rush
“The most important factor to remember as a conservation organization is that when you start approaching the tourist market, business is business or you are out.” — Bezaury-Cree, 1991
Responsible travel, sustainable tourism, ecotourism, nature-based tourism, adventure travel, experiential tourism, voluntourism, educational travel, etc. etc. etc. The rhetoric may change (and does), but the facts do not. Consider that in 1950, international tourists numbered approximately 25 million. Further consider that on December 13, 2012 the UN celebrated international tourism surpassing the one billion mark. This asinine celebration followed the failure of yet another United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP18), making the “celebration” of burning carbon for leisure all the more delusional as the Earth continues to pass planetary tipping points. While celebrating tourism increasing from 25 million to over 1 billion in a mere six decades (a clear example of exponential growth), just one glance at the narcissistic Facebook page created to further promote travel demonstrates the predominantly white Euro-American majority – the very ones creating 50% of all GHG emissions. [Another example of ecotourism’s exponential growth is the recognized statistic that tourism to reserves and national parks in Costa Rica grew from 63,500 to 273,400 foreign tourists, exceeding a quadrupling in a mere six years, between 1985 and 1991.]
In the 1980s, with the growing interest in ecotourism worldwide, Galapagos tourism professionals and tourism companies began to look to the mainland for new tourism destinations. Ecuador had been an established nature tourism destination for over two decades as a result of the early popularity of the Galapagos Islands. (2005) [Source]
According to a 1991 USAID study, at that time, the number of foreign tourists visiting the Galapagos Islands was 50,000-60,000. Approximately 24,000 tourists traveled to the Oriente region (Ecuador’s El Oriente occupies the lowlands of the Amazon basin) for an average of 5 days (in 1990), while foreign tourists traveling to the Amazon region were found to be under 3,000. The Oriente stats represented an increase exceeding 50% in a mere 3 years (between 1987 and 1990), with over half of all Oriente tour operators having started their operations within those last five years (1985-1990). In addition, in 1991, a 40% increase in hotel and lodge capacity in the Oriente took place and continued to expand. The rapid development became known as the “Nature Tourism Gold Rush.” With fewer than 3,000 foreign tourists visiting the Amazon region, this would have been considered an incredible untapped market, ripe to be exploited. [Source]
By the early 1990s, ecotourism had exploded, with hundreds of ecotourism ventures being developed within the planet’s most pristine and isolated areas. Dozens of these “ambitious experiments”* were financed by USAID, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Investors from Europe lined up to partake. An explosion in investment in CBE (community-based ecotourism) projects was well underway with 161 “donor projects” taking place in Latin America, Africa and Asia. By 1996, Conservation Corporation (South Africa) had designated $60 million to the development of 60-100 luxury lodges in East and Southern Africa. This trend coincided with the emergence of neoliberalism, the corporate greens, and the free-market “environmentalists,” with obfuscation, co-optation and steadfast denial ruling ever since. [*”You wonder whether the fate of the Achuar – the indigenous group that owns the lodge and the land that surrounds it – will be different, whether an ambitious experiment in alternative development could allow the tribe to make its peace with the modern world while preserving a way of life so different from – and alien to – Western sensibilities.” Source]
Of the 40 CBE projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon, more than half of them were owned and managed by foundations “representing” local communities. [Community-Based Ecotourism in Ecuador and Its Contribution to the Alleviation of Poverty, 1990]
Dialogue about the inevitable consequences of neoliberal and capitalist ideologies that are being woven strategically into the fabric of Indigenous communities is, almost without exception, deliberately evaded. Rather, the Indigenous communities are presented to the world as the latest beneficiaries of Western development. The West is viewed as the generous white saviour, which by default, assigns the Indigenous peoples (again) to the role of passive “objects” to be saved. To avoid the label of modern-day, full-blown colonists, foundations (via NGOs) and private institutions created the ultimate altruistic image by offering engagement and even full partnerships to selected communities. This would lend much legitimacy to those who deserved none.
Not of interest is the fact that evaluations of management and “success” would/will be observed through, almost exclusively, the eyes of the Euro-American. Zoning, consulting, advertising, and other constructs of the Western world will be deemed as the “correct” path to success, with “success” defined by Western standards (i.e., profit and Western constructs/ideologies). What is lost in this unabashed bravado, buried just beneath the beloved rhetoric of autonomy, diversity and democracy, is that no foreign outsider possesses the intimate knowledge of both land and culture that is imperative to any so-called success in the competitive field of ecotourism.
