Latin American leaders from across the region voiced critical concerns this week at the UN Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference about the industrialized world’s responsibility to tackle a wide range of environmental problems from climate change to deforestation. The largest-ever UN conference drew heads of state and senior officials from 193 countries and upward of 50,000 participants for talks on hundreds of sustainability-related topics.
Bolivian President Evo Morales criticized industrialized countries for insisting that developing nations reduce their carbon footprint and President of Ecuador Rafael Correa made a similar observation, saying that rich nations are the biggest contributors to environmental contamination and that they should finance programs to combat global warming, “Twenty percent of the world's richest countries generates 60 percent of the world’s emissions, while the poorest quintile generates 0.7 percent. This is one of the worst distributions I've ever seen,” said Correa.
Meanwhile, large-scale demonstrations by dozens of groups were organized on the sidelines of the conference to protest perceived inaction on environmental issues by world leaders. In an interview with the UK’s The Guardian, California native Miariana Calderon said the demonstrations were a response to the fact that, “World leaders have delivered something that fails to move the world forward from the first Rio summit, showing up with empty promises at Rio+20...This text is a polluters' plan, and unless people start listening to the people, history will remember it as a failure for the people and the planet," said Calderon.
Top stories this week are likely to include: G-20 economic summit in Los Cabos; Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro; the hemisphere reacts to Obama’s immigration policy shift; South Korea’s president and China’s premier embark on separate Latin America tours; and Humala’s approval hits a new low.
G-20 Summit Kicks Off in Mexico: The annual global economic and financial summit known as the Group of Twenty, or G-20, takes place today and tomorrow in Los Cabos, Mexico, after having been preceded by the B-20 business summit. The G-20 is comprised of the European Union members and 19 other major economies; together, they represent 90 percent of the world’s GDP, 80 percent of worldwide commerce and two-thirds of the globe’s population. The world will pay close attention to any developments from the summit, given the fragility of the eurozone and the apparent slowdown in China, which has led to a growth deceleration in Brazil and other economies dependent on Chinese manufacturing. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “President Felipe Calderón has promised a major breakthrough on the economic crisis that has the world on edge. But can the G-20 really affect the deeper structural and confidence issues facing the global economy?”
Rio+20 Hits the Ground Running: Although the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, began last week, the high-level meetings take place from Wednesday through Friday after the G-20 concludes. Nearly 115 heads of state are expected to attend this environmental summit, which is the largest UN conference in history—with nearly 50,000 in attendance. However, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be noticeably absent. Will Rio+20 produce any tangible results? Notes Sabatini: “What was once considered the starting point of global discussions over environmental issues has unfortunately become just an anniversary. To inject this forum with the importance and urgency that is necessary to change the course of global environmental issues, the United States and other developed nations need to step up—this time for real.”
The Hemisphere Reacts to Obama Policy Shift: Friday’s surprise announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the Obama administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants with no criminal records and who have completed some college education or military service sent shockwaves around the U.S. and beyond. While critics of the Obama administration, such as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, derided the move as “backdoor amnesty,” the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) praised the Obama administration for answering “the prayers of families across the nation by implementing a long-awaited change to the current immigration policy.” However, some in Latin America lament the timing of the directive. La Tribuna in Honduras believes that the policy shift “arrived late” for many Hondurans, with La Opinión concurring that the Obama plan came late for “many dreamers.” Says Sabatini: “While appreciated, it’s sad that it’s taken this long to get to an issue that should have been easy three years ago. Has the immigration debate sunk so low and political opportunism climbed so high that this is the most important pro-immigration piece of policy reform that can be passed today—and clearly for electoral reasons?” AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak agrees: “The president’s executive action is a great moment for the 800,000 undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and will now be able to more fully contribute to our society. But why couldn’t this have been done in late 2010 when the DREAM Act was blocked in Congress? The beneficiaries of this policy could have been legally working without the fear of deportation for the last 18 months if action had been taken sooner.”
South Korean and Chinese Leaders to Visit Latin America: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will attend the G-20 and Rio+20 conferences, and then depart afterward to Chile and Colombia later this week for bilateral visits. Further, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will pay official visits to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, where he will meet with the presidents of those four countries and deliver a speech at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) secretariat in Santiago.
