Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rio+20 Raises Questions of Sustainability in Brazil and Beyond

The United Nation’s largest ever conference, the Rio+20,  kicked off Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro. 50,000 delegates are expected to attend, including government representatives, UN delegates, environmental and indigenous groups. The main conference takes place between June 20-22, but this week will see a series of conferences on conservation and environment-related themes. IPS with a look at some of the indigenous groups that will be attending, and their perspective of the conference.

As the AFP reports, the conference formally began before the UN was able to finish the official summit charter, which was supposed to describe the meeting's main goals. The expectation is that these goals on climate change and food security should largely replace the Millenium Development goals which expire in 2016, but it looks as though the pre-summit negotiations in New York failed to come to much of a consensus. Boz describes the declaration document as 81 pages “of vague diplospeak that rarely commits anyone to concrete actions.”

Rio+20 is also supposed to serve as an important test of Rio de Janeiro’s ability to host such mega-events. The choice of Rio de Janeiro as the host city also makes sense, given the conference’s main themes of sustainability and the environment. For some observers Brazil is symbolic of a developing country struggling to face these challenges. Via the Christian Science Monitor’s Latin America blog, blogger Riogringa has a round-up of what Brazil’s environmental policy currently looks like, from the controversial Forest Code, which critics say could encourage deforestation if made into law, to the country’s complex relationship with the Amazon territory. She notes that while according to a recent survey, only 22 percent of Brazilians say they actually know what Rio+20 is about, other poll numbers show that more Brazilians are concerned about the environment and taking action to protect it.

The Monitor has another special series on the sustainability conference, looking at other mega-cities around the world that are struggling to become sustainable, from Rio de Janeiro to Mexico City. The Monitor’s report from Mexico focuses on water shortages in poor urban communities, noting that expanding a functioning water and sanitation system is already a big challenge in Latin America and likely only to become more difficult.

Brazil’s hosting of the UN conference has also been cited as evidence of the country’s growing economic and political clout. But there are a couple signs that Brazil’s apparent “renaissance” has a couple of cracks in it. The AP argues that Brazil’s economy is actually growing much more slowly compared to the other BRIC countries, reportedly only growing by 2.7 percent last year, compared to 7.5 percent in 2010. And Al Jazeera has a new video report about the slow-going as Rio preps for the 2014 World Cup.

Alongside Rio+20, a parallel mega-UN conference is the G20 summit, set to be hosted in Los Cabos, Mexico, on June 18-19. President Felipe Calderon has taken the lead in outlining the agenda for the conference, which some activist groups says has already been hijacked by “private interests,” reports IPS.

US President Barack Obama and the US Treasury Secretary will attend the G20 meeting, while Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will attend Rio+20. The Latin American Herald Tribune has a list of the other US government officials who will be in Rio this week.

News Briefs
  • Congressional Research Service (CRS) has two new reports on Mexico. One examines migration, and concludes by citing the 2001 framework agreement between former presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox (which proposed creating a temporary worker program for Mexico) as an example of an effective way to control unauthorized migration. But it warns that forging a similar agreement would require a “high level of mutual trust” between the two countries, and some US policymakers could question whether Mexico is a reliable partner. The second report looks at Mexico’s criminal violence, and provides a useful summary of the major trends currently driving the conflict.
  • The Wall Street Journal interviews President Calderon about his political legacy, focusing on security issues. Calderon praised the 12 percent drop in drug-related murders seen so far in 2012, and added, “Violence is coming down, although we obviously can't claim victory yet."

  • One of Trinidad’s most controversial public figures, Islamist group leader Yasin Abu Bakr, is on trial for controversial statements made during a sermon at his mosque in 2005, reports the AP. The AP describes Abu Bakr as having played a key role in Trinidad’s violent 1990 coup attempt. His militant group,  the Jamaat al-Muslimeen, has been implicated in other cases of terrorism and organized crime.
  • A Peruvian mayor arrested for allegedly inciting anti-mining protests in Espinar province has been released, reports Dow Jones newswires. Espinar has been rocked by violent protests the past several weeks against a proposed mining project which environmental activists say will do irreparable damage to local water supplies. In one concession to the protestors, the Swiss mining company backing the project said they were willing to commission a new study about potential environmental damage, reports EFE. Elsewhere, Toward Freedom has an on-the-ground look at another mining conflict currently playing out near the northern Ecuadorian border.
  • President Hugo Chavez said that Venezuela is producing drones and assembling Kalashnikov assault rifles with aid from Russia, reports the AP. Bloggings by Boz argues that his claims about the assault rifles should be much more preoccupying than the drones, adding, “Drones are new and exciting to talk about, but small arms and light weapons remain the much larger threat to the hemisphere's security.”
  • Because so many young Paraguayans are citing conscientious objection as a reason not to fulfill their compulsory military service, some policymakers say that Paraguay’s army has become too small to properly protect its borders, reports El Nuevo Herald. This is fuelling one proposal in Congress that Paraguay establish a permanent military body responsible for frontier security.
  • Just ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of Argentina’s surrender to Britain during the Falkland Islands conflict, the Wall Street Journal has a feature on how Argentine war veterans are turning to talk show radio as an outlet.
  • The Washington Post on the intricate scandal involving the former PRI governor of the conflicted border state of Tamaulipas, who has been accused of taking bribes from criminal groups, although he says that the accusations amount to political persecution by Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN).
  • Following Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s earlier comments that he was considering banning his ministers from speaking to private media, Reporters Without Borders says that six radio broadcast stations and two TV stations were shut down in Ecuador over the past two weeks.
  • Security forces in northern Honduras removed about 100 land squatters and arrested 30, in a continuation of the conflict over land ownership in the Bajo Aguan region and the Cortes province, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Former Dominican Republic President Hipolito Mejia has written a formal complaint to the Organization of American States (OAS) complaining of a “constitutional dictatorship” on the Caribbean Island, reports El Nuevo Herald. Mejia lost to rival Danilo Media during the presidential elections last May, and claimed electoral fraud before eventually conceding defeat.
  • An LA Times editorial calls President Rafael Correa’s lobbying to restrict the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “nonsense,” describing the commission as one of the most important bodies for the OAS. “The commission's powers have remained unchanged for more than 50 years for good reason,” the editorial argues, adding, “Allowing member states, including those that have been the target of critical reports, to rewrite the rules or set new limits on the commission's powers is an invitation for opponents to settle scores.”
  • Infosur with a comparative look at prison conditions in Central America, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, and Paraguay, focusing on the specific actions that each government has taken in order to improve overcrowding and other problems.
  • Douglas Farah with harsh words for the political legacy of Latin America’s Bolivarian governments at Foreign Policy.
  • Alternet with a look at burgeoning leftist movement in Colombia, known as the Marcha Patriotica, which some have accused to ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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