AMAZON: Clinton’s Message On Free Trade Endangers Amazon

Danielle Knight

WASHINGTON, Oct 18 1997 (IPS) - President Bill Clinton’s talks on oil development and the expansion of free-trade during his present trip to South America will lead to the continued destruction of te Amazon rain forest, according to U.S. and Latin American environmentalists.

“Expanding free-trade and developing the oil projects within the Amazon – this will only bring environmentally and socially destructive multinational corporations into rain forest areas,” Shannon Wright of the San Francisco-based Rain Forest Action Network (RAN) told IPS.

Clinton’s policies will allow oil and logging corporations to convert the Amazon into an environmental wasteland, she said.

The U.S. President is using the week long South American trip to gain support for establishing a hemispheric free-trade zone by 2005. He had hoped to be taking with him, renewed fast-track negotiating authority to allow him to begin formal negotiations with Chile on a free-trade pact intended to get the ball rolling on expanded U.S. trade throughout Latin America. Congress, however, is working on the details of that legislation.

RAN says it would be a mistake for Brazil to follow the U.S. free-trade model that encourages industrial logging companies to have “stranglehold over Brazil’s national forests.”

“President Clinton and the United States have little to offer Brazil in terms o environmental management,” said Beto Borges, the Brazilian Director of RAN who is touring Brazil in a campaign safeguard the rain forests. “The answer to deforestation in the Amazon is not to promote free trade in forest products.”

“Forest burning in the Amazon has increased 30 percent since 1996 – expanding free trade will only bring in more logging projects and make the situation worse,” he said.

Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency (IBAMA) is currently planning to lease logging concessions in the Amazon, a plan criticized by Brazilian and international environmental groups because the government has yet to control the illegal logging already occurring in old growth forests.

Warning against full-scale logging in Brazil, Borges is urging Brazilian leaders not to follow the forestry models of the United States and Canada. “The United States has less than one percent of its original old growth forests still standing – is that what we want for the future of the Amazon,” he said.

During his trip, Clinton has also offered leaders of the Venezuelan oil industry hundreds of millions of dollars in new credits to boost oil projects within that country.

However Orinoco Oilwatch, a coalition of environment and indigenous groups in Venezuela, says this move will increase the destruction of the Amazon rain forest and the lives of the people who live there, as well as lead to an increase in greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

“We cannot understand how the U.S. is promoting that Venezuela be the supplier to the huge oil appetite of the United States at the expense of the environment and indigenous people,” said Orinoco Oilwatch.

They say an avalanche of U.S. oil companies such as Amoco, Conoco, Mobil, Enron, among others have “invaded the Amazon” in order to satiate the industrialized countries’ appetites for oil.

Lake Maracaibo, for example, once the largest fresh water reservoir of South America, has become severely polluted from 70 years of oil exploitation by U.S. companies, says Orinoco. Other fragile ecosystems such as the Orinoco Delta, which is a Biosphere Reserve, and a reservoir full of fish in the Gulf of Paria will be just as polluted if more oil projects are started.

Moreover, despite protests of further oil exploitation by indigenous peoples of Venezuela, such as the Warao, Yukpa and Bari, as well as the fishermen of Lake Maracaibo, – the United States has turned instead toward increasing oil exploitation in the name of economic globalisation, says Orinoco Oilatch.

There are also unwanted social impacts with prostitution, alcoholism a drug abuse reportedly on the rise. Some Warao women claim to have been raped.

“We cannot remain passive in the face of unscrupulous exploitation plans of our natural resources which would compromise the present and the future of our nation,” wrote Orinoco Oilwatch in a recent letter to Clinton.

Clinton, however, has declared his concern for the Amazon rainforest. To prove it, while in Brazil, he earmarked 10 million additional dollars for the preservation of the Amazon rain forest, as a part of a programme supported by the Group of Seven (G-7), which links the world’s richest countries.

While approving this step, Orinoco Oilwatch says Clinton’s gesture contradicts U.S. efforts to boost oil projects within Venezuela. “A good deal of the oil exploration rights granted to corporations clashes with areas under special legal environmental protection.”

While in Brazil, Clinton gently nudged the country toward joining an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. As nations prepare for an international conference on global warming in December, a central dispute is whether developing countries should share the burden of cutting emissions when developed ones have enjoyed mot of the economic benefits of polluting.

The state of the Amazon is particularly distressing now that global warming has again become a major international concern, says RAN. Forests help absorb the gases that warm the atmosphere. Burning those forests adds to the problem.

“We must all participate” in reducing such gases, said Clinton. Yet he emphasized that the United States would “never knowingly undermine the economic growth of Brazil or any other country.”

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