Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Peru’s Anti-Environmental Environmentalism

As noted in yesterday’s brief, the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff has an in-depth report on Peru’s campaign to crack down on illegal small-scale mining in the Amazon. In April the government imposed a nationwide ban on informal mining, and since then security forces have stepped up raids on mining camps in the southeastern jungle region of Madre de Dios.

What is remarkable in the Post piece is how much Peruvian authorities are framing these operations as a victory for environmentalism. From the article:
Wearing military fatigues and combat boots, Antonio Fernandez, Peru’s top prosecutor for environmental crimes, watched the mining camp burn. This ghostly moonscape of dead stumps and contaminated pits was primary forest just six months ago, he said. 
“These people have done extraordinary damage,” said Fernandez. “We have to respond with the same amount of force.” 
After years of ignoring the frantic gold rush fouling the Amazon forests of southeastern Peru’s Madre de Dios region, the government has launched a no-mercy campaign to crush it.
And later:

“Extreme profits are never a justification for breaking the law,” Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s environmental minister, said in an interview.
As Miroff notes, there are questions about officials’ capacity to fully investigate and punish illegal mining operations. Despite the high-profile campaign, just four illegal miners have been prosecuted so far.

But the deeper irony of these remarks lies in the fact that the Peruvian government, far from adopting a “no-mercy” approach to environmental abuse, is in reality moving in the exact opposite direction.  

In July, President Ollanta Humala signed into law a measure that dramatically rolls back environmental protections in the country in a bid to attract international investment. On top of stripping the country’s nascent environmental ministry of its ability to impose air, soil and water quality standards, the new law abolishes its power to set aside protected areas from extraction efforts. For the next three years, the majority of corporate fines for environmental abuses have been capped by half.

Ahead of the next UN climate negotiations in Lima this December, President Humala will likely minimize this law and stress his commitment to striking a balance between economic development and environmental stewardship. But as Cesar Gamboa of Peru’s Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) argued well in a recent Project Syndicate op-ed, stricter oversight is in the public interest not only for environmental reasons, but for long-term economic ones as well.

News Briefs
  • The Wall Street Journal has an update on the proposed constitutional reforms in Ecuador, which -- among other things --include a measure that could pave the way for President Rafael Correa’s indefinite re-election. While the country’s Constitutional Court has not yet ruled whether the proposals must face a popular vote or go directly to Congress, El Comercio reports that lawmakers of the ruling Alianza Pais coalition are expecting the court to endorse them, and plan on debating them in November. If the timeline holds, they could be passed as soon as December 2015.Members of the opposition, meanwhile, are already working to organize a popular referendum on the reforms next year.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez yesterday announced plans to present legislators with a bill that will allow the country to skirt U.S. jurisdiction of its debt payments, allowing bondholders waiting on payment to swap their debt for new notes under Argentine law, La Nacion and Reuters report.
  • Senators in Chile have approved a tax reform seen as a signature campaign promise by President Michelle Bachelet. Reuters notes that the Senate increased the corporate tax rate in the bill from 25 to 27 percent, meaning that it will now return to the lower house for approval.
  • Following Pope Francis’ announcement that that the Vatican would be moving forward with the process of beatifying the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, DPA reports that the news was applauded by officials in El Salvador. President Salvador Sanchez Ceren issued a brief statement welcoming the move, and Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez said the administration was “extremely pleased” by it. The New York Times offers some reactions among Salvadoran Catholics, with some hoping that his potential beatification would reduce the politicization of Romero’s image.
  • Mexican environmental authorities have charged a mining company in the northern state of Sonora with lying about the cause of a recent chemical spill that has caused the temporary closure of 88 schools in the area. Environment Secretary Juan Jose Guerra Abud said the company, Buenavista Copper, said that the spill was caused by heavy rains, but that this was “totally false.” El Universal reports that public prosecutors have given the company 30 days to rectify three “irregularities” in its Sonora operations.
  • International and local press freedom groups in Honduras are urging authorities to fully investigate the murder of broadcast journalist Nery Francisco Soto Torres, who was killed in Olanchito on Thursday. As the AP reports, at least 46 journalists and media workers have been killed in the country since 2003. In another indicator of the alarming level of insecurity in the country, the news agency reports that masked gunmen killed nine people in an attack on a morgue in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, apparently aimed at a family who had gone to view the body of a relative killed a day earlier.
  • Gallup has released its latest Law and Order Index, measuring perceived personal safety, confidence in local police and self-reported incidence of theft worldwide. According to its findings, residents of Latin America Caribbean are the least likely among world regions to feel safe, beating out those who live in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as the former Soviet Union. Venezuelans were particularly likely to report insecurity, and the country has both the lowest index score in the region and the world as a whole.
  • Cuba’s Central Bank has announced new anti-counterfeiting plans for certain Cuban peso bills, a move the Miami Herald claims is an apparent part of plans to end the country’s dual currency scheme, first announced in October.
  • The Herald also reports on an innovative approach to sexual assault on mass transit in Bogota: a squad of so-called “pervert police,” a largely female plainclothes unit responsible for arresting individuals caught groping women on public buses.   
  • The Guardian reports on an unusually strict application of copyright law in Colombia, in which a biologist accused of sharing a scholarly work online is facing criminal charges and an eight-year jail sentence in court.