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DISTANT FIRES

When a few weeks ago our early spring skies became dark and oppressive and the air was with heavy with ashes and smoke, no one among us seemed to be surprised. Except for a few informative lines in the local press, there was no public reaction to the uncommon phenomenon. An odd fact this silence. Particularly if one takes into consideration that the weather and its every year more alarming manifestations has always been not only the subject of conversation when there is nothing else to talk about, but also the reason for some worries, not always mistaken in their premonitions of an apocalyptic future.

Insensible to the calamity of which we are passive participants, we quietly resign ourselves to the sickly ugliness of a sky darkened by smoke and the discomfort, even the illness that it brings upon us, and we accept as an inevitable natural -as if it were rain or drought-the fact that for days and weeks our sun is obscured and we have difficulties in breathing.

An odd insensibility, and odd apathy in front of a situation of so much consequence as they are these fires that every spring, year after year, for decades and centuries, have been destroying with increasing speed -as if total destruction were an urgent objective-the limited vastness of the Mexican and Central American tropical and sub-tropical forests. Located in a region through which the southern winds scatter the smoke and ashes of the distant fires we suffer rather directly some of the negative results of that far-away, much worst damage that on the long run will become immensurable. The magnitude of the destruction, which expressed in square miles of burnt forest might seem insignificant to some, it can be measured more accurately from miles away in those clouds of smoke that, suggesting cataclysmic times of massive destruction, weighed over us for several days.

Like plumes of erupting volcanoes or the dark clouds of a war of extermination, the smoke of the cyclopean bonfires lit by the obtuse human hand -only the ignorant hand farmer's hand?-poison the sky of vast regions -probably to heavily populated - that need to breath pure air and secretly worship the sun. To benefit themselves from the nourishing ashes that give another year of life to their poor lands, exhausted by farming; to gain a few more acres of planting that after a few harvests will be useless because of the erosion caused by the absence of the fallen trees, the farmers unleash the uncontrollable energies of the all-consuming fire, transforming life into ashes blown over the continent.

As if they were following a funerary ritual of symbolic premonitions, the men of the earth destroy it with the stubborn insistence of a traditional lore that does not recognize other times than those of the static persistence of the myth. Justifying their acts with their needs of the moment, always adverse to them, and with the well accepted custom, the farmers act with the same blind self-interest of those who, not suffering from economic adversity, put in front of any consideration the immediate satisfaction of their ambitions. And they do it in the dramatic and violent ways that have been always followed, as if the destruction by fire of miles and square miles of virgin forest were a sacred duty, the necessary hecatomb in the worshiping of the implacable gods of agriculture, politics and misery.

We, insatiable consumers of everything the planet produces, keep silent, ignoring the damaging and shameless invasion of lands that, unfit for agriculture, should not be wasted in such improper way. It has always be the same in our much-abused continent of most fertile lands. The voracity of a few has justified the immoderate exploitation of what should be the duly administered patrimony of everyone. The suffocating and dark sky of our spring this year should have called our attention to their significance. The clouds of smoke, with their frightening suggestions, do not talk only about some badly controlled agricultural fires in southern lands, they point also to the much more sinful abuse of the land in the hand of groups of interest not necessarily desperate by the limitations of poverty and abandonment. With our silence, with our tacit acceptance of the facts, explained in part by the lack of information, and in part for political reasons, we condone the damage done, condemning ourselves to a future resigned to the most calamitous of conditions. •


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