‘TRUTH’ with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Featuring Wade Davis—Season 2 Episode 15
The following is a transcript of this video.
– Yes, and I consider not only one of my closest friends, but one of the most interesting people that I’ve ever met. And I first met Wade when I was in college and we were in a anthropology class with, I think, David Maybury-Lewis was the professor, and we were studying the Yanomami, which is a very interesting group in Northern Brazil and Southern Venezuela. And Wade went on to have this extraordinary life, which has brought him to be the Explorer-in-Residence at “National Geographic.” You’ve written how many, a dozen more books, probably two dozen.
– Two-three, 23, actually.
– And Wade went on to live, he became an ethnobotanist, which is somebody who studies the relationship between indigenous plants and local people, and he has a kind of a specialty in hallucinogenic plants and psychoactive plants, I would say. And correct me if anything I say is wrong. He’s lived with indigenous people in Peru and Colombia, and Tibet and Australia, and I think, Mali and Kenya, and Borneo, and every corner of the globe. He wrote a book that he began researching, and he became, I think, the first white voodoo priest. And he was one of the people, or he was the person that uncovered the zombie drug. And there was a movie made about him, I think, Wes Craven’s movie. It was called “The Serpent and,” what is it again? “The Serpent”-
– “And the Rainbow.” “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” And we did a film together in 2008 about the Grand Canyon, where we floated down the Grand Canyon together with our daughters. And we did a, what are the big, what kind of-
– That was in an IMAX film that 25 million people saw. And he’s just one of my greatest friends, and as I said, is one of the most interesting people I know. And he has a new book out, which is this one about Colombia, our favorite country, “Magdalena, The River of Dreams.” That’s a little bright. And so I wanna welcome you, Wade, and welcome to my Instagram. This your first time on Instagram Live?
– Yeah, no, I’ve never done this before. It’s wonderful to be with you. And you’re always so generous and kind, but I really do feel that you and I have so much in common, you know, and not just our Irish background and our storytelling abilities, but our love of the diversity of the world, both in terms of biological diversity, cultural diversity. And you’ve always been such a champion for that, you know. And I think one thing about you that people don’t know is how much you love Colombia, and how that country impacted your life at a very important stage of it. I’ve been with Bobby in Colombia. And as I said just the other day when I was speaking with Juan Manuel Santos, the Nobel Laureate, ex-President of Colombia, who brokered the peace agreement that brought peace to Colombia after 50 years, that the only North American I know who loves Colombia and understands Colombia as I do, is Bobby Kennedy.
– And I went down, we went down to Santa Marta to visit the Santa Marta Indians together with my wife, Cheryl, and we flew on a relief mission with the Colombia military on a helicopter and to this very remote village on the top of the Andes.
– The Lost City.
– You know, let’s talk about Haiti for a second, because that’s kinda where you guys were started. Now, one of the things you and I have talked about a lot is this incredible role that Haiti played in American history, where there was a group of Haitian soldiers at the Battle of Savannah in 1779, who were fighting alongside the U.S. Military, George Washington’s troops, because they were brought in by the French. The French, of course, was our ally during the Revolutionary War. And they were so inspired by the American Revolution that they went back to their own country and started a revolution there. And they beat the French, they beat Napoleon’s army. Napoleon sent an army over, sent the biggest fleet, I think, at that time in history to quell the, and really he was sending the fleet over to New Orleans to defend New Orleans from American encroachments and to beat us back away from the-
– Yeah, well, I mean, a lot of what it was is that the Haitian Revolution was the only successful slave revolt in history. And in the wake of that revolution, given the wealth of that one colony, Saint-Domingue, which was what became Haiti, or Hispaniola, you know, they produced 2/3 of the world’s coffee crop in the late 18th Century, 163 million pounds of sugar every year that filled 4,000 ships that sailed for France. And in France, 5 million of the 27 million people, the Ancien Regime, depend on that trade exclusively for their well-being. So it was a truly a jewel in an Imperial age. And when that revolution broke, and it began at the voodoo ceremony, and when sort of the conch shell blew and the fires engulfed the whole Northern plain of Haiti, history changed. And every single European power tried to retake that colony. First, the Haitian patriots had to beat back the French troops that were there, the Royalist troops; then Spain invaded. And then the British would lose more men trying to take what became Haiti, then Wellington would lose