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Environmental photography

During the Fujimori period, between 1990 and 2000, base organizations and political parties in general weakened, specifically the left parties: we spent a decade in a kind of political limbo, where the de facto government created a strong cronyism, for example, through donations, handing out food and clothing with propaganda, including stoves and pots for community kitchens. The streets were painted orange, the color of Fujimorism.

This was also the period of accelerated privatizations of everything that had been nationalized during the 1970s by the military government. Later, at the end of the XX century, commodity prices started to rise globally, and during the following decade in the 2000s, an unprecedented boom took place. On that basis, humanity as a whole began to spend more resources than produced by nature, living on capital that was not enough for everyone.

During the same period, climate change was being felt with a major impacts and became a cruel reality through droughts, flooding and pests, forcing many farmers to change their productive traditions.

In Peru, the governments of President Paniagua and President Toledo started what might be called the “new Republic”, ¿or the first recovered democracy? A new period began with four clean and continuous national electoral processes, never experienced before, where State institutionality was recovered, despite the strong presence of fujimorism and their autocratic populism.

It is a period in which an environmental authority emerges for the first time in the country: the Ministry of Environment, with supervisory bodies such as SENACE (National Service of Environmental Certification for Sustainable Inestments), OEFA (Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement), SERNANP (National Service of Natural Protected Areas by the State), etc. Since the 1980s, NGOs and spontaneous groups of voluntary citizens started work on protecting the rights to live in a healthy environment and creating a new legal normative framework.

The fact is that since the end of 2000, poverty indicators in Peru have greatly improved, reducing extreme poverty considerably, and poverty in general, that used to reach 50% of the population; however, the distribution of wealth continues to be uneven. On the other hand, new conflicts of interest surfaced. The development of mining and oil multinational companies, the re-accumulation of land in the hands of a few companies, stress and uneven distribution of water and little interest by the State in traditional pockets of poverty mainly in High Andean zones has led to many conflicts. These are spontaneous and not organic conflicts, corresponding to local vindications. The discrepancies between the ownership of land and territories in the case of Amazonian indigenous peoples bring about the old conflict between conservative oligarchic families against the progressive proletarian population, who claimed greater participation in the distribution of resources. This old conflict, in a new form, has erupted once again but with a population of 30 million people. It is not the long-standing problem between left and right policies, but the same feelings that motivated other times still exist: justice, inclusion, respect, tradition and equality; which means among other issues, the access to a good education and health care and adequate representation in the Power of the State. The peoples demand the right to be heard and attended.

 

 

These types of conflicts increase due to the pervasive corruption in the State, the moral and social crisis inherited from Fujimorism, and finally because of the economy’s informality: nearly 70% of the PEA[1] is informal, which means that the laws and slow modernization by the State only benefits 30%.

Informality facilitates individuals to take what is available to them with impunity. This is how the informal or illegal gold miners who devastate the country proceed; as well as drug trafficking, that is illegal and infiltrated in many informal and illegal activities such as logging, gold mining, human trafficking, even politics and show business.

Organized crime syndicates -either from civil construction or simple extortionists- are linked to informality, illegality and corruption, prevailing a climate of insecurity as part of everyday life. This is how society breaks down and falls apart, losing the notion of what is illegal, immoral and harmful. One of the great losers in this process is the environment.

Peru is one of the richest megadiverse countries in the world. It has 84 of the recognized 114 life zones of the world and 28 of the 34 recognized climates on the planet. It is also home to 70 % of the world’s tropical glaciers and 60% of its territory is Amazon jungle with national parks of great importance, such as Manu, Purus and Bahuaja-Sonene, recognized globally for its high biodiversity in flora and fauna.

At the same time, Peru has a huge germplasm bank that has provided the world with great things such as potato, quinoa, maca, cat’s claw, gaucho, and much more. The exploitation of a mine may last forty years, but we should not sacrifice for a short-term benefit and for a small number of people, activities that are lasting riches of Peru, such as tourism, the production of high quality organic products and agreements to provide incentives to stop logging. We must be responsible for the mining activities, which are necessary and should be realized respecting the environment.

During the 1990’s, the world turned its eyes towards the environment. While still working in journalism, we began to address these issues, basically in the Amazon. The use of digital photography, that caused such turmoil among photographers, gave us the opportunity to also work on awareness raising and education regarding environmental issues with institutions that previously could not pay the high cost of cameras, films and image processing. With digital photography and the possibility to capture increasingly simple images at a low price, international cooperation, national NGOs and the unions of affected populations -such as Amazon natives- have been able to be felt and participate publicly in the mass media.

In 2004, a friend called me to collaborate with the German Development Cooperation in Lima, whose objective was to visualize the problematic of different Amazon populations in Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, where a transnational project was working.

Years later, the German Development Cooperation gradually reduced their intervention in Peru, but much emphasis was given to the Amazon and climate change. As of 2007, they provided support in the construction of a communication area for the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA), where I made contributions and introduced the massive use of an image, both photographic and in videos. Today we have a team of ten people and various online information resources, such as Actualidadambiental.pe

In 2013, with some people who had participated in this SPDA experience, we formed a small social-environmental communications company, El Taller.pe, where we work on photography and videos, and organize different events such as exhibitions and presentations in venues and public spaces, accessible to a large number of people.

Today, we rely on the same privilege as nearly forty years ago: a great empathy with the rural population in Peru and the Andean region, who trusts our intermediation role.

 

[1] Economically Active Population, Población Economicamente Activa (PEA).

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