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In the Amazon and all the territories that are part of this region, the expectation is felt. Between August 8 and 9, the presidents of the eight countries that have part of the Amazon, plus some associates, will meet in Belém do Pará, Brazil, to issue a key statement to the world: say how they plan to prevent this region from reaching the point of no return and further affect the climate of the planet.
It is a political meeting, but also vital for existence. Although the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA), an intergovernmental body that these countries constitute, was created at the end of the 1970s, this will only be the fourth time they have met. For this reason, it is expected that, after this declaration, the ACTO will also be strengthened in international scenarios. In fact, the results of this Summit of Amazonian Presidents will be taken to the United Nations General Assembly to be held in September and it is hoped that they will also be taken into account on the agenda of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change ( COP28), which will take place in the United Arab Emirates in early December.
This is the state in which six of the eight Amazon countries receive the summit:
Brazil: a renewed vision of the Amazon
The Summit, the brainchild of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a golden opportunity for Brazil to display to the world its new vision of the Amazon after years of denial and attacks by former President Jair Bolsonaro. President Lula made his promise to achieve zero deforestation by 2030 one of the axes of his foreign policy, and in recent months he has managed to get countries like Germany and Norway to once again contribute money to the fund that collects international donations for the biome preservation. New indigenous lands have also been demarcated, controls and environmental police forces have been increased in the countryside, and a tough battle has been waged to expel thousands of garimpeiros (illegal gold prospectors) from the Yanomami indigenous territory, in the border with Venezuela. In June, the Government presented an update of the plan to combat deforestation, which in the 2000s achieved notable results against illegal logging. The turnaround in environmental policy is beginning to be noticed: in the first half of this year, deforestation in the Amazon fell by 34% and affected 2,649 square kilometers of jungle. The data, captured with satellite images, are preliminary and will have to be confirmed later, although they would mean the consolidation of a downward trend that started last year.
Bolivia: deforestation and mercury rise
Bolivia’s Amazonian territory, which covers 8.1% of the total Amazon and covers more than seven million square kilometers, faces problems such as the growing presence of illegal mining in which mercury is used to extract gold from rivers that supply water to the indigenous and peasant communities of the area, putting their health and integral development at risk. Added to this is deforestation, since in 2022 400,000 hectares of virgin forests were destroyed, 32% more than in 2021, according to a study by the Global Forest Watch platform, which considers this country as one of the most loses more virgin forests worldwide along with Brazil.
The Government of Bolivia announced that it will propose at the Summit a mechanism that includes the work of presidents and indigenous people, in an articulated manner and at the highest level, to overcome the risks that threaten the Amazon basin. “With this mechanism, it is about strengthening integration and cooperation to face the challenges that the region faces, given the modalities and/or financing conditions that are available to assume the responsibilities and multilateral international commitments of which Bolivia it is a party to issues such as climate change, water, forests, forest fires, the platform of indigenous peoples and others,” Bolivian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Freddy Mamani previously stated.
Aerial view of an area of the Amazon forest, the summit of the Amazon countries will be held in the city of Belém to promote a new development model that will put an end to the cycle of destruction. Antonio Lacerda (EFE)
Colombia: Deforestation decreases and proposes goodbye to oil
This year the news was good for the Colombian Amazon. According to figures given by the Ministry of the Environment, deforestation fell drastically in the region between 2021 and 2022, setting a trend at the national level. On the one hand, for the entire Amazon region —which includes the departments of Amazonas, Guaviare, Guainía and Vaupés, and part of the departments of Putumayo, Caquetá, Nariño, Cauca, Meta and Vichada— the reduction in deforestation was 36 %. Meanwhile, in the Amazon arc — an area that includes areas of Guaviare, Caquetá, Meta and Putumayo, and which has historically been where part of the felling of trees has been concentrated — deforestation decreased by 26%.
With this encouraging scenario, Colombia is presenting itself to the Summit with various proposals. Some of these, clarified the Minister of the Environment, Susana Muhamad, are likely to end up in the final joint declaration made by the countries, such as including the importance of an Andean-Amazonian agenda, as well as the famous debt swap that has President Gustavo Petro has spoken on several occasions. But Colombia has also presented a more controversial proposal and not exactly supported by the other governments: that of not allowing the exploration and exploitation of oil or fossil fuels in the Amazon. Although there are still several doubts and barriers for it to become part of the final declaration, the minister assures that “Petro’s position is to encourage the Colombian congressmen to file a bill in this regard in this legislature.”
