Thursday, April 01, 2010

Bad News for Environment and Environmentalists in the Amazonian Basin

There have been some pretty terrible news stories regarding the Amazonian basin over the last few days that are worth pointing out.

First, a leading Amazon activist was shot and killed yesterday in the state of Para, just hours after a court delayed the retrial for the murder of Dorothy Stang. Pedro Alcantara de Souza was the leader of landless farmers in the rural state of Para, and two men on motorcycles apparently shot Souza 5 times in the head while Souza was riding his bicycle. While authorities are sending a team from Belem (the capital of Para) to investigate, the murderers have not been taken into custody. I usually hate to jump to conclusions, but given the strength of elite landowners in the region, combined with Souza's opposition to what are often illegal land-grabs on the part of those same elites, this was almost certainly a contract murder. Such is the way it often works when individuals fight for greater land reform and more equal distribution in the Amazon; it happened with Stang, it happened with Chico Mendes, and it most likely has happened again with Souza.

Additionally, foreign industry is also taking a toll on the environment, with the government's help. I've commented before that environmental policy may be one of, if not the single, deficiencies historians may find in Lula's government. These problems are not always limited to the Amazon, either; a hydroelectric dam that the Brazilian government contracted out to a Canadian company is wreaking havoc on both the environment and citizens in rural Minas Gerais. The dams are one of Lula's pet projects, and he's pushed heavily for hydroelectric power to supply Brazil's growing population with energy. In doing so, he's been nearly blinded by the highly-problematic use of dams, even while ignoring less destructive options like sun- and wind-power (and with well over 4500 miles of coastline, Brazil could easily take advantage of both). Instead, people in the interior are forced to witness dislocation and destruction in the name of hydroelectric power. Certainly, as he gets ready to leave office, Lula is enjoying some of the highest approval ratings he's ever had. However, it's worth repeating: his administration has been far from perfect, and as we begin to assess it historically, environmental policy will mostly likely be a dark stain on what has probably been one of the greatest administrations Brazilian history has seen.

Of course, Brazil isn't the only one facing these issues from foreign investment. This week, a court ruled in favor of Chevron in an arbitration case between the oil giant and Ecuador. Chad has commented before on the role of petroleum companies in the Spanish Amazon. Certainly, oil companies didn't need any more encouragement to degrade the environment and the residents of the Amazonian basin, but the court's ruling in this case certainly strengthens Chevron's arguments that it has done nothing wrong in spite of overwhelming evidence otherwise.