Humala’s Approval Rating Hits New Low: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark since he took office in July 2011, according to a new poll from the Ipsos Apoyo firm published yesterday. His approval rating stands at 45 percent while his disapproval rating is 48 percent. This is likely due to his stance on pushing forward with mining projects and invoking the emergency law to quash protests in northern Peru. Can he turn the unpopular tide? Sabatini says that “President Humala has failed to articulate how his outsider campaign and alleged commitment to social inclusion is different from his predecessors. In the absence of a defined, structured party system, Peruvian presidents are hostage to the vicissitudes of popular opinion—and this can be very dangerous.”
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
The biggest UN event in history discusses new directions for global development.
From June 13 to 22, the city of Rio de Janeiro transforms into the “Green Capital of the World.” At least that's what the UN Conference on Sustainable Development—Rio+20—promises as it discusses the environmental issue on the planet.
The event takes place 20 years after the ECO 92: the genesis of an international framework on the subject, which also happened in Rio, and served as a landmark for great discussions as global warming and conservation of green areas. This year, high-level activities begin on June 20; parallel meetings have already gotten underway.
The organizers expect a series of debates to take place between civil society organizations, governments, universities, and the private sector. In an interview with UN Radio, Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antônio Patriota said, "By the end of the Rio+20 we will have an ambitious document, pointing directions and establishing guidelines for the coming years." Leaders are expected from 115 countries, making it the largest UN summit in history. Nevertheless, the absences of U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected.
The opening event was attended by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who stressed that the agenda of the environment should not be implemented only for rich countries but also developing countries. Dilma also defended an economic model that combines "preservation," "construction" and "growth."
The meeting participants believe that implementation of a global environmental agenda will be possible to draw at least 1.3 billion people out of poverty through economic inclusion.
For United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner, it is necessary to reconcile "economy and ecology so that they can generate transformational social outcomes," which, according to him, is already happening. Yesterday, June 14, the participants issued the first report called “Building an Inclusive Economy Green for All.”
Heads of state from over 100 countries and tens of thousands of representatives from nongovernmental organizations and businesses will descend on Rio de Janeiro this month for the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. With the slogan “The Future We Want,” participants will aim to put in place a universal framework to tackle the interlinked challenges of economic and social development, poverty eradication and environmental protection.
Leading up to the summit, however, negotiations are stalled amidst disagreements between developed and developing countries on what should constitute the roadmap to sustainable development. Developing countries are cautious to commit to a framework that might restrain their economic development, and developed countries—most battling severe economic crises—are reticent to include language that would require them to aid poorer nations with implementation, financing and the technology needed to meet agreed goals.
The deadlock is emblematic of a broader shift in the global power structure whereby developed countries, now less able to commit significant levels of resources to multilateral efforts, are leaving a void in global governance that emerging and middle-income economies are gradually beginning to fill. As these new actors rise to global prominence, however, the standoff also points to the difficult path we face in solving global challenges.
In an age fraught with economic malaise and fragmented political interests, can there truly be a unified vision of a future we want?
Rio+20 is unlikely to yield any binding international agreements, and most experts have already deemed the summit a failure. Even so, a look at how some of the largest emerging economies including India, China and Brazil are leveraging their growing economic heft as donors of development aid can provide a glimpse into the kind of future they envision for the world.
Official data on development assistance by so-called “emerging donors” varies considerably as countries lack transparency in reporting and have varied definitions for what constitutes aid. Still, even conservative estimates show that emerging economies are aggressively joining the ranks of international donors, backed by a philosophy that—at least theoretically—represents an alternative to that of traditional donors, specifically members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests
The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.
Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams
On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes.
Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code
On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.
Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.
Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy
Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.
Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight
The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.”
Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez
A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mexico’s presidential candidates debate; Dilma and the forestry law; Humala and Santos travel to Asia; and Venezuela proposes an alternative to the IACHR.
Challengers Hammer Peña Nieto in Presidential Debate: The leading presidential candidates in Mexico held their first debate last night, and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was the biggest target of attacks from candidates Josefina Vázquez Mota (Partido Acción Nacional) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). Peña Nieto’s challengers painted him as a corrupt politician who oversaw a poor economy in Mexico state. During the debate, Peña Nieto noted that Vázquez Mota and López Obrador “seem to have come to an agreement… they’re coming with knives sharpened.” However, political analyst Jorge Zepeda opined that “Peña Nieto survived…I don’t think the debate will have a big impact.” Adds AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak: “Without a clear winner in last night's debate, look for the campaign to turn increasingly hostile as candidates seek to make up ground against Peña Nieto.” Now that the candidates have squared off in their first debate—the next one will be held in June—look for how the Mexican electorate responds on the campaign trail.
