In Puno, Peru, a small town on Lake Titicaca, global power structures are being challenged. That seems worthy of our attention as citizens of the world, but you probably won’t hear much about it from any major news source. For all of the apparent ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans, there’s no substantial debate that challenges the global paradigm. If there was, the world might actually start changing.

This invisible subject is economic imperialism. Legitimized by all the powerful nations of the world and the global financial institutions that they run, the process occurs without resistance — almost. That’s where Puno comes in.

Puno has been designated a Special Economic Zone by president Alan Garcia. This is a strategy to attract foreign investments in which nationwide labor and tax laws are suspended within the area. These regions exist globally, and are hotbeds of incredibly cheap labor. While this may benefit those who work for these companies in the short-term, it ultimately serves to maintain the global hierarchy of nations that provide and nations that consume.

The Canadian company Bear Creek Mining Corporation was given a contract by the Peruvian government to harvest silver. Lake Titicaca, an indispensable cultural and livelihood resource for the people of the region, will likely be damaged by such operations. In an incredibly powerful display of indigenous resistance, the citizens of Puno have blockaded the streets into the city and have united to protest a process that they had no say in and consider detrimental to their lives.

Let’s take a few steps back.

The earth has been divided into official nations that encompass the people within their borders. These lands each have a set of unique resources that are the most essential wealth that a nation possesses. They can be used by the people of the region or exported for financial gain.

Since Europeans have come to the Americas, with vast wealth and the ever-increasing need for resources, indigenous populations have been trampled and their resources have been exploited. The native populations of North America have been basically obliterated; However, in Peru, there remains a large indigenous population of 14 million and their struggle with the West still has a stage.

Since Europeans have come to the Americas, with vast wealth and the ever-increasing need for resources, indigenous populations have been trampled and their resources taken. The native populations of North America have been basically obliterated. However, in Peru, there remains a large indigenous population of 14 million and the struggle between Western culture and the indigenous peoples of the Americas still has a stage.

But does it need to be a struggle? Perhaps a simple global law would free developing nations from the developed worlds’ grip and strengthen their autonomy by forbidding foreign entities from owning or controlling the resources of another country.

To present such an idea is seen as radical, but why? The status quo is radically imperialistic, and actively preserves the role of nations as either exploited or exploiting. A simple exercise in empathy can help us see this: as a native of a country, would you want full autonomy to choose what to do with your land, or would you want someone in Vancouver (as is the case with the Bear Creek Corporation) deciding what to do with it?

The West blindly clings to its supposed cultural superiority, as if it somehow excuses the erasure of other cultures and depletion of our planet by companies like Bear Creek. We have developed stable lives with longer lifespans (unless you live in a neglected urban or rural area) and who wouldn’t want to have that? We are doing the world a favor by spreading our economic system and culture, regardless of what a few misguided Indians think. Just give them some time — they’ll come to realize a Filet-O-Fish is tastier than anything that comes out of Lake Titicaca. Right?

Maybe this is the case — maybe everyone wants to live like an American. But who are we to assume that they do? By being allowed to dangle our incredible wealth around the world, someone will surely bite. Regardless of who it is, the decision is unlikely to be accepted by those who it negatively affects. The companies and governments that sign the contracts will benefit, while the locals have to deal with the consequences. Maybe a few jobs will be gained for a while, but the long-term consequence is the continued subservience of an entire nation towards another.

In a world driven by compassion rather than greed, the U.S. would be the first ones to step up and support the people of the developing world in their struggle for true independence. Unfortunately this is not the world in which we live. Instead, the burden falls on the people of the developing world to organize and assert their autonomy. This is what the people of Puno are doing, and they deserve our full support and attention.

Jonathan can be reached at jaylward@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.