Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Latin America seems to be the region of the world most neglected by American mainstream news media and at times by American foreign policy. Without the seeming perpetual state of crisis of Africa, or the economic importance of Asia or Europe (though Latin America is catching up and increasing in its economic importance) it appears like both talking heads and policy makers have forgotten this part of the world exists at all. As if North America is the only America.

Why should we pay attention?

Generally, it’s worth paying attention to events in all parts of the world so that we can speak out intelligently when something is going wrong. If we pay attention all the time, we have a more enlightened view than if we pay attention only when a crisis is occurring.

Specifically, governments in Latin America, particularly those in the Amazon, are on the front lines in the debate between economic development and environmental conservation. Seeing how governments and societies reconcile these two interests may give us an idea of how other countries will face similar problems. Who knows, we may even get some good (or bad) ideas ourselves. Given the current domestic debate in the U.S. over the construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline, we may even see some parallel conflicts.

Many parts of Latin America are rapidly breaking the chains of poverty. Brazil for example has seen over 40 million people move out of extreme poverty over the last 20 years.  While the rest of the world still seems to be playing economic freeze-tag, projections show that growth will continue for our southern neighbors in 2012.

This is undisputable good news.

However it has also been said that the Amazon rainforest loses an area of land equivalent to the size of New Jersey each year. Not only does this result in the loss of unique species and ecosystems, but it also threatens marginalized indigenous communities. Also, as trees take in Carbon Dioxide, the Amazon is one of the earth’s last remaining defenses against the scourge of climate change. Latin American leaders are often also the ones leading the charge against developed nations in the struggle to limit the impact of climate change. They often charge that they should not have to constrain their own economic growth because of damage done mostly by developed countries.

The cause of this destruction is in part the area’s economic growth. Increased infrastructure and the logging industry are two key variables in the negative relationship between economic growth and environmental conservation.

Bolivia is quickly becoming a key flash point in the debate between environmental conservation and economic development.  This South American country made a news splash this spring with the passage of the Law of Mother Earth, which enumerates the rights of the earth as well as the responsibilities of individuals and the government to protect it. Though the legislation is vague and appears to be more of a message than an act of governance, it is a first step towards establishing rights something people around the world claim is continuously under attack.

Bolivian leaders, aside from attempting to protect their country from climate change, also face the challenge of lifting their society out of poverty. The tension between these two national interests was apparent in a recent debate over a proposed road through the Amazon, where police violently suppressed protests. Bolivian President Evo Morales also recently announced hopes to construct a railway that would run from Puerto Suarez, on Bolivia’s border with Brazil, to the Pacific port of Ilo in Peru. While protests have yet to erupt around the rail line, this is one more habitually neglected story that we should be paying attention to.

Reconciling economic development and environmental conservation is a global dilemma, one that the Obama administration is currently dealing with on the Keystone XL issue and it would behoove us to pay attention to other countries’ similar struggles.