Purchase Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests
Read more

Excerpt from Strangely Like War

Good Old-Fashioned Colonialism (p. 85)

From chapter "Globalization in the Real World"

The consuming elites (that is, the middle and upper classes of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, and to some degree the upper classes in every other country) have an insatiable demand for luxury goods, commodities, and consumer products, including wood and paper products. I’m sure you can see the problems with infinite demands on a finite planet.

The Northern elites’ governors and businessmen use debt schemes, bribery, weapons deals, and other unethical and illegal methods to get the Southern elites to collude in giving transnational corporations access to peoples’ land, allowing (or encouraging) corporations to run amok—to cut down shrinking forests, to use dysfunctional industrial methods that pollute and waste, and to replace forests with failing plantations.

From the perspective of those in power in the North, if Southern elites aren’t enticed by the crumbs of luxury and provide a massive flow of resources, then you might drive domestic plywood and paper manufacturing facilities out of business with a flood of underpriced panels and paper. If that doesn’t do it, you can get the World Trade Organization tribunal to threaten economic sanctions for some imagined or trifling violation of international trade regulations. If that doesn’t work, you can declare an embargo against the import of foodstuffs. And of course gunboats always wait just beyond the horizon. . . .

It’s all just good old-fashioned colonialism, which my dictionary defines as “(a) control by one power over a dependent area or people; (b) a policy advocating or based on such control.” It’s no coincidence that the rich of the world still control the colonies—although few are so honest or undiplomatic as to call them that—because many of the colonial structures were simply left in place after “independence.” Corporate access to land, resources, and markets; debt peonage; tax structures favorable to those in power; commodity pricing aimed at driving small producers off their land; and the massive export of resources remain in the same mold as five hundred years ago. Only the names describing these mechanisms—and the names of those in power—have changed. In some countries, poverty is much worse than it was under direct colonial rule. The surviving forests themselves are in fragments.

Listen to this voice from the real world, of evicted Brazilian peasant Lazaro Correia da Silva: “Now I’m living in limbo, on the edge of the world. I’ve lost my land, now I have to work on the ranches. I work and they don’t pay me. And then there’s the police here. We go to them and try to get our money from the ranches and they put us in jail. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”