in the Napoleonic wars. And then Napoleon, as you said, at the height of his power, under command of his own brother-in-law, Leclerc, dispatched the largest expeditionary force ever to leave Europe. And its mission was really twofold, go buy this noxious colony and quell the slave revolt, and then critically proceed to Louisiana, sail up the Mississippi, hem in the expanding 13 colonies, and re-establish French presence in North America, which only 30 years before, the Treaty of Paris in 1763, had become British North America. And needless to say, Leclerc’s forces never reached New Orleans. Had they done so, we might be speaking French west of the Mississippi. But they were absolutely annihilated in Haiti. And that they were annihilated is a historical fact. How they were annihilated is one of those examples that led Whitman to say that history’s a swindle of the schoolmasters. Because the French revisionist historian said that the French troops were defeated by yellow fever and by these insensate hoards of blacks who rose up as a single body, and didn’t even feel the pain of bullets tear their flesh. Well, the fevers arrived with the periodicity of the seasons and the French had lost 15,000 men by the end of February, before the fevers arrived. And it’s not as if the patriots of Haiti were insensate, but rather they knew that in victory awaited freedom; in death awaited only a return to Denae, the mythical homeland of Africa that had drifted from the realm of memory and history into the realm of myth. And, of course, and capture a way to tortures of the most heinous sort. And so, literally, the history of the Americas shifted back because of that event. After all, it was the Haitians that would buy American shipments of slaves destined to the American South and grant the people their freedom. It was Haiti that funded the revolutionary struggles of Simon Bolivar, who liberated not the Atlantic Seaboard as Washington did, but an entire continent. So all of us in North America, in a sense, owe a great debt to the Haitian people.
– Yeah, if it weren’t for the Haitians defeating Napoleon, the whole Western part of the United States would probably still be owned by the French. One of the things that had happened in that battle is it really bankrupted France, and they ended up having to sell Louisiana to us, the Louisiana Purchase-
– In order to pay their debt. And that’s how we got most of the American continent we got because the Haitians kicked the French.
– Yeah, no, absolutely. No, I mean, I think, you know, it’s interesting, Bobby, I mean, you’ve written a lot of books and I’ve written now 23 books. And Hemingway said that anyone who says that writing is easy is either a liar or a bad writer. And I think books are hard and you have to have a mission. You know, I mean, I love the book that you wrote during the Bush years, and I keep going back to the Fairness Doctrine. I mean, just the other day, I got in touch with you about that. But you had a passion, you have a mission, you had something you had to say that the world needed to hear, which is the essence of storytelling. And in all of my books, it’s always been driven by some kind of sense of social justice. And, you know, I was sent innocently to Haiti on this sort of interesting assignment, not to find the drugs that are used to make zombies; no drug can make a social phenomena. It was to see if, by chance, there was a folk preparation that could bring on a state of apparent death so profound that it could fool a Western physician, in which case the drug might have utility in modern medicine. And, in the end, I was sent down to find the drug used to make a social phenomenon, I actually found myself exploring the chemical possibilities of a phenomena that was rooted in history and culture, and spirit and religion. And what drove me all of those months in Haiti was a certain indignation I felt for the obvious, is that if I were to ask you, Bobby, to name the great religions of the world, what would you say? Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, whatever. There’s always one continent left out, Sub-Saharan Africa. The tacit assumption being that black people of equatorial West Africa, south of the Sahara had no religion. Well, of course, they had a religion by ethnographic definition, and voodoo is not a black magic cult. It’s a foreword from Dahomey that means spirit or God. Voodoo in many ways is a quintessentially democratic faith, because the believer has direct access to the Divine. And the believer, through the mechanism of spirit possession, actually becomes, for the moment, the Divinity, which is why Haitians always say you white people go to church and speak about God. We dance in the temple and become God. And the question then is, why did we come to think of this incredible worldview as some kind of black magic cult? Well, again, Haiti was a thorn in the side of the colonial era. For 100 years, it was the only independent black nation on earth. They kept out the Catholic church. As I said, they liberated shipments of slaves. And then in the 1920s, the U.S. Marine Corps occupied Haiti as all part of the sort of manifest destiny, the Monroe Doctrine. And for 20 years, U.S. Marines from, largely at that