Americas Program Biodiversity Report—April 2010
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1. CHILE: Protests Against Alleged Privatization of the Sea
Chilean civil society groups and artisanal fishers condemn a bill approved by the parliament in the month of March. This bill, which basically consists of modifications to the existing Fisheries and Aquaculture Act, was passed barely 11 days after the earthquake and associated tidal wave which caused great destruction in the coastal region in the center and south of the country, and one day before the change in government.
“The law, promoted by the Association of Banks and Financial Institutions, the employers association SalmonChile, and the Ministries of the Economy and the Treasury, was in the legislature for more than a year where citizen organizations, fishers, salmon fishery unions, and businesspeople from the local tourism industry, among others, put up strong resistance,” according to a communiqué of the environmental group Ecocéanos Centre (http://www.ecoceanos.cl/). The act makes it possible for the banks to use the salmon corporations’ fishery concessions as a loan guarantee, which the opposition denounced as a privatization of the sea.
“This shameful law, custom-made for big business and their creditor banks, seeks to propel the final phase of the process of privatization, economic concentration, transnationalization, and reduction of the oversight role of the state in the Chilean fisheries and aquaculture sector,” declared Ecocéanos.
“The criticisms were not only based on the fact that the government uses citizens’ money to rescue a private industry, but on the damages that this represents for the environment and workers, due to, among other things, the salmon industry often committing anti-union practices and not following international safety standards,” according to a report by Radio Mundo Real. “In fact, in Chile workplace deaths in the salmon business are the second major cause of workplace deaths at a national level, after construction.”
Hector Kol, responsible for the Salmonculture Program of the Professional Association of Artisanal Fishers Organizations of Aysen (Asociacion Gremial de Organizaciones de Pescadores Artesanales de Aysen), maintains that in contrast to the artisanal fishery in Chile, which uses natural methods and offers an organic product, the salmon industry uses large quantities of antibiotics that harm the consumer. In addition, he asserted that this legislation is contrary to food sovereignty since the product of the fishery is for exportation.
Ecocéanos News, “Parlamento aprueba ley salmonera,” Mar. 11, 2010, http://biodiversidadla.org/Menu_Derecha/Prensa/Chile_parlamento_aprueba_Ley_salmonera_que_permite
Radio Mundo Real, “Privatizing the Sea,” Mar. 10, 2010, http://www.radiomundoreal.fm/Privatizing-the-Sea.
Radio Mundo Real, “Once Upon a Time at Sea,” Mar. 18, 2010, http://www.radiomundoreal.fm/Once-Upon-a-Time-a-Sea.
|GM cotton has been a failure in Colombia.|
Genetically modified (GM) cotton from the American biotechnology company Monsanto has been a failure in Colombia, announced the organization Grupo Semillas (http://www.semillas.org.co/). Last March, the Columbian Agricultural Institute (ICA) imposed a fine on Monsanto due to the poor performance of its GM cotton, which caused losses among cotton growers in the 2008/2009 season.
“Seven years after having released the seeds of GM cotton commercially, their failure is evident,” declared the Colombian organization in an article circulated by the Network for a Latin America Free of Genetically Modified Organisms (Red por una America Latina Libre de Transgénicos).
“They did not live up to promises of being more productive, nor of reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides, nor the lowering of production costs, nor the generation of greater profits for growers. Monsanto presented GMO technology as the redemption of the cotton industry; in reality it has helped take growers to the bottom of an abyss, especially the small and medium cotton-growers of Cordoba and Tolima, who in the 2008-2009 harvest had enormous losses.”
Civil society was not unprepared for this news. In August 2007 the participants of the Latin American Scientific Conference of Agroecology, celebrated that month in Antioquía, Colombia, wrote an open letter to the Colombian government rejecting the approval of GM crops in the country.
In the letter, they stated that, “In Colombia, genetically modified corn and cotton will create genetic crosses with native species that will cause genetic degradation or ‘superweeds’ in the productive agricultural ecosystems; in the same way, cultural tradition, historically the facilitator of national food security, will be vulnerable and ruined by the irresponsible policies of the Colombian state, which measures agricultural activity in terms of productivity and increases social inequality in the Colombian rural sector, forgetting their commitment to national sovereignty starting with food as a fundamental human right.”
