Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Amazon on fire -- political and logistical challenges (Aug. 27, 2019)

The Amazon fires present dual political and logistical challenges. The political aspects have dominated thus far. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro initially rejected a $22.2 million package aimed at helping the country quell blazes burning through the Amazon rainforest. The aid package from Group of Seven nations has taken a back seat to an increasingly acrimonious dispute between Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron. Bolsonaro's chief of staff suggested the funds might be better used to reforest Europe yesterday, reports the Guardian

While the two bicker over whether Macron has a colonialist mentality, whether France's fire track record puts it in a place to criticize Brazil, and how Bolsonaro insulted the French first lady, Brazilian state officials in areas affected by fires said they might bypass the national government and seek international assistance directly, report the Washington Post and the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)

But experts are more concerned about the operational difficulty of stamping out the flames consuming tracts of rainforest: there are hundreds of fires, burning simultaneously and far away from road networks. In this context, the resources pledged by the G-7 will be just a drop in the proverbial bucket. (Washington Post and Guardian)

Backlash against Bolsonaro has been massive internationally, but on the ground in many parts of Brazil affected by the fires, local farmers argue that fire and deforestation are essential to agricultural production, and strongly back Bolsonaro, reports the New York Times.

Brazilian prosecutors in Pará state opened an investigation into the case, after revealing that they warned national officials that local farmers had planned a "fire day" demonstration in the area, aimed at protesting environmental regulations. Environmental officials told the Guardian they were aware of the planned fires, but lacked police support and reinforcements. Brazil’s prosecutor-general Raquel Dodge said yesterday that there was a “suspicion of orchestrated action."

More fires

  • At first glance there is little in common between Bolsonaro and his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales. But fires in both countries' forests can be traced to policies that encouraged deforestation, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Initial estimates indicate 600 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed in Bolivia's north-eastern region of Bení, and indigenous populations are now threatened, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
News Briefs

  • Morales and his main opponent, Carlos Mesa, have temporarily suspended their presidential campaigns due to the fire crisis. Though Morales' bid for a fourth term is questioned by critics and legalists, he is the likely voter favorite and could win in the first round of voting on Oct. 20. The reasons behind his popularity are largely economic, explains Americas Quarterly, though Bolivia's growth masks underlying economic weaknesses.
  • Panama has become the latest battleground in the U.S. push to stop migrants headed for its border. The focal point in Panama, a longtime U.S. ally, is extracontinental migrants, who come from outside Latin America. U.S. officials seek to improve screening of migrants with potential terrorism links crossing through the dangerous Darien Gap, reports the Washington Post. Panama's president has rejected the possibility of a bilateral asylum agreement with the U.S., however.
  • Latin American leaders -- including all six Central American governments -- called for “shock” investment in infrastructure in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to reduce the number of migrants who leave the Northern Triangle headed towards the U.S. (Reuters)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the country is fulfilling its commitment to the U.S. to reduce the flow of migrants crossing Mexico. Mexico and U.S. officials will meet on Sept. 10 to evaluate measures implemented after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Mexico with tariffs if it did not crackdown on migration, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. onslaught against migration could be turned into a boon for Mexico's economy, if the López Obrador administration changes the country's focus from policing to integration focused on increasing productivity, argues Viridiana Ríos in a New York Time Español op-ed.
  • A post- Ortega democratic transition in Nicaragua must not be founded on amnesty, but rather justice without impunity, argues Carlos Chamorro in a call for an international commission modeled on Guatemala's CICIG and Honduras' MACCIH. (Confidencial)
  • Drug trafficking groups in Honduras have savvily added illegal logging to their economic portfolio. The two illicit businesses compliment each other, as cocaine and timber share clandestine shipping routes, reports InSight Crime
  • A notorious Venezuelan gang leader is reportedly operating from Colombia -- yet another demonstration of how Venezuela's increasing international isolation has helped protect illicit groups along the two countries' shared border, reports InSight Crime.
  • Violent Venezuelan deaths on the Colombian side of the border have increased sharply in recent years, an continue to grow, reports Reuters.
  • Hundreds of community leaders have been killed since Colombia's peace deal with the FARC -- in part due to warring illicit groups vying to control territory and illegal economies. The issue has become a political headache for the Duque administration, which says it has reduced violence. (Reuters)
  • Women's rights activists in Mexico are leading the "glitter revolution" (revolución diamantina) -- they demand government policies in response to violence against women. The demands aren't new, but protesters are angered by a perceived lack of response and new allegations that police officers raped teenage girls, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Cuba drastically reformed fishing laws, a major step in preserving marine ecosystems that will also promote scientific collaboration with the U.S. -- despite the Trump administration's rapprochement reversal, reports the Guardian.
  • The IMF "browbeats poor countries into accepting neoliberal measures that exacerbate inequality and economic distress," argues Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. He cites the case of Ecuador, which signed an agreement to borrow $4.2 billion from the IMF over three years in March.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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