On a small rooftop I can see the houses around the small city of Puerto Maldonado and then the rainforest that extends far beyond, kind of like a sea of trees.
By Michelle Santos
Puerto Maldonado is full of small houses with barred windows and dogs lying on shady sidewalks. El Asadazo, one of the city’s small restaurants, sometimes has guitarists that accompany those eating a lomazo (a delicious Peruvian sandwich). Driving into Puerto Maldonado, I saw a tall green and gray tower that did not fit in with the rest of the city, whose buildings are mostly two to three stories tall, because of its height.
Out of curiosity, I visited this imposing building called El Mirador De La Biodiversidad (more commonly known as Obelisco, or Obelisk). With a height of 47 meters, the shape of the building is supposed to mimic a castaña (chestnut) tree.
I asked the receptionist, Darwin Riquelme what the statues and facial imprints built around and inside el Obelisco meant. He told me they are meant to represent the four most important economic activities of Peru: lumbering, mining, extracting rubber from the shiringa tree, and harvesting chestnuts from the castaña tree. While beneficial for the Peruvian economy, these four practices are also controversial because of their harmful impact on indigenous communities and the environment.
At the same time, indigenous communities are represented in one of the building’s statues inside: the priest leading the indigenous people (Ese-Eja, Infierno, and 15 other groups) with a cross in his hand is Father José Aldamiz. Father Aldamiz worked to convert indigenous people in the Madre de Dios area to Christianity by flying missionaries, supplies, and food to the isolated region. He died in 1966 by flying a plane in bad weather conditions. In Puerto Maldonado he is a well-renowned figure and has the local airport named after him.
After hearing many organizations in Peru (such as EarthRights, Indecopi, and Ministry of Culture) express so many opinions that were predominantly against mining and for preserving indigenous culture and the environment they live in during interviews, I was surprised by how much support was shown to these controversial economic practices and work of the missionaries converting indigenous peoples. Mr. Riquelme told me that the mayor of Puerto Maldonado, Santos Kaway Komori, built the Obelisco in 2003 to attract tourists to the city. Monday through Friday, Mr. Riquelme gets about 60 visitors, on Saturday 80 come to visit, and on Sunday about 130 people come to visit.
Posters on the walls of the stairwell inform visitors about animals, plants, indigenous people, and gold in the nearby rainforest. There is more and more graffiti near the top: J + J. Te Amo Eva (I love you Eva). On a small rooftop, one can see the houses around the small city of Puerto Maldonado and then the rainforest that extends far beyond, kind of like a sea of trees.
Michelle Santos is a sophomore Economics and Math major in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org