You may remember mention of Stefan’s work on the Ancon Port campaign from my ‘Mundo Azul – from then till now’ post. At the point of writing that post the outcome of the situation remained uncertain. However, a few days ago Stefan learned that the battle had been won. Nine months work on this landmark project has paid off and the bay has been declared untouchable by law. The Ancon campaign has set a precedent here in Peru; this is the first time ever that a successful campaign has been mounted against one of Peru’s wealthiest family owned business groups. Also for the first time, all stakeholders were united together. Peru society is generally extremely divided with a huge gap between upper, middle and lower classes. In the fight to protect Ancon, the wealthiest and poorest levels of the community sat in meetings together and acted as one.
“This project marks a difference. It represents a change in Peru that really matters. If the biggest family corporation can be stopped then so can anyone. This case shows that the old measures taken by these powerful organisations will not be accepted anymore. Bribery, buying people’s allegiance, threats, physical attacks, acting with no scruples… all these tactics no longer work. The country and its people cannot be bought with money. Democracy and people’s rights have to be respected.”
Stefan himself knows firsthand the unscrupulous tactics employed by these large organisations. His own life was threatened while carrying out the Ancon project, with additional veiled threats made towards his family.
Ancon represents a huge shift in focus for Mundo Azul. In the last two years Stefan has been asked three times to become involved in social conflict cases and it is likely that this aspect of the organisation’s work will continue to grow. There are currently 233 registered social conflicts ongoing in Peru, with 50% of these involving an environmental element. Communities are standing up and fighting large companies, wealthy family groups and governmental factions who attempt to take away the rights of the local people. Many of these disputes are occurring along the coast, with local communities being displaced for ports, industry and agricultural projects which are also impacting heavily on the natural environment. Stefan says, “You have to know which fights to pick. Sometimes it is the other way round. Sometimes there is an ethically good company wanting to work in harmony for the good of a local community, but factions within the community want to twist things for their own agenda. So you have to be able to discern.”
Social conflict work can be carried out with relatively small amounts of funding, but even these modest funds still have to come from somewhere. Stefan knows that this money will not come from the government, indeed the government is more likely to go against such politically uncomfortable work, and even cut off permits and sources of funding. Certainly the foreign NGO’s will not become involved. “American and European NGO’s will not get involved in anything political as this may disrupt their inflow of money from donors. They do not want to touch anything that involves government, uncovering uncomfortable truths or illegal trading. They operate with a non-conflict policy.” As far as Stefan is concerned, these policies are damaging to conservation, “They are not taking a stand for conservation, they shy away from what really needs to be done. They are not doing what we need to do to save the world. We have to come back to the 80’s when people were passionate and took a stand. We need that, especially in countries like Peru.”
For Stefan, the lack of funding from external sources to finance social conflict cases, heightens his drive to secure his own financial resources. His commercial venture with Nature Expeditions is “The way forward”.
Stefan’s hope for the future is that Nature Expeditions will run successfully and secure a good income that will support both his family and the work of Mundo Azul. With that financial security in place, he will be free to decide Mundo Azul’s agenda. His guess is that socially and politically oriented projects will eventually overtake the purely conservation oriented ones.
Stefan is proud of his achievements in the Ancon project. He senses a growing confidence in himself as a leader. “Ancon shows the power that one person can have. For a community to be united, there must be a leader to bind them together.” Stefan is starting to be looked on as a leader within the community, and this is something he wants to build on in the future. Ancon has given him a renewed determination to do what needs to be done. “Ancon is one of the greatest achievements of my life in conservation. David can take on Goliath and win!”
A part of Stefan would like a gentler life; to run Nature Expeditions and not be involved in any more struggle… But somehow, considering his makeup as a person, I do not believe, and neither does he, that this will happen. He does however certainly hope to have the option of deciding which fights to accept and which to decline.
And what of Nina? You may have noticed that she has not been very present in the last couple of posts… She has been extremely busy on a work project of her own in the last few weeks, securing an income for the family. But her hopes for the future are to be an equal partner within Mundo Azul, doing the work which she loves most, and for her family to have the freedom to spend more time together enjoying the happy and carefree moments in life.
And that is where I have to leave Nina, Stefan and Mundo Azul… At a point where they are celebrating one victory… While still facing the many challenges of everyday life as conservationists in Peru… With an uncertain and constantly changing future ahead of them…
I will leave you with Stefan’s words, “I will always be a conservationist, conservation has become me. I can never go back. I hope to get the needs of my family met, but beyond that I will continue to do what needs to be done. With passion, one person can change the world…”