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10.28.09

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Our Man in the Rainforest

Miguel Hilario seeks Peru's hot seat for a cooler climate

By Juliane Poirier


This really does impact our lives, whether we know it or not: a guy named Miguel Hilario wants to be the first tribal Amazonian president of Peru. And he plans to get there via Sebastopol, on a very green ticket with a very clever plan.

Like Obama, Hilario is an unlikely candidate who appears to understand the power of grassroots organizing. In a phone interview, I asked him why North Bay people should care about his campaign. "Why would Americans—," he began, then stopped and corrected his terminology. "Why would world citizens care about the first indigenous Amazonian Indian running for the presidency of Peru? Our major platform is the preservation of the rainforest as a way of combating global warming." Brilliant strategy, I thought. If he appeals to our world citizenship, we damn well have to care. Especially since Peru is one of the largest holders of biodiversity in the world.

"Sixty percent of Peru is rainforest," explains Hilario, who was born and raised in the Amazon. At ago 20, he was sponsored by Pat Parks of Sebastopol to come live in the United States, where he studied at Sonoma State University, earning an Oxford scholarship to study politics, and then a scholarship to Stanford where he earned a master's and a Ph.D. (Peru's current president is also a Stanford graduate.) Hilario, who lived in the Bay Area for 16 years while remaining actively involved in his own country, claims that past presidents of Peru have approved the clearing of rainforest to plant foods and corn for biofuels.

"They are destroying the forest to fuel the cars of Europeans and Americans," Hillario says. "We want to preserve the Amazon rainforest as a way of combating both global warming and poverty." Hilario plans to make Peru the capital of eco-tourism, allowing controlled development of eco-lodges and the employment of eco-tour guides. Hilario claims that his newly formed pluralist party, Movimiento Pluralista del Peru, is the first political party in that country to promote sustainable development and the implementation of human rights with environmental rights. "I believe that there has to be development, but with humanitarian values," he says. "Not profits only, but improvement of the human condition."

Apparently, a climate-harming Bush legacy dogs all of South America. "Three years ago," Hilario says, "the Brazilian president and Bush made a pact that Latin America would go into the business of creating biofuels to export to the U.S. so that North Americans could be less dependent on petroleum. Within that framework, there is a trend to plant corn and soybeans and sugar cane so we can convert these to biofuel and export them to the U.S. And then Peru signed a free-trade agreement with the U.S. two years ago. The Peruvian government has been giving way to international businesses to plant and grow these biofuels." Rainforest being replaced by Frankencrops is not only an ugly image but a climate-heating mistake in the making.

"Currently Peru has 1.2 million tourists per year," Hilario explains. "We see increasing that to 5 million per year within five years. That influx will create jobs, from taxi drivers in Lima to eco-lodges in the Amazon. In our model, everybody wins. Private investors who develop hotels win, tourists connecting with nature win, dwellers in the Amazon win a better quality of life, and the world will win because we're combating global warming.

"The Bay Area is full of very progressive-minded people," he continues. "I want them to join me in this process to fight for the Amazon through political and intellectual process. It is not just an election in Peru. It is part of world citizenship to preserve the rainforest, part of serving humanity."

There it is again, that "world citizen" term.

Hilario plans to have a campaign office in Sonoma County and to recruit volunteers to work both here and in Peru. "We are asking volunteers for fundraising so we are not co-opted by corporations," Hilario explains.


The public is invited to meet Miguel Hilario at a fundraising event on Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Sebastopol Community Center. 6pm. For details, contact Aron Parks at 707.543.6835.


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