World Rainforest Movement

The “tree armies” as seen by Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano, one of the most profound and committed writers on the situation of Latin America and its peoples, is widely known within and outside the continent for his classic work “The Open Veins of Latin America”, published over 25 years ago. However this was not the culmination but rather the starting point of an untiring and relentless activity towards a freer and more equitable Latin America, reflected in many of his works published since then. Among them is the book “Úselo y tírelo,” (Use it and throw it out). From this book we have extracted his critical vision regarding monoculture tree plantations. Galeano says:

“The world is being stripped of its plant skin and the land can no longer absorb nor stock the rains. Droughts and floods multiply, while the tropical forests succumb, devoured by cattle ranching and export crops that the market demands and bankers applaud. Each hamburger costs nine square metres of Central American forest. And, when we learn that sooner or later the world will be bald, with some remnants of forest in Zaire and Brazil and that the Mexican forests have been halved in less that half a century, one asks oneself:

Who are dangerous? The indigenous peoples who have taken up arms in the Lacandona forest or the cattle and timber companies that are decimating the forest and leaving the Indians with no homes and Mexico treeless? And what about the bankers who impose this policy, identifying progress with maximum profitability and modernization with devastation?

However, it seems that bankers have given up usury to devote themselves to ecology and the proof is here: the World Bank grants generous loans for tree plantations. The Bank plants trees and reaps prestige in a world that is scandalised by the destruction of its forests. It is a moving story, fit to be shown on television: the ripper distributes orthopaedic limbs among the victims of his mutilations.

In these new tree plantations the birds do not sing. The aniquilated natural forests, that used to be peopled with different trees, in their own way hugging themselves, sources of a diverse life that wisely multiplied itself, have nothing to do with the armies of trees that are all the same, planted like soldiers in line and aimed at industrial service.

Tree plantations for export do not solve ecological problems, but only create them and they create them at the four corners of the world. Just two examples: in the Madhya Pradesh region, in the centre of India, famous for the abundance of its springs, the felling of natural forests and extensive eucalyptus plantations have acted like implacable blotting paper, finishing with all the water; in Chile, at the south of Concepcion, the pine plantations provide wood to the Japanese and provide drought to the whole region. The President of Uruguay is swelled up with pride: The Finns are producing wood in our country. To sell trees to Finland, a wood producing country, is a feat, like selling ice to the Esquimos. But what happens is that the Finns are planting in Uruguay the artificial forests that are forbidden in Finland by laws for the protection of nature.”

Taken from: “Uselo y tírelo. El mundo del fin del milenio visto desde una ecología latinoamericana”, (Use it and throw it out. The world at the end of the millenium, seen from a Latin American ecology) by Eduardo Galeano. Buenos Aires, Planeta, 1994