Friday, October 9, 2020

Fires raging, deforestation (Oct. 9, 2020)

 Fires raging across parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay this year may become the longest and most destructive environmental crisis faced by the four neighboring countries, reports the Guardian. The main areas affected are the Gran Chaco forest that straddles Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon, the Pantanal wetlands shared by Brazil and Paraguay, and Argentina’s vast Paraná Delta wetlands. 

In all four countries the fires have been driven by a number of forces, but particularly the extensive deforestation of the past two decades. Experts also cite long-term poor enforcement of environmental rules, which has been made worse by the pandemic crisis which has weakened governments' ability to act. Instead, the response to the fires has often been driven by heroic amateurs, notes the Guardian piece.

More environment
  • Argentina recently ratified the Escazú Agreement -- meaning just one more country has to ratify in order for the first regional environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean to come into force. Several countries in Latin America are among the most deadly for environmental defenders, and Escazú is the first international treaty to include specific measures for the protection of environmental rights defenders. (Amnesty International)
  • Diálogo Chino analyzes where the remaining signatory countries are in the path towards ratification.
News Briefs

  • A Thai asphalt giant helped Venezuela's oil company dodge U.S. sanctions aimed at choking off the Maduro government's oil revenue. An Associated Press investigation uncovered how the Tipco asphalt company paid PDVSA vendors in exchange for crude oil, "much like a third-party payment processor." Last month Tipco announced it would stop doing business with Venezuela, some experts say it could be sanctioned by the U.S.  
  • Venezuela’s pro-government National Constituent Assembly approved a law yesterday allowing President Nicolás Maduro to confidentially sign new oil deals with private firms and foreign nations, in response to U.S. sanctions, reports Reuters.
  • A report last month by the U.N. investigators found evidence of systemic human rights violations in Venezuela that may amount to crimes against humanity, and linked the abuses to the highest level of Venezuela's government. (See Sept.17's post.) The U.N. human rights report provides ample evidence for the International Criminal Court to act on the long list of crimes against humanity Venezuela's Maduro government is accused of. ICC action on Venezuela could help pave an exit to the country's prolonged crisis, argue human rights experts Rodrigo Diamanti, Leonardo Vivas and Génesis Dávila in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • But some skeptics question whether human rights concerns are being wielded to further political aims in Venezuela, like this Nodal column in which Pedro Brieger notes the U.S. and Lima Group's enmity towards the Maduro government.
  • After months of lockdown, Venezuelans are again starting to flee the country on foot, though in smaller numbers than before the pandemic, reports the Associated Press. They now face significantly more adverse conditions in the regino, however.
  • Latin America will experience a Covid-19 spurred contraction in economic activity of 9.1 percent according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) or 9.4 percent according to the International Monetary Fund. As a result, in the most pessimistic scenario—which is the most likely now—ECLAC estimates that poverty levels will increase from 30 to 36 percent of the population; that is, it will affect an additional 36 million Latin Americans. The adverse context requires a deep rethinking of the development model that Latin America has followed since the market reforms that were adopted in the late 1980s or early 1990s in most countries, writes José Antonio Ocampo, chair of the U.N. Committee for Development Policy. "For this reason, a group of 31 Latin American and Spanish academics and former public officials set out to propose what we call the “Latin American Consensus 2020”, that is, an alternative to the Washington Consensus that served as a framework for the market reforms, the results of which have been clearly unsatisfactory." (The Brookings Institution)
  • The Covid-19 recession is wiping out years of progress in Latin America in reducing poverty and inequality, notes the Economist. Some analysts think that the biggest losers will be among the region’s lower-middle classes, because the poor receive basic income from social-assistance programs. "Although women, people of African descent and indigenous people are more likely to lose income, they get more help from the government."
  • Coronavirus is still going strong in Latin America -- but the political narrative has moved on, for now. The crisis has been a missed opportunity for regional cooperation, laments James Bosworth at the Latin America Risk Report.
  • The end of Brazil's monthly emergency payments introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic could send 15 million people back into poverty, according to a study by the Fundação Getulio Vargas. (BBC)
  • Uruguay is a shining Covid-19 success story in Latin America -- but its extremely low rates of coronavirus infection have as much to do with the country's isolation as with the epidemiological measures taken by the government, argues Jerónimo Giorgi in Latinoamérica 21. The southern hemisphere summer will put Uruguay between Scylla and Charybdis: maintain economically devastating travel restrictions, or face the health costs of opening up to tourists.
  • Bolivia's MAS party is leading in the polls ahead of this month's presidential election -- technically a re-do of last year's contested vote -- partly because of former president Evo Morales' economic track record. Bolivia's economy is set to contract 6 percent this year, and voters have fond memories of Morales’ so-called ‘Evonomics’ - a mixture of nationalization, public works and some industry-friendly policies for sectors like farming - that helped drive over a decade of growth, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia’s President Ivan Duque has called for two former FARC rebel commanders to be expelled from Congress over the 1995 assassination of a former presidential candidate, reports Al Jazeera. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Food is scarcer in Cuba than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the government has hinted at economic reform, reports the Economist.
  • Chile's government announced a high level commission to accelerate police reform for the country's Carabineros, amid growing anger at the national forces' heavy-handed response to protesters. (Nodal, see Monday's post.)
  • At least 606 girls have disappeared in Peru during quarantine. (Wayka, via Nodal)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's determination to pay off water debt to the U.S. has provided the opposition with a rallying point, and demonstrates how AMLO's rivales are using local issues to chip away at his popularity, reports Reuters.
  • Former top Mexican security official Genaro García Luna pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges this week, including a new one of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise that could add 20 years to his sentence if convicted -- Associated Press.
  • Mexico's Tabasco state has a long history of turning to Greek classics for baby name inspiration -- Economist.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

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