From the Concrete Jungle to the Amazon Rainforest

Bryan Parras, co-founder of t.e.j.a.s., is traveling to the Amazon to connect with indigenous communities in the struggle against extractive industry and climate change. Click here to support this campaign. Below is a message from Bryan describing why he is going.

Why would a Xicano from Houston’s East End want to leave the comforts of the petro-metro to visit the wild unknown of the Amazon Rainforest? That’s a long story, but let’s go back ten years and remember the riveting images of an American metropolis drowning in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Yes, it’s been ten years already. Maybe you haven’t noticed because we’ve seen a lot of cities drowning, on fire or reeling from some environmental disaster. Most breaking news these days include some extreme weather event, chemical fire, exploding train or busted pipeline. The frequency of these events have dulled our senses and habituated us into a classic case of learned helplessness.

It was around this time that we were contacted by some colleagues at Amazon Watch. They said, “we heard good things about you.” They were referring to t.e.j.a.s. an organization that I co-founded. They wanted to let us know that they would be traveling to Houston with some Indigenous leaders from the Amazon to raise awareness about the ongoing environmental destruction taking place in their homeland by companies that called Houston home, Chevron and Conoco Philips to name a few.

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We welcomed several delegations over the years and every time we have been asked to visit the rainforest and see for ourselves the magnificence and beauty. We have also been asked to be a witness to the devastation caused by careless exploration, drilling and transport of oil by American oil companies, many based right here in Houston, TX.

CONNECTION:

International visitors are always surprised when we tell them that we also have problems with unfettered, reckless projects from the oil and gas industry. This is Texas after all. One trip along the Texas Dependence Highway (Highway 225) and visitors are often blown away, some brought to tears, others experience more visceral effects like headaches, nausea or a bloody nose if they stick around too long.

Welcome to my home I tell them. Did you notice the images of conquest painted on the chemical tanks? This is where the west was won(stolen), Mexico defeated(never), the land tamed(drained) and the people civilized(drugged). See that bayou over there? It starts on the west side of town and miraculously turns into the Houston Ship Channel once it passes downtown and enters the east end of town.

The bayou has been transformed into a monstrous toxic soup lined with metal, barges, cranes, mega ships and industry. A vast network of pipes traverse the soil underneath transporting oil, chemicals and other petro-products. Above the ground, trains and trucks perform the same task.

This is development. This is progress. This fuels the American Dream. This is capitalism at its finest. This is the cost of “civility”. This is what you have to look forward to if you let them “develop” your territory.

These are often some of the topics we go into during one of our “toxic tours” as we highlight some of the history, geography and concerns often with a bit of humor and critical pedagogy.

PURPOSE:

Our intent for traveling to the Amazon Rainforest is simple. We are inextricably linked. Even before we hosted┬áthat first delegation. We have much to learn from our friends and plenty to give. Being from the United States and living in one of the cities that has profited and continues to profit the most from the oil and gas industry, it’s important to understand the counter narrative fully and completely. The tools we have used to give our communities a voice are the same tools we hope to share with our allies down South.

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The power of owning your story and connecting it with the global community is the only solution out of this mess that “our” way of life has imposed on the rest of the planet. We know that communities like those in the Amazon bear the brunt of Climate Change impacts and are least able to cope. We also know that they contributed the least to these global environmental problems. Further, we understand the importance of these critical habitats.

  1. We hope to learn more about the situation in the Peruvian Rainforest and bring that story back to our communities.
  2. We will build long term relationships and work collectively with other land defenders in the Amazon.
  3. We will document ongoing negotiations with the Peruvian government over proposed exploration into indigenous territories and ancestral lands that are being auctioned for future exploration and extraction.
  4. We will follow the consultation process as communities oppose these speculators and future industrial projects.
  5. We will also join these leaders as they organize their communities in the rainforest.
  6. We will find better ways to support and protect indigenous environmental leaders and land defenders as well as their communities and territory.
  7. We hope to raise awareness over the criminalization of indigenous leaders. More and more, activist are targeted by industry, government and sometimes face the threat of arrest, physical violence or death.
  8. We will document these stories and plan to share them with the public at the last UN Climate Summit in Paris this December.
  9. Lastly, we will share our story, conduct intergenrational multi-media workshops including Theater of the Oppressed, Digital Storytelling and other communication campaign strategies.

COST:

Traveling to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest does not come without cost. We are well aware of that and we intend to make the most of our time there. The logistics of traveling throughout the rainforest and visiting the communities deep in the jungle will also be a costly venture. Our trip will require some amount of gear and we will incur some cost for housing, food and other unforeseen expenses.

We would like to compensate our workshop participants with a modest stipend as we do here in the states. We would also like to purchase some digital cameras and equipment for use during the workshops and leave them with the participants for future use. All of this amounts to approximately $15,000.00 We will also be followed by a film crew and plan to produce some media while we are on the ground for our allies who are facing further encroachment by oil companies right now.

Roundtrip Flights to Peru- $2,500.00

Cost of travel to the Amazon via boat- $5,000 – $7,000 (In an area being exploited for petro, it’s ironic that the cost are so expensive but traveling up and down the Amazon River is no easy venter and to expedite travel, speed boats are used by communities to make important meetings in the city. We don’t have a lot of time so we will also be traveling via speed boat to visit with communities deep in the rainforest.

Stipends for participants and refreshments for Theater of the Oppressed Workshops: $1000.00

Digital Cameras for media and communication workshops: $1,500.00

Gear for Rainforrest including tent, hiking boots and other essentials. $2,000.00

Accomodations and Food: $1,500.00

Incidentals: $1,500.00

CONCLUSION:

We will be visiting the rainforest as negotiations take place through the process of consultation between the government of Peru and several indigenous communities. This is why we must make this journey right now. Please support our efforts to build these international alliances and develop solutions to the problems we all face.

It is true that we have made incredible advancements in technology, science and health but these should not come at the expense of life and our very survival as a species on the beautiful planet we all call home. These advancements mean nothing if they are not equally distributed. These advancements strip us of our humanity if they destroy our sacred sites and erase our spiritual connection to pachamama and all living things.

We have a moral, ethical and spiritual calling to think about the future we will leave for future generations.

Vamanos together or don’t vamanos at all,

bryan parras

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