In depressing environmental news, over 700 dead penguins have been washing up on the beaches of southern Brazil across the last month.
Meanwhile, in still more reminders of the very real and devastating impact human actions are having on the environment, the effects of long-term deforestation will continue to be felt, with a new study suggesting that, even if deforestation were halted today, at least 38 species of mammals, birds, and amphibianswill go extinct in the area in the years and decades to come.
And it’s not like these processes won’t impact humans. Among other things, deforestation in the Amazon has led to a 50% increase in malaria among people “because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas.”
In an attempt to deal with overfishing in an industry that makes up 5% of Chile’s export economy and nearly 14% of its workforce, Chile’s Congress is considering a law that would establish quotas (among other things) in an attempt to revitalize the (probably-doomed) industry. However, the law is facing significant opposition from small-scale fisherman who have taken to the streets to protest a law that they say favors industrial fishing companies even while it destroys their own livelihood. The protesters have erected blockades and marched in several port-towns, with some demanding a meeting with the Minister of the Interior to address their concerns as artisanal fishers. In spite of the opposition from small-scale fishers, the Minister of Economy, Pablo Longueira, described the law as one that “Chile needs.” While overfishing is indeed a very real and extremely serious issue facing not just Chile but all of the world’s oceans and fisheries, it is not clear that the current law, which does appear to structurally give more power and leeway to larger businesses, is going to solve these problems.
[UPDATE added by Scott Dempsey Crago]:
This is an incredibly important topic,as the privatization and regulation of natural resources in Chile for the gain of multinational corporations has continued to hurt local industries and indigenous communities like the Mapuche. Many of these protests against neoliberal expansion have been met with overt violence, with the Chilean government labeling such movements as acts conducted by ‘terrorists” and “anarchists” as means to discredit an validity in these claims. For further reading, please see here. Mapuexpress is an excellent source for stories that remain absent or highly skewed in Chilean news
A few stories on indigenous rights from Brazil worth highlighting here.
First, in tragic but unsurprising environmental news, a new report suggests that the extremely controversial Belo Monte dam is to blame for the death of thousands of baby turtles. The site continues to face major opposition not only from environmental groups, but also from indigenous peoples whose livelihoods are threatened, and a group of indigenous protesters has even occupied the construction site in the past week, bringing construction to a halt.
Meanwhile, another group of indigenous protesters in Brazil set fire to a police station in the northern state of Pará after a judge ordered the release of four men suspected of murdering an indigenous man. The violence may not have just been a random act, however, as Pará is one of the areas where wealthy landowners continue to employ people to kill indigenous people who try to protect their lands from being taken over by ranchers; indeed, many people have died in these struggles over the past decade, including high-profile cases like that of American citizen Dorothy Stang, and land activists continue to face threats and even murder even while their killers rarely face trial.
The events in Paraguay this weekend were particularly exceptional and important, but there were many other things going on throughout Latin America that are worth noting.
-Bolivia is going through its own domestic strife, as police have gone on strike over pay. The strike quickly spread throughout the country and could lead to the type of confrontation that left 19 people dead in a similar strike in 2003. With police striking, the Bolivian government has mobilized the army to fulfill police functions and patrol the streets. This is the second police strike in the region this year – in February, police in Brazil went on strike right before Carnaval, also demanding higher pay.
-In Argentina, truckers went on a one-day strike demanding higher pay, a tactic that was successful for the truckers. However, they have also announced another one-day strike this week to demand a reduction in taxes.
-While Mexico has made a number of high-profile arrests (and at least one possibly mistaken identification in an arrest) of drug cartel leaders in recent weeks, a new report says that Mexico lags behind Colombia and even Guatemala in seizing criminals’ actual assets, calling such seizures “nearly null” in Mexico. Meanwhile, “intern” over at Just the Facts breaks down nicelyhow July’s presidential election may impact the drug trade in Mexico.
-On the other end of the drug trade debate, Uruguay’s government is set to submit a bill that would legalize marijuana.
-The Rio+20 environmental summit wrapped up last week, though with little concrete change or improvements in sustainable development; rather, “everybody” was “unhappy” and the conference agreed to future conferences. That said, Rio Real was in Rio de Janeiro and had some interesting on-the-ground observations, as did Lucy Jordan, who provided “A Brazil Perspective on Rio+20.”, and Lisa provides a layperson’s view on living in Rio in the midst of the summit.
-Indigenous peoples in Venezuela are demanding Germany return a 35-ton boulder that is (ironically) a part of a “global peace project” but that is also a sacred object to the Pemon peoples.
-Tropical storm Debby formed in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. This marks the first time since 1851 that there were four tropical storms that had formed before July 1.