time, the American South in the height of Jim Crow, were in control of Haiti. And everybody above the rank of Sergeant got a book contract, and the books had names like “Cannibal Cousins,” “Black Bagdad,” “Voodoo Fire in Haiti,” “The White King of La Gonave,” “A Puritan in Voodooland.” All of these books were filled with children bred for the cauldron, pins and needles in voodoo dolls that do not even exist, and of course, famously, zombies crawling out of the grave to attack people. And those books gave rise to the RKO movies of the ’40s, “Night of the Living Dead,” “Zombies on Broadway.” And all this pulp fiction and all these crummy movies essentially said to the American people, at the height of segregation, that any country where such abominations occur could only find its redemption through military occupation. And that’s why, in the year I first went to Haiti, 1982, believe it or not, there were more American missionary organizations, plural, than individual Western-trained physicians. And so Haiti’s been misunderstood from its inception as a nation. And part of what I was trying to do was to make sense out of sensation and to take the phenomenon, which had been used in an explicitly racist way, zombies, and try to deconstruct it. And in the end, I concluded that zombification was, in effect, a form of social sanction, the ultimate of punishments administered by the secret societies, which control the, they’re essentially the most powerful arbiter of social and political life in the Haitian countryside, which is why I ended up becoming initiated as a member of the Bizango Sanpwel, these fearsome secret societies by reputation. And there I was the first outsider to actually go through that initiatory process. And part of what I was trying to show, of course, was that all of this had its own inherent logic. And that’s like, going back to our mentor, David Maybury-Lewis, in that course at Harvard. I mean, this is what anthropology allows you to do. It calls for you to not eliminate judgment, but to suspend judgment. So the very judgments that we’re all ethically and morally obliged to make as human beings can be informed ones. And there are many traits of culture that we know would be well to end up on the dustbin of history. But voodoo’s not one of them. And the anthropological lens is most usefully brought into focus when it’s shining on a phenomena about which we know nothing but of which we cast judgments. And that’s why, in a way, anthropology has always been the antidote to hate. It’s the inoculation against nativism. It’s the antidote to Trump, which is why I think its voice is so important in today’s world.
– And is that how you got involved with ethnobotany and the study of these psychoactive drugs?
– Well, you know, Bob, we were there at the same time. I mean, we’d all be lying to say that we had this pure academic interest in psychedelic drugs. I mean, I remember my mother saying to me, don’t take these things; you’ll never come back the same. Well, that was the whole bloody point. You know, I mean, honestly, I mean, I think we were living in an age, I mean, look what happened to your father. Look what happened to your uncle. Look what happened to Martin Luther King. Look what was going on with women and gay people, and the war in Vietnam. And we were all with children in the era that we were saying, we all had Bordelaire’s Malady, horror of home. We were all seeking a world that was more just, a world that was more authentic. And I think that’s why many of us were drawn to anthropology, you know? And the whole idea was not to come back the same. Now, I found in anthropology a kind of a metaphor through which I could become a more alive and authentic human being, I suppose. And, you know, again, this idea that life is linear. You know, life isn’t linear at all. It’s made up of these kinds of amazing crossroads. Like, I mean, I don’t know if I ever told you how I ended up going to Harvard, but you probably won’t even believe this story. But I used to fight forest fires, I’m from British Columbia, when I was 15. And we were these obedient, local Canadian lads, and our camps were overrun with draft dodgers from the States, because it was the only work they could get. And while we were so obedient, they would tell their bosses to piss off. And it was irresistibly charismatic. And one of them by chance had the “Life Magazine” with a Harvard student strike of 1969 on the cover. And I thought, at 15, that’s gotta be the school to go to, to become cool like these guys. And that’s why I applied to Harvard. I didn’t even know where it was. My mum didn’t have the money to go to Boston with me. You know, I arrived at Logan Airport with a big trunk. I didn’t know where Harvard was. I saw this African American guy with a Harvard T-shirt. I thought he’d know; he didn’t know either. So I dragged my trunk through the streets of the subway, got to Cambridge, and then my mum had made a mistake and I was 10 days early. The dorms weren’t open. I didn’t have any choice but to drag my trunk through Cambridge until I found a church, knocked on the door, and this beautiful pastor opened up. And he just took me into his home. That’s the moment I fell in love with the United States of America.