The signatories were emphatic in condemning supposed educational activities sponsored by the state, believing that they were nothing more than propaganda.
“We reject the conferences that have been developing to misinform public and institutional opinion about the risks of the introduction of GM crops in the Colombian countryside. In these events, so-called ‘biosafety workshops,’ they claim that GM crops will help resolve the problem of hunger in the country and that their effects on biodiversity are minimal; not recognizing that historically the rural communities have been responsible for providing food to humanity from diverse agricultural production systems and through practices that guaranteed a certain measure of productive sustainability, similarly denying the disastrous effects caused by the introduction of these GMOs at an experimental level in other Latin American countries.”
Now, following the failure that had been correctly forecast, Grupo Semillas looks toward the challenges of the future: “The small agriculturalists, peasants, and indigenous are those who have learned lessons from this crisis; they have understood that these GM seeds are not adequate, and in addition annihilate, their productive systems; therefore they are developing multiple strategies to face them. Now the challenge that the growers face is to confront the threats to biodiversity and food security generated by the GM corn seeds that the ICA authorized for cultivation throughout the country in 2007. But today there are even more growers who want to defend our native seeds and do not want GM seeds to enter their territories, their systems of production, and their food.”
Network for a Latin America Free of GMOs (Red por una América Latina Libre de Transgénicos), “El fracaso del Algodón Transgénico en Colombia,” RALLT Bulletin #376, http://www.biodiversidadla.org/Principal/Contenido/Documentos/El_fracaso_del_algodon_transgenico_en_Colombia2.
Seeds of Identity (Semillas de Identidad), “Transgénicos y Derechos Humanos: Carta abierta a la comunidad científica, académica y empresarial de Colombia,” Aug. 30, 2007, http://semillasdeidentidad.blogspot.com/2007/08/transgnicos-y-derechos-humanos-carta.html.
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|The Ecuadorean government is already granting
concessions to oil companies to operate in large
The Ecuadorian government shone in front of the entire world with their proposal to not touch the petroleum that sits below the Yasuní National Park in exchange for economic compensation from the international community. Today civil society is defending that proposal from the government itself, which seems to be willing to change its decision and proceed with authorizing oil exploitation in the Yasuní.
Not far from the Yasuní the government is already handing out concessions on areas of great biodiversity to petroleum corporations, like the one called Block 20, also known as Pungarayacu. The concession is 146,000 hectares and includes populated areas and protected zones like Sumaco, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. “We fear that the petroleum project will seriously harm the local eco-tourism industry, an important source of jobs,” declared the German environmental group Rainforest Rescue. It adds that “Ivanhoe Energy (who possesses the concession) … are advancing their operations through deceit and are dividing indigenous communities and community leaders.”
Rainforest Rescue signals that the actions of Ivanhoe and the government are in violation of the Constitution of the Republic, which is very clear in recognizing the rights of nature and specifically with regard to public consultation requirements for extractive projects. “The government initiated negotiations with Ivanhoe without consulting indigenous communities and those who will be affected by the project, thereby ignoring their constitutional rights.”
“Furthermore, Ivanhoe Energy is applying the habitual strategy of negotiation with some leaders and members of the communities, compromising them with the promise of jobs, rather than leaving sectional governments [local governments] to discuss compensation with the communities, as the law demands. With this approach, they are entering communities without gaining their consent.”
Rainforest Rescue, “Ecuadorian Amazon: Petroleum Project Threatens Sumaco Biosphere Reserve,” Mar. 30, 2010, http://www.rainforest-rescue.org/protestaktion.php?id=558.
The actions of rich and influential foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ecuador and their close collaborative relationships with the government and transnational corporations causes uneasiness among local environmentalist groups. One of these local organizations is Acción Ecológica (http://www.accionecologica.org/), which the government of the current president, Rafael Correa, tried to silence in 2009 in the midst of much publicized controversy between them.
“Large conservation NGOs exist that, with or without knowing, intervene in the territorial control of priority zones, geopolitically speaking (since large quantities of mineral resources, water, and biodiversity exist in them),” denounces Acción Ecológica in an open letter to organizations that work in defense of the environment, published Mar. 31, 2010.