-An investigation into the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former president Michelle Bachelet and a military official who was loyal to president Salvador Allende after his overthrow and suicide in 1973, has found that the former general most likely died from heart problems aggravated by the torture the Pinochet regime forced him to endure. Meanwhile, the Chilean courts also ordered an investigation into the 1976 assassination of US citizen Ronni Moffitt in Washington DC. Moffitt died in a car bomb that also killed exiled Chilean human rights and anti-Pinochet dictatorship activist Orlando Letelier.
-Uruguay’s Minister of Economy, Fernando Lorenzo, said that the country is worried about the economic impact of the Euro zone’s ongoing instability might have on countries like Uruguay. The admission serves as an important reminder that, despite recent regional economic successes, Latin America is still somewhat dependent on the economic strength of Europe (and susceptible to economic troubles there).
-Finally, Brazil is set to raise the price of gasoline for the first time since….2008.
When one mentions the Amazon, a large, forbidding jungle often pops into people’s minds, thanks in no small part to reports and popular imaginings of the Amazonian basin that date back at least to the first accounts of Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the region. However, the Amazon is much more than a massive jungle or river basin; indeed, while its environmental importance to the world cannot be overstated, it is much more complicated than a simplistic treatment as some exotic foreign place allows. The Amazon’s impact spreads beyond environment or biology to affect economics, business, politics, and society itself. To wit, I give you these four stories from just the past week:
- “Brazilian leader Rousseff’s pardon for illegal deforesters condemned”
- “Nearly 100 bird species face increased risk of extinction in the Amazon”
- “Greenpeace accuses world’s largest meatpacker, Brazil’s JBS, of not protecting Amazon forest”
- “Amazon deforestation at record low, data shows”
Clearly, this is quite a variety of stories here, ranging from national politics transnational economics, from biology to environmental engineering . At the same time, the ways in which these stories are phrased can lead to some confusion, particularly with regards to the last headline, which by the very way it’s structured seems to provide some positive news when compared to the first three stories. Taken together, it’s easy to see how people can find it difficult to understand the complexities of the Amazon. After all, based on the stories above, people who have illegally deforested have been pardoned (thus suggesting that those who work to destroy the forest will not be punished as severely as the law threatens); hundreds of species of birds are increasingly facing a risk of extinction, something that would absolutely affect biodiversity in the region; major corporations are indirectly contributing to deforestation; and yet, deforestation rates have reached a “record low”? That is a confusing picture indeed.
But that’s the problem with reports on deforestation in the Amazon reaching “record lows”; the important part is not that the rates are low, but that deforestation is still going on at rates that damage the ecosystems and pose very real environmental problems for humans the world over in the years and decades to come. Yet just the tone of the headline conveys some small sense of hope (perhaps false, perhaps not), creating no small amount of dissonance between the tone of the first three headlines and the fourth.
Still, if one wants to understand just how complicated the Amazon is and how little we still understand about its past, present, and future, one need not look much further than not look much further than those headlines to understand just how complex the Amazonian basin is and just how much it affects not only biodiversity, but business, politics, culture, and societies in South America and beyond.
-In a remarkable transformation, Cuba has expanded its free-market reforms beginning on January 1 of the coming year. Changes include laying off state workers, reducing restrictions on private enterprise, and allowing certain types of workers to become self-employed and to charge their own rates.
-Mexican authorities have arrested five police officers who were captured on video torturing a detainee.
-The United States has begun considering creating a national park in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The park would set aside land that Hispanic people historically settled when it belonged to colonial Spain and then Mexico. The valley is a beautiful area, and is home to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where the largest sand dunes in the United States (at over 700 feet in height) sit nestled up against the base of 14,000+ foot tall peaks. The area is remarkably beautiful and unique, and a national park here would be a wonderful, wonderful thing.
-Argentina and China entered an agreement of support over claims to islands, with Argentina supporting China’s claim to Taiwan and China supporting Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/Falklands Islands.
-Bolivia extradited ex-soldier Luis Enrique Baraldini to Argentina for his role in human rights violations, including torture, during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, during which time Baraldini served as chief of police in the province of La Pampa.
-Colombia’s murder total for 2011 dropped by 544 to 13,520 on the year (up to Christmas Day), marking the lowest number of violent deaths in the country since 1984.
-A new report out of Peru says that climate change has melted the glaciers in the country twenty years faster than previously expected, which will have a profound effect on access to and availability of water for Peru in the coming years.
-Brazil fined Chevron another $5.4 million for an oil spill in early November. Brazil had already previously fined the company $28 million and had also filed a lawsuit for $10.6 billion against the company.
-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez replaced General Hugo Carvajal, the military intelligence chief and one of the top advisers to Chavez.
-Chile’s Supreme Court ordered Chilean newspaper La Tercera to compensate thirteen readers who suffered severe burns when following a recipe for churros that the paper had published several years ago.