– And then, of course, how did I become an anthropologist? Well, my first year at Harvard, you’ll remember what it was like. I mean, height of the anti-Vietnam War. I spent most of my time making trouble. It’s amazing the Americans kept me. And then the deadline for declaring an academic major was the next morning. And I hadn’t even thought about it. And I just happened to have gone through the museum, the old Peabody Museum of Ethnology, for the first time. And I walked out into the streets of Cambridge, and I ran into this friend, this acquaintance, and I said, “Stewart, what are you gonna declare as a major tomorrow?” And he said, “Anthropology.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Well, you read about Indians.” And like Forest Gump, I said, “That’ll do.” And that’s why I signed up in anthropology. It was like that; it was that crazy. I was gonna take some time off after a couple of years of Harvard. And I was in the cafe in Harvard Square with my roommate, and there was a map of the world right beside us. And David looked at the map and he suddenly looked at me, and he suddenly pointed to the Arctic. Well, I had to go somewhere, and I watched my left arm lift and point to the Amazon, and having decided to go to the Amazon, there was just one man to meet, Richard Evans Schultes. He’s a legendary Amazonian explorer, the man who sparked the psychedelic era with his discovery of the magic mushrooms in Mexico in 1938. And I went to see him, and I literally knocked on his door, a man for whom mountains had been named in South America. That was so great about Harvard. I mean, that place changed my life, you can’t even imagine. And I said, “I’m from British.” Well, he was such an Anglophile that a colleague once said the only way for Schultes to go native would be go to England. And I’m from British Columbia. He thought I was talking about his beloved Colombia. And I said, I’ve saved up money in a logging camp and I wanna go to the Amazon like you did and collect plants. And he just, without asking me for my credentials, no Canadian professor would have done this. You know, he just said, “Well, son, when do you wanna go?” And two weeks later, I was in the Amazon where I stayed for a year and a half. I mean, that’s really the most wonderful thing that I think even Americans, for all the problems of America today, you know, Americans sometimes don’t appreciate how magical that kind of go-for-it attitude is for a young kid from a much more conservative place like Canada. I mean, we’ve got wonderful things in Canada, but I mean, certainly at that point in time. And then, of course, what I found when, as a traveler, you’re always trying to find the right conduit to culture. What is sort of the metaphor that will allow you to break down the barrier between yourself and the people with whom you want to live as a guest? And it’s never bravado; it’s always empathy and love. But it’s also good manners, the same things that would make me welcome at your house at Thanksgiving. But at the same time, willingness to eat what’s put in front of you, sleep where you’re asked to sleep, help out, self-deprecating humor, et cetera, et cetera. But also that way, too, for example, record the myths of the Athabaskan people, you have to become a hunter, because the myths are an expression of the covenant that exists between predator and prey, and the way for a hunting people to rationalize the horrible fact that to live, they must kill the thing they love most, the animals upon which they depend. If you wanna understand the ways of the Amazon, the obvious conduit to culture is a botanical realm, because the plants are the foundation of life. And so I found that, instead of being sort of an anthropologist who turns up at some longhouse, a maloca in the Northwest Amazon, and sort of says, I’m here to study you, study your sex life, and you’re gonna house and feed me for six months or a year, I mean if someone did that to us, we’d call the police. But if you go to study the plants and you go there as Schultes did, as a solitary student of plants, with great humility, not as a master, but as a student, it makes complete kind of coherent sense to the indigenous people that you would come from a long way away, even without your family, to study something that they know they know better than anyone else, and they know how important it is. And so I found botany, I became an ethnobotanist largely because it was a perfect conduit to culture in the Amazon.
– You know, there’s a lot of people who follow me who have children who are brain-injured or who have had, and that’s one of the kind of, I would say, one of the strings that unites a lot of the people who follow me, and some of them have had some experience with Ayahuasca and with some of these other psychoactive drugs, these botanical plants that have had kind of a, have redeemed people in some ways from those kind of injuries. I have a son who had an extraordinary, I would just say a transformative experience with Ayahuasca. He went to Chile, he took on a full life, full river, which he went on and he happened to be down there. And he fell in with some Picunche Indians and a shaman, and had this experience with them that really changed his life in a lot of incredible ways that I would never believe. So I didn’t use, I used psychedelics when I was a kid, but I didn’t use them therapeutically.
