Another year, another 1400 square miles of deforestation. It looked like things weren’t going to change in the Bolivian Amazon and it was taking a toll on Ernesto. He was fighting a constant battle with his consciousness, knowing he was chopping down trees illegally and he could be thrown in jail any time now. Besides that, his employer could get away with not paying him. He’d be just as guilty in court as his employer. He feared his wife leaving him and his kids never wanting to see him again if anything happened. The exact same thing he was doing to provide for his family could also tear them apart just as rapidly as the trees were falling down. His life would be just as empty as the fields they left behind. Imagine seeing 25 trees disappear day after day. Imagine the chainsaws roaring in fury, fighting a tree’s fruitless resistance, while you know that instead of hearing cheers in celebration of success, even the chainsaws will mourn in silence. The agony was relentless, but somehow his coworkers seemed to have grown indifferent. It all seemed so eerily similar to people being lined up for execution. He himself could be sentenced for ‘war crimes’ if a tattletale would find out. He was even carrying a gun with him. “Just in case”, his employer had advised him. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to pull the trigger, but the hormones in his body begged to differ. The rustling of leaves around him had turned him paranoid. “Come out!”, he shouted when he heard more rustling. His coworkers all checked the direction of Ernesto’s gun. All had stopped working, but were still holding their chainsaws. They had no way of telling whether there was real danger or if this was false alarm. The silence revealed nothing. “Come out, I said!”, he cried out even louder. His only response came in the form of more rustling. He feared someone had caught them and would report them to the police. His family would leave him. After all those years of love and hard work, he would not allow that to happen. He fired his gun without hesitation. Everybody looked at him in fear, surprised that he was capable of this atrocity. Ernesto just stood there. He was clearly in shock, one of his coworkers realized. He took it upon himself to examine the horror that Ernesto had inflicted on some creature. When he moved the leaves to reveal the scene, he shuddered in disgust. “You coward!”, he screamed, “Don’t just stand there! Be a man and come look at what you have done!” Ernesto still couldn’t believe what he had done, but he agreed he had to face his actions. He slowly forced his feet -heavy with sorrow and disbelief- forward, but his coworker urged him to hurry up. “Ernesto!”, he screamed again, pointing at the gun wound. There it lay on the ground, a sloth; a rare animal in this area. “It could’ve been a kid, Ernesto! Do you realize what you’ve done?!” He looked at the blood that was running from the animal’s chest. The sight of it made him sick. How could he? Ernesto dropped his gun, oblivious to the fact that it would later serve as evidence against him in court. It could’ve been a kid. “It just as well might have been”, he later told an inmate, “I lost my kids.” “Have you lost your soul too?”, he asked. In the absence of a response, he continued, “I lost everything, except for my soul. It’s the only thing I have left to live for.”
Somewhere else in Bolivia, in Madidi National Park, the indigenous Quecha-Tacana people were running an eco-tourism business called Chalalán in an effort to counter illegal logging. Their cabins were a perfect attraction for tourists with their hardwood flooring, roofs made from woven açaí palm leaves and walls made from copa palm that was covered with matting. All organic waste was added to a compost heap and fossil fuels were used as little as possible. The water was purified and the lighting in the shared areas and bedrooms were powered by solar energy. This is the kind of place Ernesto dreamed of. It’s the kind of dream that others turned into a reality. It’s the kind of dream tourists loved to experience.
Copyright ©2015 Didier Strijdonk
Chalalán does indeed exist and the amount of deforestation in this story is based on truth. If you want to know more about Chalalán, go to:http://www.chalalan.com/index_en.php