Most Americans know about the “Asian Tiger” economies (and if PNoy keeps hitting at corruption, the Filipinos may join that group). But did you know that other areas of the world are similarly expanding their economies?

A day or two ago, I ran into an article that those “undocumented” immigrants in the US are now returning to Mexico, and are finding jobs and prosperity there.

It seems that Mexico, despite the drug violence, is expanding it’s middle class due to economic gains.
But what about South America?

Colombia’s war with FARC continues but is almost won.

Their economy is expanding, and one reason may be: Oil. But not without some problems.

according to the UKEconomist:

IT HAS attracted much less attention than the big deep-sea oil finds in Brazil, but Colombia is also enjoying an oil boom. Its output of crude has nearly doubled in the past six years, from 525,000 b/d in 2005 to a daily average of 914,000 last year. But as exploration pushes deep into the country’s eastern lowlands, oil companies face a familiar problem in rural Colombia: security.

Yeah, the remnants of the ELF and FARC are still around, demanding bribes donations, and if you don’t pay, they will attack the pipelines.

A similar “tax” is behind a lot of the “terrorism” here in the Philippines (along with businessmen and politicians targeting their rivals, alas, so they can get a large cut of the profits).

The Colombian government plans to use the profits from the oil to compensate those who lost land or businesses in the civil strife of the last few decades.

Factoid of the day:  Colombia is the 5th largest exporter of oil to the US.

Which allows the anti american left to insist that the “drug war” was all about oil, not the violence and gangs that are decimating US society.

Sigh.

A similar story is found in Peru:

President Ollanta Humala, dressed in a south Amazon-style tunic or cushma and a feathered headdress, announced in the Cusco town of Quillabamba the plans to begin construction of the Southern Andean Gas Pipeline.

The pipeline, which will be more than 1,000 kilometers long, is to transport gas from the Camisea fields in the Amazonian jungle in southeastern Peru to the cities in the southern departments of Cusco, Puno and Arequipa in the Andean highlands and Moquegua and Tacna on the coast.

Humala, who took office last July, said during a televised ceremony that the pipeline will provide significant development to southern Peru.

“This is a massive, but real, project. A project that is going to change not only life in Cusco, but the country and particularly the south of the country,” he said.

He said the pipeline will decrease energy costs and provide homes with inexpensive natural gas. “In this government we are going to have cheap gas and cheap energy not only for those that can pay, but for those that need energy and the gas to be less expensive,” Humala said.

ah, but what about those poor Indians? You know, these tribes that resist contact with the west and only want to be left alone to live their traditional lifestyles (which includes kidnapping women and children from nearby settlements)?

Hold it a second, says the Peruvian Times: They are not “traditional” but fall backs from a once prosperous Amazon civilization.

What civilization?

Check the book 1491, or this recent NYTimes article on the lost cities of the Amazon

Instead of being pristine forests, barely inhabited by people, parts of the Amazon may have been home for centuries to large populations numbering well into the thousands and living in dozens of towns connected by road networks, explains the American writer Charles C. Mann.

In fact, according to Mr. Mann, the British explorer Percy Fawcett  anished on his 1925 quest to find the lost “City of Z” in the Xingu, one area with such urban settlements.

In addition to parts of the Amazon being “much more thickly populated than previously thought,” Mr. Mann, the author of “1491,” a groundbreaking book about the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, said, “these people purposefully modified their environment in long-lasting ways.”

As a result of long stretches of such human habitation, South America’s colossal forests may have been a lot smaller at times, with big areas resembling relatively empty savannas.

Savannas? Like the areas produced by cattle ranchers who are so hated by environmentalists?

When one talks about development of a country, one faces two powerful groups who have fairy tales to back their selfish claims.

The first is the “good guys” (according to much of the media). They are the environmentalists defending mother earth, and those defending “indigenous cultures”. They have a need to be Lady Bountiful, and their  fairy tale is the wonderfulness of nature. So they insist that the “Amazon rain forest” should not be touched, and those poor destitute people living there, whose children suffer high rates of malnutrition and disease, are actually living in the garden of Eden.

In contrast, we have the John Galt fairy tale: the ranchers and businessmen and politicians on the take who destroy the land for profit, never mind that they are wrecking lives and the local ecology.

Who is right? Both and neither. Compromise would be the best way to go, and the dirty little secret is that when the Lady Bountifuls stop development, the result is poverty. Or maybe not: because there is a pragmatic China is waiting in the wings to exploit develop these resources.

A lot of these problems are found here in the Philippines: corrupt politicians who steal development money, forced displacement that removes people from their traditional land, big business causing pollution, and your friendly local “freedomfighters” who want a cut in the action. And there are, alas, murders committed by both sides, as our family knows from personal experience.

So yes, I’m sorry that someone (probably a crooked politician or businessman who stood to make millions on the deal) killed Father Tentorio, but one wonders why he wanted to “protect” his people from a better life?  The dirty little secret is that Mindanao is poverty stricken, partly because of the severe energy shortage.

Indeed, how many children will die of disease and poverty (not just among the indigenous, but among the many poor Muslims and Tagalog living in Mindanao) because the area lacks jobs, because saintly people like Father Tentorio are preventing cheap, hydoelectric plants to supply cheap electricity.

So what is the alternative?

So should we remain happy poor Filipinos living in our bamboo huts, or should we dam our rivers, burn coal, or maybe even reopen the Bataan nuclear plant (built on top of an earthquake fault) so we can live in a well built concrete house (no termites) with fans, cellphones, electric lights, air conditioners, and broadband connections?

Development has (rightly) been shown over and over again to destroy “indigenous” cultures, but one way that these cultures are “destroyed” is because cultures change, people move around, folks marry outside their tribe, and a lot of their members opt out of their traditions to join the majority culture.

Nature is not pristine, and the good old days weren’t.

Development is not utopia, nor the devil. And it will take wisdom and common sense to improve things without destroying people’s lives and the environment.

I suspect a lot of the “green” types who oppose development (especially if the company has US ties) seem unaware that they may be able to stop US and European investment, but that China has fewer qualms in the matter, and is waiting in the wings, eager to invest in infrastructure and business to make a profit, be it in Africa, South America, or the Philippine islands.

But that is another story for another day.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She has relatives living in Colombia.

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