– Yeah, well, I mean, I think these substances, I mean, famously sort of have an ambivalent potential for good and evil. They kind of open up, as my friend, Dennis McKenna, says, they sort of bring the background forward. In other words, when you’re under the influence of some of these substances, you sort of have a sense that this is the real world and what I’ve been living in most of my life is sort of a crude facsimile. And it’s a very difficult thing to express to someone who hasn’t had that visceral experience. I mean, Gordon Wasson, the first, you know, the legendary kind of banker for Morgan Guaranteed Trust who, following the lead of Schultes, ended up becoming the first to actually ingest the so-called magic mushrooms in folk context in the 1950s, famously said that to try to explain to someone, who hadn’t taken these substances, what they were like was like trying to explain to a blind man what it was to see. And, you know, again, these substances open you up in a way that clearly could be conducive to transformation and healing. They also can, if in the wrong context, exasperate or exaggerate neuroses and fear. So, I mean, one of the things that we’ve learned from indigenous people who have no problem with drug use, and yet they’ve used some of these substances for all of their cultural histories, is that, A, they recognize that the use of these substances is a legitimate thing to do if done judiciously. And they take their substances always in natural form, which, pharmacologically, is always the safest. I mean, the first morphine addict was a wife of the man who invented the hypodermic syringe. Tobacco only became truly dangerous with the development of the cigarette, and mild strains of tobacco that allowed you to inhale it directly into the lungs. Until then, people would die like Ulysses S. Grant because of the scars of maybe cancer of the palate or the throat or the tongue even. And, but more importantly, the indigenous people always envelop the user in a kind of protective cloak ritual, which often insulates the man or woman from the kind of dazzling pharmacological effects of some of these substances. And so people can report positive experiences, they can report negative experiences. But clearly, the transformative nature of some of these substances is happily enjoying at last a Renaissance, because they have tremendous potential for clinical practice. I’ve always been a little surprised that Ayahuasca has taken off as it has. If you were to have asked me in the 1970s which of these substances would we be talking about 50 years hence, it would not have been Ayahuasca, which is, you know, induces some pretty overwhelmingly challenging, subjective experiences. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not about the twiddling of thumbs. And I think some of the other substances like San Pedro that we know have been used for at least 4,000 years are somewhat more benign. But the main thing is that these substances offer a way to really, you know, when people often say to me, one of the things I’ve always been interested in is that when we think of the social changes that occurred in our lifetimes, for all our frustrations that social change maybe hasn’t come as fast as we hoped, still, in our lifetime, women have gone from the kitchen to the Boardroom, people of color from the woodshed to the White House, gay people from the closet to the altar. You know, when you and I were young, Bobby, just getting people to stop throwing garbage out of the car window was a great environmental victory. Nobody spoke about the biosphere or notions of Gaia. Now these concepts are part of the vernacular of schoolchildren. And yet curiously, when we look into the ingredients of the recipe of that really quite dramatic social transformation in a generation or two, it’s curious that one of the ingredients we expunged from the record is that millions of us lay prostrate before the gates of awe, having taken psychedelics. And I always say I wouldn’t write the way I write, I wouldn’t think the way I think, I wouldn’t understand the wonder of the natural world as I do, I wouldn’t treat gay people the way that I do or women for that matter. I think that my life was opened up by the possibility of these substances. And I sometimes, I don’t know, you do a lot of public speaking, as I do, and there are moments when I’m sort of giving a talk on some of these sophisticated ideas from ethnography, what does it mean, for example, when the Barasana and the Macuna tell you that plants and animals are only people in another dimension of reality, or when the elder brothers, who we were with when we went to the Las Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City of the Tairona on that helicopter trip you mentioned with the military, when they say that their prayers and your veins are no different than the water that runs through a river. You know, I sometimes find myself at a podium, almost listening to the speaker as if I’m almost outside of myself. And I think to myself, how did that little boy from a suburb of Montreal, who grew up with the Montreal Canadians and raking leaves with his dad on Sundays, and watching Y.A. Tittle of Plattsburgh TV play football, you know, all that stuff, how did that little boy grow up to have these thoughts? And I think obviously the kindness of my parents, the fact that my dad spent not his income but half of his total savings to send me to Harvard, knowing that every day I was there widened the social gap and intellectual gap between us. I mean, obviously, I benefited from a wonderful family, but there’s no question that the world that I inherited, I was able to deconstruct and tear apart and rebuild a new vision of life itself. And there’s no question that having experiences that I did with these substances played a role in that. I mean, I tend to be in the school of get-the-message-and-hang-up. Some people use these substances all their life, and bless them for that, and perhaps it’s helpful. I was more like, okay, like Albert said, get the message, hang up. And then people have begun to move into other kind of spiritual paths, if you will. But I’ve never denied and I’ve always been proud to say that I took these substances and indeed I did not come back the same.