Dilma May Partially Veto the Forestry Law: In a political setback to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s legislature approved a controversial forest code on April 26 at the urging of the powerful farmers’ lobby. The code gives way for further deforestation of the Amazon and provides an amnesty from being fined for illegally clearing trees. Rousseff is now being pressured by environmentalists to veto the law, especially ahead of next month’s Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development. Advisors in Brasilia are now indicating that the president may issue a partial veto to two particularly controversial clauses: one on amnesty from prior deforestation and another on reducing vegetation on the margins of the rivers. Look for news this week.
Humala to Asia: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will make his first official trip to Asia this week, aiming to sell his country as a trans-Pacific destination for trade and investment. Humala arrives in Japan tomorrow for trade talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Emperor Akihito, then continues to South Korea where he will sign a declaration of strategic association with Prime Minister Lee Myung-Bak. “Coming on the heels of nationalizations in Argentina and Bolivia, Humala will likely use the trip to exhibit the stability for investments in Peru,” notes AQ’s Jason Marczak.
Santos in Singapore and China: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos landed in Singapore yesterday for a six-day trip to Asia that will also include a state visit to China. Santos is accompanied in Singapore by a business delegation and his ministers of commerce, mining, transport and agriculture, and foreign affairs. He lands in China tomorrow to build “a much closer framework of cooperation between the two countries,” according to Xinhua and will depart on Saturday.
Venezuela Proposes IACHR Alternative: After suggesting last week that his country should withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his administration have proposed an alternative human rights body for Latin American states that would exclude the United States. Chávez has accused the IACHR, under the aegis of the Washington-based Organization of American States, of being a tool of the U.S. government. However, the informal proposal of an alternate commission issued over the weekend in Cartagena, Colombia, by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro should bring cause for concern that Venezuela is flouting its international commitments. The move has been criticized by Venezuelan human rights groups and the United Nations. Look for formalized proposals going forward.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Dilma Rousseff’s possible veto of Forestry legislation; The search ends for Cuban actors who defected; the vote on drug victims compensation law in Mexico; construction resumes on Peru’s Conga mine.
Brazil’s Forestry Laws: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing extreme pressure from environmentalists, who believe that a new forestry bill, which last week passed both legislatures after fierce lobbying by agroindustry, will speed up deforestation of the Amazon. Current laws establish that 80 percent of private land in the Amazon region is off limits for development. The new law will allow for the development of vast areas that were previously off limits. According to observers, the changes threaten 270,000 square miles (690,000 square kilometers) and will prevent Brazil from reaching its deforestation reduction goals. “It’s fitting—if a bit ironic—that this is playing out in the country that will soon host the Rio+20 Conference,” says Chris Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly.
Cuban Defections: Two young Cuban actors who disappeared last week while making their way to the New York-based Tribeca Film Festival for the U.S. premiere of the film Una Noche have resurfaced and announced their intention to apply for asylum in the United States. The actors, both in their 20s, went missing during a brief stopover in Miami and had not been heard from in nearly a week. “Defections from Cuba are common;” says AQ editor Matthew Aho, “they result from a combination of accommodating U.S. asylum policies for Cubans and the lack of real opportunities for Cuban youth.”
Conga mine construction to resume: The largest-ever mining investment in Peru’s history will be allowed to move forward this year, after months of construction delays caused by local protestors’ fears of environmental damage and water contamination. The Conga protests were the first major crisis of President Ollanta Humala’s administration. His decision to allow the project to proceed will be another major test of his government and could spark a wave of similar protest in the Cajamarca region. “For many who questioned Humala’s commitment to a market economy and investment, his actions in this case demonstrate that the Peruvian President—at least when it comes to mining—is a pragmatist, says Sabatini.
