Road conditions were terrible and buses were expensive in northern Peru so Ania and I tried our luck hitchhiking from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca. We bought a bottle of water and spent hours waiting on the side of a dirt road, reading aloud Noam Chomsky’s Secrets, Lies and Democracy to pass the time between rides.
Traveling through the mountains was slow, rough and, most of all, dirty. The first truck to pick us up was carrying diesel gas canisters. When we jumped off, Ania noticed her bag was soaked in gasoline. Drenched down to the sack of flour we bought in Ecuador.
The second truck was transporting live chickens. At the end of the ride, I found my bag covered in white feathers and fresh yellow, brown shit. I rubbed it off by dragging the bag up and down the dirt road.
Our third ride was in the back of construction truck full of rocks. We sat with four construction workers and talked about the food we would all eat for lunch. Ania and I dreamed of fresh vegetables. The workers dreamed of red meat.
In the end, we ate bananas and white bread. It was all they sold at the town store.
After lunch, at some point further down the road, I found a passage in Chomsky’s book that described everything Ania and I had seen on our journey through Latin America. It even explained the reason we were traveling 400 kilometers on a highway made of mud in a country filled with gold.
“The World Bank came out with a study on Latin America which warned that Latin America was facing chaos because of the extraordinarily high level of inequality, which is the highest in the world (and that’s after a period of substantial growth). Even the things the World Bank cares about are threatened.”
“The inequality didn’t just come from the heavens. There was a struggle over the course of Latin American development back in the mid-1940s, when the new world order of that day was being crafted.”
“The State Department documents on this are quite interesting. They said that Latin America was swept by what they called the “philosophy of the new nationalism,” which called for increasing production for domestic needs and reducing inequality. The basic principle of this new nationalism was that the people of the country should be the prime beneficiary of the country’s resources.”
“The US was sharply opposed to that and came out with an economic charter for the Americas that called for eliminating economic nationalism (as it’s also called) in all of its forms and insisting that Latin American development be “complementary” to US development. That means we’ll have the advanced industry and the technology and the peons in Latin America will produce export crops and do some simple operations that they can manage. But they won’t develop economically the way we did.”
“Given the distribution of power, the US of course won. In countries like Brazil, we just took over – Brazil has been almost completely directed by American technocrats for about fifty years. Its enormous resources should make it one of the richest countries in the world, and it’s had one of the highest growth rates. But thanks to our influence on Brazil’s social and economic system, it’s ranked around Albania and Paraguay in quality of life measures, infant mortality and so on.”
This was written in 1994, long before Lula da Silva. A few weeks ago, Brazil made headlines by overtaking Great Britain to become the world’s sixth-largest economy.
What it all meant, I wasn’t sure, probably something good. It was hard to think after two days on that dirt road. There was a lot on our minds when we reached Cajamarca. Chomsky gave us a necessary shock and with it, a new sense of vocation for this long, inexplicable journey to Tierra del Fuego.
On the road, Peru - © Diego Cupolo 2012