– You know, I wanna talk a little bit about Colombia and about your book, “Magdalena, River of Dreams.” Wade Davis, my guest, one of my best friends and one of the most interesting people that I know, and the guy I know more than ever who speaks in perfect paragraphs and perfectly constructed sentences with these profound thoughts that just flow out of you, and I always love that. I say if I had to spend my life on a desert island and I couldn’t be with my wife, then it would be with Wade because I would-
– You’d have a lot more fun with her, I can promise you.
– I know that, I know that.
– First of all, she’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.
– I feel safe that I won’t have to make that choice, though. But you know, U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America was consistent for a lot of years since the Monroe Doctrine that our job was to support the oligarchs, to keep the control of the countries, to gain military control, to extract the resources, pay off the ruling oligarchy, keep the poor poor, keep them uneducated, and really maintain civility and pro-American policies. My uncle, President Kennedy, had two trips that he made that were the favorite trips during his years in the White House. One of those was his trip to Ireland. The other one was his trip to Colombia. And he had done the Alliance for Progress and the AID Program. And the point of those programs was to enrich the poor and to educate them, to create infrastructure for them, and to stop supporting torturers and militarists, and start really trying to create middle classes in those countries. When he arrived in Bogota, there were a million people waiting for him. And Lleras Camargo, who was this wonderful president in Colombian history, saw these crowds and saw how much my uncle was enjoying the reception. And he said, “Do you know why they love you?” And my uncle said, “No, why?” And he said, “Because they believe “that you are on their side. I can see oligarchs, you’re on the side of the poor. For the first time in American history since Jefferson, America was once again on the side of the poor. And even today, there’s boulevards in every Colombian city named after my uncle, as there is throughout Latin America. That’s a foreign policy that actually works.
– Oh, I can’t tell you how many little huts in the Andes I’ve been in where you see a kind of a lithograph of the Madonna, and then either a photograph of Muhammad Ali or your uncle. I mean, those two icons of American history still resonate in this very powerful way. I mean, the story of Colombia in a nutshell is that it hasn’t really deserved its agonies. You know, a 50-year war, 260,000 dead, 7 million displaced, 100,000 disappeared, and yet that war would not have lasted probably a week without the illicit money from cocaine. You know, at the height of the cartel, the Medellín Cartel was putting 80 tons of cocaine a month into the United States alone, generating $70 million of profits a day. There are accounts in Medellín budgeted each week 1,000 U.S. dollars just to buy elastic bands to wrap the money in. And that kind of money affected everything. In the last year before the signing of the Peace Agreement, the FARC, who made peace in Havana in 2016, they were down to 6,000 cadre, mostly kids in search of a good three meals a day. And yet that last year, they made over 600 million U.S. dollars from extortion and drug trafficking. Well, if you give me the Beverly Hills Boy Scouts and $600 million, I can wreak havoc in Southern California. And the amazing thing about Colombia is through all of those years of agony, they maintain their civil society and their democracy, green their cities, created millions of acres of national parks, sought more meaningful restitution with indigenous people than any other nation state, and paved their way for a kind of an economic and cultural Renaissance, as two generations of kids, forced to flee abroad, are coming back from every city in the world with skill sets in every conceivable endeavor. You know, Americans have to remember that consumption is what drove this dark trade. Imagine how you would feel as Americans if Canada, for example, had patterns of drug consumption in bars and boardrooms across the country, laws that facilitated the creation of a black market trade and yet enforcement so slack that the trade was never really compromised in any way, such that 85 million Americans were forced to flee their homes. Well, that proportionately is what happened in Colombia. And one of the things that people don’t realize, even as the media draws attention to these desperate women and their children and their families arriving at the American border with Mexico, and what are they fleeing? They’re fleeing poverty that was generated by the disruption of Reagan’s Contra anti-left wars of the 1980s. They’re