Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Latin America's commitment to green development

August 13, 2007

Here in the capital of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the health of the people and of the environment is high on the agenda of the revolutionary process now underway.

Even though the developing countries of Latin America are responsible for only a small part of the enormous environmental crisis now facing the planet, there is an energy and determination here to do something about it. Venezuela’s plans to restructure its economy in order to end poverty and oppression are being evaluated within the framework of sustainable, “green” development.

President Hugo Chávez has popularized this goal with the slogan “Socialism of the 21st Century.”

On July 27 and 28, an International Seminar on the Environment was held here to inform the public about the grave ecological problems facing Latin America and to review the impact of outside forces on the region. The work of the seminar was covered widely on public television stations, whose programming is largely educational as opposed to the media still owned and controlled by the oligarchy.

The seminar was organized by the Venezuelan Parliamentary Group in the Latin American Parliament, known informally as Parlatino. While the Parlatino has no executive power, its work conveys moral and political authority.

The Venezuelan deputies in Parlatino have proposed a Charter on the Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean. In Venezuela, this charter has been widely discussed at seminars in a number of cities.

The session here in Caracas was the seventh in this country over the last four months. The first was also held in the capital; others took place in Maracay, Mérida, Puerto la Cruz, Amazonas and Maracaibo. They have had a profound impact, raising public consciousness on the gravity of environmental issues.

The first day of the most recent Caracas session was held in the Parlatino building and was opened by its alternate president, Amilcar Figueroa. Deputies from more than a dozen other countries participated.

Many specialists presented the latest scientific information on how pollution, overuse of natural resources and climate change are affecting the countries of Latin America, which is the most biologically diverse region in the world and also is home to 472 distinct ethnic groups.

Many of the last unspoiled areas on the planet are in Latin America—particularly in the Amazon basin, parts of the Andes and in the far south of the continent. But they are now in danger, especially because of deforestation and climate change.

From 1980 to 1990, Latin America lost 6 percent of its forests—an estimate that may reflect only half the real damage, according to Dr. José Monente, one of the presenters. Some 80 percent of the fishing areas in the southern Atlantic have been overexploited, and now fish stocks are declining along the Pacific coast as well.

As of the year 2000, 380 million people lived in urban areas of the region, many of which have become megacities in which pollution, unemployment and extreme poverty are concentrated.

In recent years, climate change has brought severe weather with devastating floods, mudslides and windstorms in which 45,000 people have been killed. Areas of drought are spreading, even in the Amazon, because of deforestation.

However, if properly managed, just 4 percent of the land area could feed all the people of the region by the year 2030.

Need for regional integration

Manuel Briceño Méndez, a deputy in Venezuela’s National Assembly, pointed out that, in order to achieve sustainable development, the countries of Latin America need regional integration based on sovereignty, equality and inclusion.

Parlatino Deputy Hamlin Jordan gave a fact-filled presentation that showed very clearly the origins of Latin America’s problems.

The region has contributed only 5 percent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide gas that is the major factor in global warming. In fact, 88 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases were generated by countries with just 20 percent of the world’s population—and they are almost all countries where capitalist industrialization led to colonial and imperialist expansion.

The government of the U.S., the country that is by far the largest contributor to global warming, has refused to sign international agreements limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

Jordan showed in facts and figures how the economy of Latin America has been controlled by the imperialist powers.

In 1982, the external debt of all the Latin American countries amounted to $300 billion. Fourteen years later, even though some $739 billion had been repaid in that time, these countries were deeper in debt than ever, to the tune of $607 billion. All these countries were at one time colonies and have vastly enriched the imperialist powers of the U.S. and Europe.

Jordan reiterated Venezuela’s proposal that, to break this financial stranglehold, an Environmental Bank for Latin America and the Caribbean be established. This proposal is but one of many contained in the Charter on the Environment.

The charter was introduced last November by José Gregorio Hernández, president of the Commission on the Environment and Tourism of the Venezuelan Parliamentary Group in Parlatino.

At that time, he explained that the charter was “born at a time when the planet is at a critical point in its evolution and humanity must choose what path to follow. This initiative will be a legal instrument that encompasses the values, principles and ethics that can orient our efforts toward the adoption of a common framework that guarantees us a sustainable future environment, by speaking in one voice for a healthy and secure environment, for the development of green cities, for the struggle against climate change and for the conservation of biodiversity. ...

“This instrument will be a reply by which the impoverished countries of the region can, on the one hand, promote a humane and sustainable development, and, on the other, ... demand reparations for the social debt, historical and ecological, that the enriched countries have contracted with them.”

Overflow audience in Altamira

On the second day of the seminar, many of the same deputies and scientists spoke to a much larger audience at the University College of Caracas. This school is in Altamira, a wealthy neighborhood where many of the demonstrations opposing President Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution have occurred.

The hall was packed to overflowing with young and old as the presenters, using PowerPoint slides to emphasize their main points, went over much of the information presented earlier at the Parlatino.

In addition, a report described Misión Árbol, an educational project on the importance of reforestation that enlisted popular participation last year in the planting of 4.26 million trees.

Engineer Rodolfo Roa discussed Venezuela’s plans to increase its hydroelectric power in the near future to a point where 71 percent of the country’s energy needs will be provided by this renewable source. While Venezuela has vast oil deposits, it is using some of the proceeds from its petroleum to finance the greening of its infrastructure.

An important theme of the seminar was Venezuala’s rejection of the capitalist model of development and its refusal to accept the plan whereby rich imperialist countries that should be cutting down their carbon dioxide emissions could instead buy greenhouse gas quotas from cash-poor countries.

A highlight of this final session was a talk by Piedad Córdoba (above photo), an Afro-Colombian senator who represents the area of El Choco. She alerted the audience to the displacement of many people on Colombia’s Pacific coast, where large tracts have been cleared by the aerial spraying of chemicals provided by the U.S. company Monsanto, maker of the herbicide “Round-Up.” Destruction caused by heavy rains in the area has been made worse by the killing off of the native vegetation.

Where once Indigenous communities existed, she said, large plantations have been set up to grow African palm trees and other cash crops. In an ironic twist, some are owned by paramilitaries employed by drug lords. The “fumigation” of the area, which has been part of Washington’s “Plan Colombia,” was supposedly to eradicate coca plants, which can be a source of cocaine.

A final report came from Dr. José A. Díaz Duque, a deputy from Cuba who described that socialist country’s extensive planning to reduce the impact of natural disasters. Díaz stressed that climate change is a fact that is already having a serious impact, especially on the countries of the Caribbean. His charts showed how every neighborhood in Cuba is organized, ready to respond instantly if a hurricane warning is given. Cuba also has sensors in place to alert scientists to possible earthquakes.

Because of Cuba’s ability to mobilize the people so quickly and move them to safer areas, deaths there from severe storms in recent years have been miniscule, compared to hundreds and even thousands of fatalities in neighboring countries.

Great changes are taking place today in much of Latin America. Where pessimism and resignation about the future of the planet seem to reign in much of the world, here in Bolivarian Venezuela there is optimism that any problem can be tackled if the people are aroused, educated and organized.


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