National Geographic : 2016 Jun
48 national geographic • june 2016 When we arrive in town on our way out of the park, it seems deserted. Brightly painted houses cluster along the river. Fleece blankets with pictures of tigers and peacocks dry in the sun. The silence is interrupted only by a few kids and some roving chickens and pigs. We find one shop open and have a beer, our first cold drink in weeks. As the day lengthens, men start filtering back into the village, each holding a machete, his back wet with sweat. Among them is village president Edgar Morales. He says the men have been cutting a trail for government surveyors, so that they can collect the data needed to gain approval for the road. People in Diamante, Morales explains, grow a lot of bananas and take them by boat to sell in nearby Boca Manú. But they know they could get a better price in Cusco, and in general they feel ripped off. “Our kids who go out and work lumber get nothing,” Morales says. “ We have good flatlands here, with loamy, dark earth. We can grow plantains, papayas, pineapples, yucca to sell in Cusco. Soon people here will have their own cars. People have warned us that bad peo- ple will come in and take our land, but we have 800 people here. We can defend ourselves.” Peru’s Environment Ministry, which runs the park, opposes the road, and so do most of the indigenous residents of the region, according to park director John Florez. “The people de- manding it are the colonists,” he says. “Diaman- te is the only native community asking for it.” Mauro Metaki, a genial, mission-educated schoolteacher in Tayakome, is opposed to the road and frustrated that a few people in his community are in favor of it. “The regional gov- ernor is lying,” he says. “They are fools to believe him. He’s making them all excited saying that the road will benefit them. It will benefit him and his white friends, who will come in and take the lumber, the animals, and the gold. There will be nothing left for the Matsigenka.” Sitting on the open first floor of his house, looking out over wild palms and cultivated ba- nanas, mangoes, and sugarcane, listening to the soulful hoots of howler monkeys from across the river, Metaki explains how he sees Manú.