fleeing the drug cartels that are now the gangs in place, with the drugs coming up through Central America, ’cause we’ve cut off the Caribbean access. All of this desperation caused by either American consumption of drugs or by American foreign policy, and yet we’re breaking up families, we’ve got 345 kids who we don’t even know who their parents are or where they are at this point. Meanwhile, Colombia, having made peace after 50 years, a peace agreement that has about 58 clauses, the implementation of which is about $45 billion, because most of the clauses are all about the kinds of things that your uncle was all about. You know, education, potable water, social justice, healthcare, et cetera. They’re trying to implement that treaty even while the price of oil has plummeted, their major foreign source of foreign revenue, and more importantly, without much fanfare or attention, they have quietly absorbed the biggest humanitarian crisis in the history of Latin America, a 1.8 million Venezuelans who have fled their country and they’re arriving in Colombia, and they’re not being turned away. They’re, in fact, being housed, fed, educated, and given medical care, an extraordinary gesture from a country that, in a sense, needs every dollar that it has to implement this peace agreement in an environment that is still plagued by the evil of cocaine. You know me, obviously, from even this conversation, I’m a total libertarian when it comes to drug use. I think that legalization of drugs is the only cleansing stroke that will eliminate all the horrors that this trade has generated. But the one thing I come down on very hard is cocaine use, because it is a consumer of cocaine, every single person who uses elicit cocaine has the blood of Colombian people on their hands, and forests that have been cut because of the illicit trade. You know, it’s amazing, Bobby, if you go to Colombia and you’re at a dinner in Bogota, it’s all very gay and the Colombians love to have fun, but suddenly someone says, “You know, “my uncle was held by the FARC at that Potamo of Chigusa.” And then someone at the table says, “Oh, really. “My sister was killed up there, too.” And they’re saying this as if they just discovered that their relatives went to the same public school together. And yet that sort of gives you a sense of how ubiquitous the agonies of Colombia have been. And again, and the important thing that we need to note is that Colombia is not a place of violence and of drugs. Even at the height of the violence of the conflict, there were never more than 200,000, maybe 300,000 combatants on all three sides of that war, the leftist guerrillas, the right wing terror squads of the paramilitaries, and the Colombian Army. Now that’s 300,000 people maximum in a nation of 50 million. So the vast majority of Colombians were just innocent victims caught in the vice of war. And yet the truth of Colombia is that it’s not a place of violence. It’s a land of colores y calino, of colors and love where the people have managed to endure precisely because of their character, which is informed in many ways, by a powerful spirit of place, the most ecologically diverse, geographically diverse, and biologically diverse place on the planet with more species and birds than anywhere else. I mean, the superlatives just go run off your tongue. And that’s the real Colombia. You know, as we often talk about Gabo, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the great Colombian writer, as sort of the inventor or the proponent of magical realism as this sort of great force in Latin American literature. But people forget that Gabo was a journalist. He was an observer all of his life. He just wrote of what he saw, but he just happened to live in a land where heaven and earth converged on a regular basis to reveal glimpses of the Divine. Only in Colombia can you walk a shore in a desert sandy coastal beach, move through desert into wetlands that shine as wide as the heavens, ascend tropical forests into the cloud forests that open up onto bucolic, verdant Andean valleys as gorgeous as anything you’ll find in the Old World, scored by mountains scraping the sky. I mean, it’s the most unbelievable country, the most beautiful country. It hasn’t deserved its agonies. And it does-
– It’s the only place where you can stand in a glacier up to your knees in snow and look out on the Caribbean.
– Yeah, and there’s no place, there’s actually no place in Colombia more than a day removed from every known ecological habitat to be found on the planet.
– And all right, well, as you know, I used to work every summer there when I was a kid, when I was 14 years old, on a ranch in the Yana Ozan. I saw the pink dolphins in the rivers and the alligators, and all the howler monkeys that you could hear at dawn. It literally was the most magical place that I’ve ever been.
