Intag and Junín: Jungle Fist

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Remember the plight of the CGI-creations from Avatar… that’s Intag’s story. Facing the government, millions of dollars of investment, powerful multinational companies seeking to literally cut a mountain in half without a care in the world of who and what would die or be destroyed; facing the reach of the powers that be and their empires, this miniscule mountain community stood strong. Instead of being paid off or looking the other way, Intag resisted.

The initial blow took place in 1996 when the first mining companies laid their greedy eyes on the area. Back then, it was all unfair trade offs, taking advantage of the locals’ naiveté; the site quickly became a target for excessive extraction. About 90% of the territory has been destined for these activities.

If there is something that characterizes the people of Intag today, it’s their environmental awareness, something that has surged through experience. The resistance has led the community to expel large extractive megaprojects from the area. Currently, various endeavors promote local production and ecotourism led to the creation of REI (Intag Ecotourism Network), under which over a dozen local organizations operate.

Visitors can choose from a variety of activities, from adventure and outdoor sports (like zip-lining and kayaking), to camping equipment rental and ample opportunities for hiking and horseback riding, as well as guided tours to waterfalls, hot springs, and birdwatching. Agrotourism is also central to the community’s empowerment, offering a wonderful opportunity to learn about tropical fruit plantations… Is it a happy ending?

Act two

New mining companies have already started lurking about Intag’s surroundings, specifically in the villages of Junín and Chagualyacu. Their arrival in 2015 has incited concerned community members, scientists, and ecologists to begin monitoring the projected damage of what is being dubbed the new ‘Llumiragua’ project.

William Sacher, a hydraulics and hydrology engineer, is a mentor of the monitoring project. It took him just short of a year to witness the impact of the preliminary mining exploration phase that is currently underway. Through 13 strategic monitoring points, recording changes in water quality and flow, the results show that there was a marked increase in water conductivity, an important drop in pH levels (making the water more acidic), concentration of heavy metals, obvious risks of contamination by toxic elements such as arsenic, not to mention the forced displacement of hundreds of families. More tangible results include the brown coloration of local precipitation, the heavy sedimentation impacting the Junín river and the landslides that have contaminated the micro-basins of the ‘Velo de la Novia’ waterfall.

The activity is justified because these lands are considered ‘sacrificial’ (designated so to supposedly strengthen the economy of the local inhabitants). Still, Intag’s example has allowed us to witness that tourism and locally sustainable activities are far more beneficial, empowering, and much less polluting, than mining. These communal enterprises are a clenched jungle fist that stands-up to the indifference of those who forget the damage that began back in the 90s and continues to this day.

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