Amazon’s Mind-Altering Tales:
Nazis, Condoms & the Internet
Just on the account of its gargantuan scope and staggering diversity of species, the Amazon Rainforest has inspired some of our most intriguing posts. But today’s three surprising stories may stun even the most seasoned admirer of that grand green extension.
Cue in the Ayahuasca, its ancient hallucinogenic medicine, and suddenly, tales are not about flora and fauna, but in a way, about basic human feelings, such as love, hate, and the pursuit of communication among distant peoples, otherwise known as being online.
Not that deforestation has slowed down by that much. Or that assassinations of local defenders of the forest has subsided, or being punished by law. And since we’re at it, the jungle’s prospects for the future have not become any less forbidding either.
On the other hand, we could, as we’ve done often, highlight some of the amazing lives and works, native communities and positive deeds, that perform daily their mostly ignored task of fighting to preserve if not the whole forest, at least its indomitable spirit, to our grandchildren and their own kids.
It’s just that we can’t resist bringing you something not usually associated with the environment and wild life and indigenous peoples, all worthy causes for discussion and multiple posts, intrinsically connected with the forest. Not today, anyway.
Instead, let’s contextualize these elements alluded to by the headline, as signs that perhaps one can take the civilization out of the forest, and it’d all be just fine. But try to take the forest out of civilization, and one may be left with the bitter sum of its worst vices.
The good thing about it, spoiler alert, is that out of three, two of said elements are somewhat positive, for one may represent an economic force of transformation, and the other, well, it simply failed, and that was an excellent thing. About the Internet, however, the jury’s still out.
MAKING RUBBERS FOR LOVE
Among the many advocates, some already savagely gunned down, and others still soldiering on, despite life threats and the oblivion of society at large, the shadow of Chico Mendes, murdered 25 years ago last month, still deservedly dominates the conversation about preservation of the forest.
Chico, as he was known, was a rubber tapper and union leader, whose life work was involved in creating sustainable means of survival for the people of the jungle. His assassination helped call attention to the plight of many who, like him, had the courage to fight for a shared, positive view of the future.
We mention rubber because Brazil’s experienced two powerful production booms, one in the late 1800s, and then during WWII. But with widespread commercialization of synthetic rubber, produced from petroleum, the boom went bust, and the Amazon never recovered economically.
Still, production of natural rubber from latex continues in a very small scale, thanks in part to Chico’s efforts. Now there’s a small factory producing condoms in his city of Xapuri, which have been instrumental in the Brazilian government’s efforts to fight HIV infections.
They’re distributed free and, despite its reduced reach, their production represents almost a text-book example of the potential a forest-based economy can achieve throughout the Amazon. Since demand will always be there, this could be the start of a beautiful enterprise, employing thousands of native Brazilians.
THOSE BOYS FROM BRAZIL
It’s a known fact that, after WWII, South America became a haven for fugitive Nazis, in many cases, out of reach even for groups dedicated to bringing them to justice for atrocities committed during the war. The most notorious success case was, of course, Adolf Eichmann‘s.
Found guilty of personally facilitating the killing of thousands of Jews, he was finally caught in Argentina in 1960 and hanged two years after. Others weren’t so unlucky: Josef Mengele, known for horrific experiments on prisoners, eluded his pursuers and was never found. According to rigorous forensics analysis, he died peacefully, and practically unknown, in Brazil in 1978.
That was, coincidentally, the year that Ira Levin‘s fictional The Boys From Brazil, published in 1976, was turned into a best-selling movie. In part due to Levin’s limitations as writer, though, both his book and the movie were destined to become more tabloid fodders than serious investigations.
Now, seven years after his death, Levin has been somewhat vindicated, as a graveyard of a group of Germans, dating back to the 1930s, with crosses bearing swasticas, has been discovered in the middle, of all places, of the Amazon forest. The findings are documented in a book by Jens Gluessing.
Apparently, one Joseph Greiner arrived in Brazil in 1935, leading what was supposed to be a scientific expedition, and proceeded to send reports of what would be like to develop German settlements in the jungle. A little over a year, though, he was dead from Malaria and the project was apparently abandoned.
Questions remain as to whether it was all part of Hitler’s plan for world domination (we know he had one), or just the adventure of an obsessed patriot. The Nazi movement was still getting started then (Hitler only became Chancellor in 1933, 81 years ago this Jan. 30), so there is indeed room for such questioning.
THE WEB OVER THE JUNGLE
It’s been a while since tribes and indigenous peoples living in the Amazon have access to the Internet, mostly via satellite and cable. In fact, in order to be effective in the fight for preservation of cultures and the land, it’s essential to most local advocates and even Indian chiefs to be in touch with ‘civilization.’
Now a plan that dates back at least some 10 years, of developing balloons to carry transmission devices may be closer than ever to becoming a reality. In fact, two separate technologies are aiming at providing reliable Internet service in the region: Google and a Brazilian scientific research group.
Theirs are radically different approaches and, even that Google’s the obvious edge in successfully deploying high altitude balloons throughout the region, it’s the Conectar project, led by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the one with better chances to serve the local communities.
Whereas Google’s Loon project would use balloons placed at 20km of altitude, benefiting reduced areas, Conectar plans to anchor its balloons in strategic regions, so to be integrated with the specific needs for tribes, settlements and isolated towns.
The technology hasn’t yet been completely tested, and even as it’s proposed, has its share of vulnerabilities, not the smallest of them weather conditions and, naturally, funding. But it may be an idea whose time has come, as it can also imply alternative ways of communications to evade, for instance, prying eyes.
Even not being the top priority for having Internet service in the Amazon jungle, the need for secure and reliable links among local producers and their markets remains crucial. Not so much for potential Nazis, but for local producers and, most certainly, to guarantee the privacy of condom users.
* Chico Mendes
* Amazon News
* Damned Project