Drug Crimes Compensation: A bill that would provide victims of drug violence passed Mexico’s Senate last week and is poised to advance through the legislative process this week. The measure, which would provide victims of drug violence with up to $70,000 in financial compensation, along with a variety of specialized social services, is a central demand of a growing piece movement being led by poet Javier Sicilia. The bill’s sponsors, Senators Fernando Baeza and Tomas Torres, are optimistic about its passage, saying it “lays the foundations to reconstruct the social fabric which has been so gravely affected by violence.”
La minería aurífera ilegal nos deja un paisaje lúgubre, producto de operaciones que degradan y transforman los ecosistemas amazónicos. Así mismo, organizan la sociedad alrededor de puestos de trabajo en condiciones deplorables. Parte de este negocio también corrompe los asentamientos aledaños y da lugar a un ambiente de desgobierno. La realidad de los campamentos mineros ilegales es el típico modelo del negocio furtivo que daña al medio ambiente, se preocupa sólo de los beneficios económicos que este genera y se aprovecha de la necesidad laboral de los peones (gente de bajos recursos y de escaso nivel educativo).
Las consecuencias de la actividad minera se reflejan en la organización de los espacios comunes dificultado el ordenamiento territorial, la conservación de la naturaleza y desestructurando modelos de organización comunal. A consecuencia de esto los bienes comunes no se pueden ubicar dentro de la perspectiva de una buena gobernanza social y la posibilidad de gobernabilidad estatal. Queda como desafío impulsar propuestas participativas que hagan del concepto de desarrollo sostenible una herramienta indispensable para planificar el futuro, garantizar la continuidad de los ecosistemas y proteger la autonomía de la organización social propia de las comunidades nativas; así como la participación de todos los grupos sociales que conviven en un mismo medio ambiente. (Fotos y pies de foto cortesía de Daniel Valencia.)
En el Perú, las aguas de la Amazonía que viajan en forma de ríos, que bañan las riberas de los bosques, que traen la vida desde las nubes hasta las sombras de un árbol, que aseguran un hogar a las especies animales o que se deslizan cuenco adentro en las manos de una niña a orillas de una comunidad nativa son las venas de este mundo; el eje de comunicación de muchas poblaciones y la fuente de sustento para pescadores, transportistas, albergues turísticos y operarios de algunas actividades extractivas.
En la Amazonía Peruana, las áreas naturales protegidas buscan salvaguardar que los ríos, bosques, hábitats de especies animales y de comunidades nativas; puedan perpetuarse en el perfecto equilibrio de los ecosistemas amazónicos. Las actividades económicas, sin embargo, que se desarrollan dentro del espacio amazónico no viven, ni dependen del equilibrio amazónico, aparentemente. Es decir, madereros que depredan el bosque sin respetar planes de manejo o mineros artesanales que contaminan las aguas con una visión de corto plazo no asumen que si el ecosistema se rompe, no habrá donde realizar las actividades que los sustentan.
This week the Brazilian Congress was scheduled to vote on a bill to amend the country’s forestry code. It is a bill that has evoked passionate debate.
But yesterday, yet again, that vote was delayed after a congressional shake-up in which President Rousseff replaced her coalition’s leaders in each chamber. Since last November, the vote has been delayed for a variety of reasons including criticisms from the scientific community, environmental experts and a subtle political international pressure. No new date has been scheduled as of the publication of this post.
Dating back to 1965, the current forestry code is credited with saving huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest. The proposed modifications, while originally intended to increase protection of forested areas, was changed in its drafting to allow areas to be farmed even if they were illegally logged before July 2008.
For the ruralistas, the powerful Brazilian agribusiness sector, it is a more realistic code for a key sector that represents 22 percent of Brazilian GDP. For environmentalists, such as former presidential candidate Marina Silva, it will foster deforestation by reducing conservation areas and granting amnesty to those who cut down trees in the past.
Brazil, the world´s leading beef producer and second soya exporter after the U.S., has become a powerful global food supplier. The consequences of the new forest code could be felt not only domestically, but also abroad.
Last week I met Ms. Silva in her new office on the second floor of a shopping mall in the north of Brasilia. She told me why she is fighting the new proposal and the reasons she is campaigning for President Rousseff to veto the new code if it is approved.
Morales: Why do you oppose the new Forest Code?
Silva: Since 1965 we have a law to protect forests in Brazil. The new forest code reverses the logic: it is a law to facilitate farming.