It is a rare instance when the capitalist encounters something he must possess, but which cannot be purchased. Although the white saviours could now (and still do) bask in the newly appointed cloth of generosity, the reality was (and remains) that the knowledge required to exploit these pristine lands for tourism (i.e., for profit) could not be obtained without the generosity of the Indigenous Peoples of those lands. By framing the foreigners as the saviours, private enterprise would capture rewards of access to land and forests, resources, knowledge and (essentially) free labour – a free-market capitalist’s paradise. NGOs, par excellence, fulfilled their highly financed role of expanding neoliberalism and Western ideologies.
Neoliberalism, Colonialism and Imperialism and in the Caribbean
The multi-million dollar ecotourism projects (“social experiments”) normalized the hierarchies established under colonialism by obscuring the capitalist agenda behind the rhetoric of “community-based tourism” projects. Concealed was the role of economic processes that shape and mold the boundaries between Nature, the market, corporate power and state. Facilitated by the non-profit industrial complex was the task of privatization and marketing of state-society relations behind the concept of the (neoliberal) conservation mode of production. All roads lead to the commodification of Nature, culture, spirituality, and even fantasy. Even symbolism must be considered symbolic capital.
As an example of the imperial and colonial mindset in regards to states of the Caribbean, in a 2006 USAID document (USAID Sustainable Tourism Training), it is noted that “modernization of the public sector is therefore necessary and has been influenced by the growth of the middle class, the diversification of the private sector, and pressure from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” This document explains that “the continued impetus for public sector modernization requires public education and bi-partisan support for reforms. One major aspect of public sector modernization in the Caribbean concerns the need for transfer of several activities, in part or in full, from the public sector to the private sector. The move towards heavier reliance on the private sector as the engine for change and development …. The transfer of appropriate activities from the public sector to the private sector and NGO’s will release governmental financial and managerial resources…. Caribbean governments are a long way from satisfactorily fulfilling all of these functions.” [Emphasis added.]
The same USAID document goes one step further, suggesting that NGOs should be given legal recognition “as an important element in the development of sustainable community development as associated with ecotourism.” The fact that elite interests would like to see NGOs granted legal recognition (this means protection) reveals how critical, and understood, NGO involvement actually is for the further expansion of neoliberalism and US foreign policy.
 Update January 9, 2015: The Rights of Nature FB group now has 1,205 members. The Pachamama Alliance FB page now has 112,460 “likes.” The Rights of Nature Twitter account now has a total of 126 tweets and 118 followers.
 Update January 9, 2015: The Rights of Nature Twitter account now follows 41 individuals/orgs.
 More recently an alternate address has been added: Rights of Mother Earth, PO Box 88, 6317 Oberwil b. Zug,
Switzerland ” [Source]
 Prior to this position Fink was a Project Coordinator and Grants Writer for Ayuda Directa USA (July 2006 – Sept 2009) where she “worked directly with indigenous communities of the Ecuadorian Highlands in identifying local needs and then advocating for them in project descriptions, grant proposals, and community service projects.”
 Update, May 13, 2014: “Runa currently works with over 2,000 indigenous farmers in the region and has generated over $125,000 in income for them.” [Source]
 “The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UNFCCC creates new opportunities for developing-country farmers to benefit from their contributions to carbon sequestration and renewable energy. Interest in agroforestry has increased since a report by the Inter-Centre Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2001) indicated that changes in land use from annual crops to agroforestry is one of the most promising approaches for sequestering carbon through CDM-approved afforestation. Although the carbon sequestration value of agroforestry has received greater attention to date, there is also evidence that agroforestry has good potential to generate renewable energy in the form of biomass and biodiesel that could qualify for the CDM if it can be shown to replace non-renewable sources (Venema and Cisse 2004). ” – World Agroforestry Into the Future, 2006
 “Once an offset system is in place, agricultural producers could implement carbon sequestration projects and sell their reduction credits to large industrial emitters. Emitters would be willing to buy credits from the agriculture sector when the price of those credits is lower than the cost of implementing measures to reduce their own emissions.” – Carbon sequestration potential of agroforestry practices in the L’Ormière River watershed in Quebec, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, November 2008
 The largest of the many indigenous populations who have resided in the Amazon for centuries.
 “Moreover, because the working class own no mass communications media, they are overwhelmed by the bourgeoisie’s cultural hegemony, and, because they have no intellectuals of their own, they adopt the imposed bourgeois worldview (Weltanschauung), which thus constitutes a false consciousness about their own economic exploitation by the strata of the upper classes; with that false awareness the working class lose their social and political, economic and cultural independence as a social class.” [Source]