Greenpeace crossed the line in Peru earlier this week by trespassing at the Nazca archeological site in order to pull off a publicity stunt. The environmental activists spelled out a message with large yellow banners which read: “Time for Change; The Future is Renewable.” Peruvians are infuriated by the actions of the trespassers whose footprints are a permanent reminder of their transgression.
The independent campaigning organization known as Greenpeace has made similar demonstrations in the past. In January of this year for example, a group unfurled a banner which read “WE KILL FORESTS” from the top of the Mumbai headquarters of Essar Group, a company that had plans to develop a coal mine in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Nuclear and coal power plants are popular targets for the group. One message, projected on a cooling tower in Germany, proclaimed “ATOMKRAFT SCHADET DEUTSCHLAND”, which means “nuclear power is bad for Germany”.
Greeenpeace demonstrations almost always upset the powers at be and herein lies part of the reasoning behind them. They claim that these messages are intended to inform the ordinary citizen and that getting a rise out people is an unintended consequence, but provoking someone is only effective when they react to it. Usually the group has some support from the common people but not so much in this case. Especially not from Peruvians, who feel that Greenpeace has crossed the line this time.
The difference between demonstrations of the past and the recent stunt in Peru is not what they said so much as where they said it. Skyscrapers, bridges and power plants are all valid places for protest. They are manifestations of the industrial regime that Greenpeace has adamantly pitted itself against. The world heritage site of Nazca on the other hand is sacred ground for Peruvians. The ancient geodesic drawings are awe-inspiring remnants of an ancient civilization—they are thought to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old—and Peruvians feel that the participants that snuck into Nazca flagrantly disrespected them.
The Nazca Lines are a mysterious series of huge animal, human and plant figures etched in the desert. They are one of South America’s great archaeological wonders. Tourists generally see them through airplane windows as this bird’s eye view is really the best way to put them in perspective.
While the organization claims that they “left no trace” and that “absolutely NO damage was done,” Peruvian officials strongly disagree saying that their path of footprints added a new line to the iconic Hummingbird drawing, causing irreversible damage. The government of Peru is currently seeking criminal charges against Greenpeace. If found guilty, the activists could face up to six years in prison. Luis Jaime Castillo, a Deputy Culture Minister, says that their actions are “a slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred”.
The message promoting renewable energy was the organization’s way of chiming in on the U.N. climate talks that were underway in nearby Lima. While the activists might have had good intentions, they did not fully consider the consequences of their actions. Greenpeace activists have backed their way out of serious trouble in the past and they have sincerely apologized for any offense they caused at Nazca, but they may never be forgiven for the lines they crossed in Peru.
By Dac Collins
Photo by Paul Williams – Flickr License