Ecuador: with the days numbered
The Government of Ecuador will go to the Amazon Summit with the days numbered, since on August 20 Ecuadorians will not only go to the polls to choose a new president, but they will also decide, in an unprecedented popular consultation promoted by society if they want to leave the crude oil from block 43 ITT underground, which is located in the most biodiverse reserve in the world called Yasuní, located in the Amazon. This consultation could open the door for people to decide on other oil and mining projects that affect the indigenous populations of the Amazon, who are already the ones who suffer the consequences of the felling and burning of trees, the contamination of rivers, diseases, insecurity by armed groups, divisions and community clashes. Meanwhile, the government’s position has been to “extract every last drop of profit from our oil,” as President Guillermo Lasso said in his report to the nation in 2022.
But Ecuador will go to the Amazon Summit to propose just the opposite, that the entire region generate “plans and projects that seek the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, the ecological transition, the protection of forests and against all types of contamination by plastics on the earth”, according to the Foreign Ministry’s response. It will also seek the cooperation of the countries to deal with one of the most frequent and devastating phenomena in the Amazon basin: forest fires.
Peru: the president’s first trip abroad
If in 2020 Peru reached its highest deforestation peak in the last twenty years (203 thousand hectares), 2022 highlighted the seriousness of the matter: according to the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project (MAAP), the country lost 144,682 hectares of primary forest, ranking third in the region, only behind Brazil and Bolivia. In addition, Peru arrives at this appointment with another alert: from 2020 to date, fourteen indigenous leaders and environmental defenders have been assassinated at the hands of drug trafficking, illegal mining, and land traffickers. “It is a very critical issue that reveals the vulnerability of those who protect our forests,” says Yvette Sierra, a Peruvian journalist from the specialized media outlet Mongabay Latam, from Belém do Pará, who will cover the event.
The Summit will also represent the first trip abroad for President Dina Boluarte since she took office eight months ago after receiving authorization from Congress, a fact that was not possible before because Peru lacks vice presidents and it was recently approved that the president could govern remotely, amid questions from the opposition. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ana Cecilia Gervasi, has announced that the Peruvian Government will present a “proposal for an Amazon with a human face”, whose axis will be the indigenous peoples. For her part, the Minister of the Environment, Albina Ruiz, has put on record the dangers of some legislative initiatives that would attack, precisely, against Amazonian communities such as one that seeks to take away powers from her portfolio regarding the Forest Law.
Venezuela: armed groups, illegal mining and violation of human rights
The presence of multiple armed groups, including guerrillas such as the ELN, gold-diggers, and criminal gangs in complicity with the military, who engage in illegal activities in the portion of the Venezuelan Amazon and control that territory, is one of the greatest concerns about the future of this ecosystem. Three of the most violent municipalities in the country are in the south, in Bolívar. And El Callao, the mining epicenter, has the highest homicide rate in the country; a situation that has worsened since the Government of Nicolás Maduro declared the Orinoco Mining Arc, a portion that is equivalent to 12% of the national territory dedicated to mining exploitation.
It is an environmental crisis, with serious balances in deforestation, mercury contamination of rivers and loss of species. “It is a common issue that the region must face in a coordinated manner, since any country cannot undertake something just because it will only displace the problem,” says biologist Bibiana Sucre, a member of the Amazon Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information Network, which participates in Summit side events as part of civil society.
Venezuela has turned a blind eye to these problems for years, and the crisis in the oil industry has led it to focus on mining. But since Maduro went through COP27 last November, in Egypt, the issue has been incorporated into his speech and a few months ago he ordered an operation to evict the mines from the Yapacana National Park, in the Amazonas State, where they came to concentrate until 25,000 people in illegal camps. “The advance of illegal mining has been destroying the Amazon of South America and Venezuela,” Maduro said a month ago, heating up the narrative for the ACTO presidential summit. Although the position of the Venezuelan government is not clear, attending this Summit is part of the return of the Chavista leader to international forums after the diplomatic siege experienced in recent years due to the democratic crisis in the country, key in his search for access to the multilateral financing.
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