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Bolivian indigenous people try to recover in aftermath of Amazon fires

AMAZON FIRES | 12 de septiembre de 2019

Bolivian indigenous people try to recover in aftermath of Amazon fires 

Photo taken Sept. 10, 2019 (made available Sept. 12, 2019) showing local leader Javier Mencari beside a copaiba tree near the Bolivian village of El Carmen. The region - known for its ecotourism and medicinal plants - was devastated by wildfires in August but local residents are working to recover from the disaster. EFE-EPA/Martin Alipaz

By Gabriel Romano

El Carmen, Bolivia, Sep 12 (efe-epa).- The fire took the visual gift provided by orchids in Bolivia's Chiquitania region, but the indigenous communities that make their living from the area's natural wealth and beauty are not resigning themselves to the loss of their livelihoods.

El Carmen is one of the villages that lives from ecotourism, one of the first to suffer in the forest fires that beset Bolivia a month ago, but now it's trying to recover from the disaster that destroyed - temporarily, at least - a good portion of its natural wealth.

The fire surprised local residents on Aug. 6, Bolivia's Independence Day, just as they were holding a small parade at the town's school, a celebration they had to halt to deal with the emergency.

"We don't know how (it happened) because this fire came from far away," local leader Javier Mencari told EFE pausing on the path leading to the Garden of the Orchids, which is located half an hour's walk from the village.

At the spot are the ashes and stubble left by the aggressive flames, along with downed branches and the remnants of countless orchids that formerly bloomed with an intense lilac color along the route.

The plants are known to grow on the stones in this hilly area and they need only a little bit of soil in the crevices of the bounders to put down their roots, transforming the area into a visual wonderland.

"We lost about 14 species in this garden," Mencari said, emphasizing the efforts of the community in restoring the site to the point where tourists will once again find it attractive in the coming weeks.

Also growing in this protected forest area several dozen hectares in size is the "copaiba" tree, from which an oil is extracted that is used to treat colds and joint pain.

In addition, there are other medicinal plants in the area which Mencari said can be used to treat kidney ailments and which are an antidote for snakebites.

The copaiba oil "sustains" the community and is collected by local residents once a month and sold for a good price at a nearby market, he said.

Something that stands out when one arrives at the site on a normal day is seeing the village school's students in their typical outfits, the women wearing their "tipoys" - a type of white, decorated tunic - and the men in their sleeveless shirts adorned in typical Chiquitania style.

The aim is to "reassert Chiquitania identity" by means of their traditional dress, teacher Maribel Sanchez told EFE.

This woman, along with her students, has taken over organizing trips along the path to the orchids and that has led to many people cooperating in helping restore the site.

The fires in the Chiquitania region, a transitional area between the Chaco and Amazonia, have affected more than two million hectares (five million acres) in the eastern province of Santa Cruz.

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Brazilian Amazon's Champions League offers respite from wildfires

By Fernando Bizerra

Humaita, Brazil, Sep 12 (EFE).- At night he fights fires in the heart of the Amazon. During the day, he wears Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo's No. 7 jersey.

Assis is one of many soccer-loving young members of the Tenharim indigenous group who this week took their minds off the severe problems facing the world's largest rainforest and competed in a men's and women's soccer tournament, which was held on Tuesday from 8 am until the end of the afternoon.

The Tenharim-Marmelos Indigenous Reserve, in the western Brazilian state of Amazonas, was the venue for the event, in which players sported pirated versions of the jerseys used by different top European clubs, including Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Schalke 04.

It was the Champions League of the Amazon.

And even though the humble goals consisted of three thin sticks of wood that looked ready to collapse at any moment and the grass field was riddled with bald patches, the players were intently focused on winning the title and taking home cash prizes of 2,000 reais ($500) and 500 reais, respectively, for the winning men's and women's teams.

The games were divided into two 10-minute halves and played at a high level of intensity, although always with a spirit of sportsmanship.

Assis apparently tries to emulate every aspect of his favorite player, even adopting Ronaldo's same hairstyle with the sides shaved and raised bangs.

"He's always breaking goal-scoring records, battling it out with (FC Barcelona great Lionel) Messi. I'm inspired by him because he's a player who's fighting, pursuing his goal of being the best player in the world," the young man told EFE.

"My favorite team is Barcelona. And the player? Messi," said Julio, who was sporting spiky hair with blonde highlights and wearing the jersey of the Corinthians team - the only "Brazilian" representative and the eventual winner of this edition of the tournament.

Debora, a goalkeeper who stopped a penalty that helped her team - PSG - lift the trophy, said her soccer idol is Swedish-Brazilian legend Marta.

Soccer serves as a therapy for the people living on this indigenous reserve in the southwestern portion of the Brazilian Amazon, a region that has been threatened in recent weeks by raging wildfires.

Assis is one of the young people who has had to take on the role of firefighter and help combat the flames, which spread to an area just 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the hamlet of Marmelos and have devastated thousands of hectares of the world's largest rainforest.

The images of vast areas of charred rainforest have outraged the international community and non-governmental organizations, which place the blame on Brazilian rightist President Jair Bolsonaro's anti-environmentalist rhetoric and efforts to promote the development of the Amazon's natural resources.

In the case of Amazonas state, where the Tenharim-Marmelos Indigenous Reserve is located, almost half of this year's fires have erupted on indigenous lands and Environmental Conservation Units.

Brazil's most prominent environmentalist, Marina Silva, said last month that "populist" politicians were stoking the problem by encouraging settlers in the Amazon to persist in outmoded practices such as using fires to clear land for planting.

Although the fires have captured international attention recently, the Tenharim also face constant pressure from loggers and ranchers.

A few years ago, tensions soared with the inhabitants of Humaita, a settler town in Amazonas state, who accused the Tenharim in connection with the disappearance of three non-indigenous people in 2013. EFE

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