Friday, July 25, 2014

Economic Development, Energy Needs Clash with Environmental Protection, Right of Communities to Control Natural Resources

Photo: Carlos Navarro
In March 1977, the United Nations Water Conference recognized water as a right for the first time declaring that “All peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quan tities and of a quality equal to their basic needs”.

The right to protect water and natural resources has become a source of conflict in many countries in Latin America.  Four countries--Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Panama--have had to struggle or are struggling with a decision regarding this precious natural resource. Environmental advocates and indigenous communities are among hose opposing the privatization of water or the development of huge water-related projects.  The government and the business sector are on the other side. They see the large-scale projects as a means to promote development/and or create sources of energy for the country. The results have been mixed.

Let's examine each of the conflicts.

Chile. In June, the government’s Comité de Ministros—the top of the bureaucratic totem pole for decisions regarding development projects—voted unanimously to reject the polemical HidroAysén power project, a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric complex planned for a mostly untouched area of Chile's far-southern Región de Aysén.  The ruling ended years of on-again, off-again legal limbo regarding the costly venture, which its corporate backers—Endesa (51%), a Spanish-Italian energy giant, and Colbún (49%), a privately owned Chilean utility—first unveiled in 2007.  Read More in Read More  from Benjamin Witte-Lebhar in NotiSur, July 11, 2014

Ecuador: A march staged by Ecuador’s indigenous movement—the second during President Rafael Correa’s time in office—was so small that, instead of influencing the government, it showed the indigenous movement to be weak and fragmented. A water law, as this set of regulations for the use and administration of a natural resource that the Ecuadoran Constitution classifies as a human right is known, was approved by 103 of the Asamblea Nacional’s 137 members despite ongoing debate since the bill was proposed in 2009. Read More  from Luis Ángel Saavedra in NotiSur, July 18, 2014

Panama: Panama’s newly elected President Juan Carlos Varela, who took office on July 1, comes to power amid a drought-sparked energy crisis that has highlighted the perils of depending heavily on hydroelectric power at a time when rain patterns have become increasingly erratic as a result of climate change. Panama’s new government has stated that it wishes to review the contract awarded by the former administration to Brazilian company Norberto Odebrecht for construction of the Chan II hydroelectric dam on the Río Changuinola, in the northern province of Bocas del Toro. Representatives of the Ngöbe indigenous group have reiterated their opposition to the project and have complained that Varela has not met with them to discuss his plans for Chan II. Read More from Louisa Reynolds in NotiCen, July 24, 2014

Peru: The  Congress on July 11 passed a packet of laws to promote investment and reactivate the economy despite numerous national and international criticisms that labeled the proposal a blow to the country’s environmental structure, control, and management. The new regulations basically relax sanctions for environmental violations. Iván Lanegra, former intercultural vice minister, told the newspaper La República, "Clearly, reducing fines implies less environmental protection and, worse yet, dismantling environmental protection is done with a law called "Investment Promotion," which increases the risk that it could be interpreted to mean environmental policy is being used to attract investment, which is precisely what should not be done."  Read more from Elsa Chanduví Jaña in NotiSur, July 25, 2014

Also in LADB the Past Two Weeks...
In Mexico, a federal court granted bankruptcy protection to PEMEX contractor Oceanografía,, the federal government reduced estimates for the number of disappeared, President Enrique Peña Nieto created an office to manage immigration policies along the southern border, and several states  have approved a ban on the use of animals in circus performances, thanks to the efforts of the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM)

In Central America, Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén made a pair of early overtures to human rights victims, raising hopes that his presidency, which began just last month, might usher in an era of greater accountability regarding the many abuses and atrocities committed during the country’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992)...Guatemala's Congress approved a nonbinding resolution that denies that genocide was committed during the country’s 36-year civil war and calls for "national reconciliation."And President Daniel Ortega added a new item to his already bulging portfolio of powers: direct command of the Policía Nacional (PN), Nicaragua’s 12,000-strong national police force.

In South America,.the Paraguayan government and business leaders moved to encourage more investments from already economically dominant Brazil, and political infighting fueled a standoff between the Venezuelan government and the oposition
-Carlos Navarro
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