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Panelist's View

An Amazonian Dilemma

Miriam Leitao - A specter is haunting Brazil: the internationalization of the Amazon. The deepest nationalist feelings emerge whenever any non-Brazilian authority suggests the idea that the stewardship of the Amazon should be shared, in some way, with the international community. Is this a myth or a real threat?

Pascal Lamy, general secretary of WTO, recently raised this issue, arguing that rainforests should be considered global public goods that the world could help to manage. Though he claims his most recent comments were misunderstood, Lamy has made this argument for a while now. In 2001, in Madrid, he declared: "The forests of the Amazon are a strategic environmental asset not just for the countries belonging to the Amazon Treaty Organization but for the whole planet".

Lamy's words have raised hackles -- and suspicions -- throughout Brazil, feeding the long-standing conspiracy theory that foreigners are out to seize Brazilian riches. Recently three ministers of the Environment, Foreign Affairs and Science and Technology teamed up to publish an article in the Brazilian and foreign press assuring the world that government has made great strides in "taking care of the Amazon".

Are they right? Well, Lula's government has succeeded in reducing the level of annual deforestation from 26 thousand square kilometers a year to 13 thousand km a year since 2003. But nobody can guarantee this will be sustainable. There are plenty of laws to preserve the forest, but enforcement of those laws is another story.

On the other hand, the average Brazilian suspects that the developed world of having destroyed its own woodlands, and is turning to the Amazon to exploit the rainforest's storied biological wealth and biodiversity. Some Brazilians say that they have been doing a fine job protecting the wilderness heritage. In this country's five hundred year history, only 20% of the forest has been cleared, while some 3.3 million square kilometers remain unspoiled, an area almost six times the size of France.

This is an issue of Amazonian proportions. Scientists and environmentalists warn that the modest sounding 20% of the rainforest that has fallen to date is already enough to undermine the health of the Amazonian ecosystem. Worse still, the pace of logging has accelerated dangerously in the last decade. Above all, climate change is a global risk with no national boundaries.

The dilemma for a Brazilian is how to enlist international help to protect this threatened natural heritage without forfeiting national sovereignty over an expanse of land that represents almost half of its territory? How should Brazil protect such a vast area of land with scarce financial resources? It's a quandary Brazil shares with Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname, which together house the 37% of the Amazon not owned by Brazil. And why should the rest of the world pay the Amazonian countries to protect such treasured forests without setting targets and terms of conditionality? How do you think we should solve the sovereignty dilemma, on the one hand, while ensuring credible protection for the Amazon on the other?

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Comments (11)

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Maurício Nunes:

I understand the sincere concern some people of the world has about the Forest and its future, However, the best answer I've heard about this so-called internationalization of the Amazon Forest was given by Cristóvan Buarque (Brazilian Senator and former Education Minister)on a speech he gave in US years ago. We accept the internationalization only after the internationalization of:
Nuclear Arsenals
UNO building and its surroundings
Museums of the world
Childrem of the world
He cites other points, but the whole idea is that everything that is important for the future of mankind should be internationalized as well.
When we really decide to run the "spaceship Earth" as a single community, then brazilians could think about internationalization of the Amazon Forest.

Marcelo Andrade:

In all debates about amazon one thing is missing, the people, I was borne in belem a city in amazon area. Nobody asks us what we think about internationalization. First, amazon is not a desert planet. We live there, we want protect it, and we don't want internationalization. If the developed countries want help. They should, first decrease emissions of CO2. Second, try to rebuild your own forests. Third, investment in research to alternative fuels. Think about it.

Cristina Soares:

By the way, if "The forests of the Amazon are a strategic environmental asset not just for the countries belonging to the Amazon Treaty Organization but for the whole planet"(particularly the 63% located on the rich Brazilian soil..Equally of strategic interest for the whole planet is the middle east peace process ! And what after all, has been effectively been done do far to achieve it? Peace is a strategic asset as valuable as the fores, any forest. Without it, we cannot think the future. A strategic interest that should take priority over any other is the miserable condition of the Palestines, the appalling living standards in Haiti, the genocides committed in Africa and elsewhere...the land of many around the world being invaded and occupied for years, sometime decades (with the land never returned and we know by heart their arguments...), and the developed world that theoretically do have the power to help the ones who do need help desperately close its eyes...turn its back...to suddenly realise that they need to guarantee their lot....comfortable lot for times to come...

Why Amazon is of international interest? It is obvious that this interest is suspicious and we would be too naive to believe otherwise. I hope that we do not fall prey of mirrors and beads from the old-new the 21 century colonisers.

Cristina Soares:

The Amazon forest on Brazilian soil is a Brazilian issue. All I see is that the question on the fate of the Brazilian Amazonian forest is ill formulated since I cannot possibly conceive that this theme is of international interest. The main point to be discussed is how we, Brazilians, are getting ready for the challenges that our valuable natural asset poses to the present and future generations of Brazilians. At no time, the author addresses this point. It is a matter of fact that the management of our forest must be tackled responsibly and effectively by Brazilians and that is what should have been approached and discussed, perhaps for the first time on an international forum such as this.

Paulo Borges:

I do not think there is a dilemma, I do not know what this lady is talking about, it is Brazilian territory and there is no space whatsoever for discussion on this subject. On the other hand, having destroyed their own forests and eventually finding out it was not a good idea (but in their terms, necessary for their development), if the international community should be interested in keeping the Amazon forest intact they should compensate Brazil financially for the substantial effort for doing this. Targets can be set and checked by satellite photography, no need for foreigner "inspectors" in Brazilian soil, visitors will always be welcome.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.