“They do this by assuming the administration or management of protected areas. This is a typically neoliberal process by which the states are deemed incapable and these transnational conservation organizations present themselves as technical experts with the greatest capacity to plan and administer these zones, and even attracting more resources than many states for the same tasks.”
Among the foreign conservation organizations active in Ecuador those that stand out include Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“On many occasions these NGOs have accords with businesses and are the ones who determine which activities can be carried out in these zones: bio-prospecting, “sustainable” extraction of minerals and oil, control of aquifers and assigning rights of usage for water sources, development projects, or other plans that don’t necessarily correspond to the objectives of strengthening and self-determination of the communities … They also intervene in the creation of legislation and in the design of public conservation policies, which permits them to legalize their actions.”
Acción Ecológica expresses particular concern due to what happened to the National Environmental Fund (Fondo Ambiental Naciónal) (http://www.fan.org.ec/), the Ecuadorian government entity that administers private funds to be used for nature conservation, including donations from petroleum companies. “That is where environmental policies are defined in a clear example of the privatization of conservation. As organizations defending the environment, and NGOs in general, we cannot be part of a strategy of privatization or delegation of the functions of the state to the private sector.”
The open letter charges that NGOs that do not cooperate with petroleum companies and other extractive industries can be silenced through Presidential Decree 982, which permits the government to “disqualify” citizen organizations if they interfere with state policies.
“Part of the process of disqualification is the claim that only those who have won elections can have an opinion, and that to take a critical or different position from the policies or projects of the government is to be infantile … In this sense it is necessary to position oneself around Decree 982, which makes the existence of NGOs conditional upon compliance with the development plan and politics of the state, separate from the defense of nature, rights, and the environment.”
|Plans have been made to build dams on the river.|
Indigenous peoples and environmental groups are launching a campaign against the plans of Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva to construct hydroelectric dams on the Xingu River, which runs nearly 2,000 kilometers through the states of Mato Groso and Pará. More than half of the territory through which it passes is jungle protected by law.
“The National Congress of Brazil approved, without debate and without previous consultation with indigenous communities as envisioned in the constitution, the construction of Belo Monte as the first in a series of dam complexes,” informs Rainforest Rescue. “The initially anticipated reservoirs are enormous. Only one of them covers an area of 6,140 km2. The government of Lula da Silva promised not to complete a project against the desires of the local population, which is not being respected. At the beginning of February 2010 the government of Brazil conceded provisional permission for work. The work can begin at any moment.”
Rainforest Rescue alludes to studies that demonstrate that investments in conservation and energy efficiency would be more than sufficient to make the electricity that Belo Monte would generate unnecessary, at a cost much lower than constructing the dam. The government maintains that the project will cost less than three billion Euros, but two of the companies involved, CPFL and Alsthom, estimate that the real cost will be closer to 12 billion Euros.
The dam is pivotal to the ambitious Accelerated Plan for Growth (Plan Acelerado de Crecimiento) of Lula’s government (http://www.brasil.gov.br/pac/), which will provide funds for, among other things, the construction of massive energy and transportation (highway) projects that could have serious environmental and social impacts.
“Some 20,000 people from the districts of Altamira, Vitória do Xingu, and Brasil Novo would have to abandon their lands and be resettled,” says the organization. “The harm to fish and the fluvial exchange would be in addition to all the incalculable environmental damages. Emissions of methane, a very strong greenhouse gas, are another serious problem, as is an increase in diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. Due to similar dams constructed in Brazil in the past, the disastrous effects on the environment, human beings, and the climate are well known.”
Salva la Selva, “Mega-represa en Brasil: ¡No queremos Belo Monte!” Mar. 19, 2010, http://www.salvalaselva.org/protestaktion.php?id=550.
Carmelo Ruiz Marrero is an independent environmental journalist and environmental analyst for the Americas Program (www.americasprogram.org), a fellow at the Oakland Institute, senior fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program, as well as founder and director of the Biosafety Project of Puerto Rico (bioseguridad.blogspot.com). His bilingual web page (carmeloruiz.blogspot.com) is devoted to global environmental and development issues.
Translated for the Americas Program by Erin Jonasson.
For More Information
Americas Program Biodiversity Report—March 2010
Americas Program Biodiversity Report—February 2010
Americas Program Biodiversity Report—January 2010