Consumerism drives a clash of cultures in Arno Kopecky's The Devil’s Curve

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The Devil’s Curve: A Journey into Power and Profit at the Amazon’s Edge
By Arno Kopecky. Douglas & McIntyre, 320 pp, hardcover

A few years ago, in the thickets of Peru, around 3,000 people blocked the main highway, the Curva del Diablo, or the Devil’s Curve. “They are angry that three-quarters of the jungle, an area the size of France, has been leased to foreign interests in the first decade of this twenty-first century,” writes Arno Kopecky in The Devil’s Curve: A Journey into Power and Profit at the Amazon’s Edge. “It isn’t just the Awajun who are worried; their blockade is one link, albeit the most vital, of an uprising that has brought almost seventy rainforest tribes together for the first time in history.” The clash that followed, with shots fired by soldiers at the Awajun natives, putting 82 of them in the hospital with bullet wounds, was just one of the more apparent rift points between indigenous groups and corporate interests in the region.

Kopecky’s book is a vivid example of immersive journalism. He’s on the ground in Peru, and he gives the reader a clear sense of the surroundings. “The landscape began to show some green, with stubborn creeks trickling through rock gardens that eventually consolidated into a single riverbed, which slowly filled the water: the Marañón,” he writes, in a typically descriptive sentence.

But Kopecky’s purposes are larger. A Canadian journalist, he ends up revealing to us just how deeply entwined our lives in Canada are with those of the Awajun. Our high-consumption lives depend on a steady stream of natural resources, and sometimes gaining access to those natural resources means affecting indigenous people like the Awajun and another group he focuses on in the book, the displaced natives who now live in the slums of Medellín, Colombia. Our federal government and resource companies feed us at the expense of others, Kopecky shows throughout the book. “[It] was our companies, and the free trade agreements now protecting them, that those Awajun had been protesting,” he reminds us. “The Canadian International Development Agency…turned out to have helped the Peruvian government map its oil deposits in the Amazon without so much as a hey-how-are-ya to the natives living there. The only country whose corporate presence here outmatched Canada’s was the U.S.”

It’s a trenchant critique of both our representatives and of us. Our apathy, Kopecky reveals, has its consequences.

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