– Well, you know, there has been one sort of, if you can say it, peace dividend, which is quite remarkable, is that because of the war, vast regions of Colombia have been off limits for industrial development. So for example, in neighboring Ecuador, decisions were made in the 1970s in terms of oil extraction and pipelines, and colonization and deforestation that have left the Eastern reaches of the Ecuadorian Amazon completely compromised. Whereas the Amazon of Colombia, which is nearly the size of France, remains roadless. And now Colombia has been getting its future informed by 50 years of science as to the importance of biodiversity in particular and Climo Camido, who is one of the sun priests of the, I mean, when you talk, for example, of being able to be with the glacier waters in snow, looking down at the Caribbean, that’s the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range on earth. And that is a homeland of the elder brothers, these four Chibchan language-speaking peoples, the Arhuacos, the Cancuamo, the Wiwa and the Kogi, all of whom are descendants of the ancient Tairona Civilization. And in wake of the conquest, they retreated into the reaches of the mountains. And over 200 years of complete isolation, they recreated themselves as a devotional culture of peace. And they speak in full paragraphs. They literally believe that their prayers and rituals maintain the cosmic and therefore the ecological balance of the world. The training of the priesthood is austere in the extreme. The acolytes are taken away from their families, with the volition of the families, sequestered in a shadowy world of darkness for 18 years, during which time the world only exists as an abstraction, as they’re inculturated in the values of the society, which maintains the idea that their rituals maintain the balance of the earth. And then after this incredible initiation, where they don’t even see the sunrise, they don’t see the horizons, they don’t see a mountain, and they’re suddenly taken on a journey to the heart of the world, as it’s called. And they go from the village to the mountain glaciers, from the glaciers back to the sea, with all this glory of the earth revealed to them for the first time, and the priest who has trained them says, “You see, it’s as I’ve promised you. “It is that beautiful. “It’s yours to protect.” It’s amazing that two hours from Miami Beach, the sun priests of the Tairona Civilization, in a bloodstained continent never fully conquered by the Spanish, are still there to inform the Colombian people. And I had this experience with Mamo Camido one day when he said to me, . What he said is, “Peace won’t matter a damn “if it’s just an excuse for the three sides of the conflict “to come together to maintain a war against nature. “It’s time for us to make peace “with the entire natural world.” And just three days later, I flew into Namasimoke with President Juan Manual Santos, and he was being pestered by his aids as to the statistics as what he should say in this big speech that he was gonna give that was gonna be broadcast nationwide. And I quietly put my hand up on the presidential plane. I said, you know, “Presidente,” I said in Spanish, “You have to understand that for the Mamos, “statistics don’t mean anything. “What matters is what’s in your heart.” And then I repeated what Mamo Camino had said. And then the President made that his, the foundation of his speech. But what kind of wonderful country is it that a president would take inspiration from a sun priest in that way? The last five Colombian presidents, the first gesture before taking on the office has been to go to the mountains to pay homage to the Mamos who have emerged as sort of a symbol of continuity in a country conflicted. And that’s what this book is all about. It’s like a love letter to the country. It’s a biography of the country. It’s used as a main river of the nation, if you will, the Mississippi of Colombia, which runs 1,200 miles south to north. And like the Mississippi, it’s a quarter of commerce, but also the fountain of culture, the repository of music and poetry and prayer. Colombia is said to be the land of 1,000 rhythms, but there are, in fact, according to ethnomusicologists, one to five different musical rhythms in Colombia. And so the whole point of the book is through empathy and love to tell what happened in Colombia, why it happened, but also to celebrate those who have managed to endure and are in the process of re-inventing their country. And it’s such a fantastically surrealistic country. I mean, magic happens every day. I remember, Bobby, I was with this old guy, he was just like a poor rice farmer, you know, but he had discovered manatees, and he fell in love with manatees. And he became known as Morita de los Manatees. And he was like an avatar of the creatures. He would feed them in periods of drought. He would pack aid to them. And he got his power from these animals. And he used to always, whenever the FARC would come by, he’d just stand them down with this kind of power. The paramilitaries came through once. He was watching football with Brazil and Colombia. He just ripped them apart until they finally begged to watch the game with him. He’s that kinda guy. And so he used to take kids, all the kids from the local school and make collections around this little wetland, this tiny little wetland. And he told me one afternoon that they’d found 75 species of butterflies just around this little wetland. And I said, Morita, that’s incredible. In Canada, we don’t even have, that’s probably half the butterflies we’ve got in the second biggest country in the world. And he looked at me and he says, “Yeah, . “In Colombia, .” He said, “Yeah, you’re my brother. “But the thing is, you’ve gotta understand this. “In Colombia, a butterfly is just a flower “that knows how to fly. “That’s why we’ve got so many.” I mean, this kind of stuff happens every day. And it’s just such a joy. And I’ll tell all your wonderful people following you and supporting you in all of your passions, that if they ever fear anything about going to Colombia, there’s a really good reason to be afraid of going to Colombia. And that is a possibility that you’ll just never wanna come home.
– Wade, thank you very much.
– Thanks, Bobby.
– So great, as always, to talk to you.
– Yeah, it was great to see you, my friend.
– This is his book. And Wade, you can preserve this Instagram Live if you pay attention or you get a teenager to show you how to do it, if you follow the directions as to our home, ’cause she’ll know. Then it can live on your Instagram and people can see it whenever they want.
– Okay, great, okay.
– All right.
– Thanks, brother, love you.
– Thank you for joining me, Wade.
– Okay, I love you so much, bye-bye. Bye, Bobby.
– Bye-bye, Wade.
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