Regional meeting to address the Amazon forest-fire emergency failed to deliver tangible action

Amazon fires rage on while regional leaders met to only ensure each others sovereignty.

By Venatrix Fulmen - 06. September 2019 (with agency reports)

While especially in Brazil the forest fires continue, Amazon countries met to bolster rainforest protection but apart from ensuring each other over their sovereignty, the pact only provided for hot air.

Presidents and ministers from seven Amazon countries met in Colombia on Friday to agree on measures to protect the world's largest rainforest, under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation.

The summit took place in the wake of an international outcry over months of raging fires that have devastated large swaths of the Amazon. Fires have also raged in recent weeks in Bolivia, where some sources accuse president Evo Morales of allowing rainforest to be turned into coca and cocoa plantations.

Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.

Some 60% of the forest is located in Brazil. The Amazon is also home to around 1 million Aboriginal people who are members of over 500 Indigenous groups.

Colombian President Ivan Duque (C-L), a stout US-American vassal, shown at a meeting with indigenous leaders before the summit on protecting the Amazon in Leticia, Colombia, on September 6, 2019 (Colombian Presidency handout /AFP / HO)

Colombia's President Ivan Duque said the gathering was aimed "to foster a space for regional dialogue to advance the protection and sustainable use of this region, which is essential for the survival of the planet," and thereby revealed how little understanding he has for the real and complex situation.

Aside from host Duque, other officials attending were Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno and President Evo Morales of Bolivia. Suriname's vice-president Michael Adhin and Guyana's natural resources minister Raphael Trotman also attended.

Venezuela, despite having a large swath of the Amazon, was not invited, as host Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro and Maduro does not recognize Duque, who is persona non-grata in Venezuela for having supported a US-instigated coup attmpt in Venezuela.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, widely criticized over policies that favor deforestation and a delayed reaction to the wildfires, did not travel to Leticia, citing doctors' orders. Brazil was thus represented by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.

An Indigenous Colombian Tikuna man with his colourful head-dress as bysander at the summit for the Amazon in Leticia (AFP / Raul ARBOLEDA)

However, speaking by videoconference, Bolsonaro urged other leaders to resist calls, spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, to internationalize protection of the Amazon.

"We must take a strong position of defense of sovereignty so that each country can develop the best policy for the Amazon region, and not leave it in the hands of other countries," right-wing Bolsonaro said, who is allegedly due to undergo surgery Sunday on a stab-wound he received during a public ralley - after which he wanted to arm all Brazilians on the streets with guns, a move that was rejected by parliament. Bolsonaro highlighted in his remarks during the meeting that the pact was an affirmation of each country’s sovreignty.

Around 2,000 new fires have been recorded in the Amazon despite the Brazilian government's 60-day burning ban issued on Aug. 29, acording to the Brazilian National Space Research Institute (INPE).

Brazil contains 60 percent of the rainforest within its borders, with the rest spread over areas of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela as well as the French overseas department of French Guyana.

The Amazon Rainforest Summit was nothing but a PR show and a flop.

For purposed of show Duque inaugurated the meeting in southern Colombia's Amazon city of Leticia at a "maloka" -- an Indigenous hut -- surrounded by members of the Tikuna people, who were paid to stage the ambiente with headdresses of colored feathers.

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno opened by singing “Padre,” a song by Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat about environmental destruction - another fake show given Ecuador's appalling human rights record.

Protection Pact - is it?

Seated at a long wooden table in the shade of tall trees, the representatives of the seven states signed the "Leticia Pact for the Amazon" that Duque said would provide greater protection for the rainforest, as existing treaties had "fallen short." Indigenous nations wer not invited to sign.

Seven Amazon states agreed measures to protect the rainforest but the First Nations of the Amazon like this Tikua warrior are not part of it ( picture: AFP / Raul ARBOLEDA)

The inter-governmental pact shall establish a roadmap for safeguarding the rainforest "not only for the Amazon countries but also the nations of the region and the international community," he said.

Colombia's Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano said the new measures include the establishment of an "Amazonian Cooperation Network" to share information on deforestation, including weather data to mitigate the effects of climate change, and threats from illegal mining and logging.

"We needed to increase and strengthen the cooperation between us, precisely to meet the great challenges of the Amazon, which are becoming more extreme and more intense every day," he told reporters in Leticia.

"We have to give concrete answers," Vizcarra told the conference. "The dimension of the problem forces us to make drastic decisions."

The meeting came against a backdrop of growing international outrage over the surge in wildfires raging in parts of the Amazon. Environmentalists blame the policies and weakened restrictions of Brazil's Bolsonaro for the increased deforestation. Bolsonaro wants to open up the rainforest for commercial exploration. But also the fires that have broken out in Bolivia and Peru this year need to be further investigated.

"We understand the urgency to protect this region, we understand that there are threats in the region, and that they are basically all the same in the countries meeting here today," Duque said.

"It's no surprise to anyone that in recent decades we've lost thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest because of the illegal expansion of the agricultural frontier as well as illegal extraction of minerals and the planting of illicit crops," he added.

Duque called on all the leaders present to work together to combat deforestation and share timely information on the protection of the Amazon. "When a brother country needs help, we should all do our best to help in these emergencies," Duque said.

Peru's Vizcarra agreed, saying, "If we look back at what's been done over the past 40 years, it isn't satisfactory. As a result we'll change the strategy." Peru has the fourth-largest amount of tropical forest in the world and second in Latin America, after Brazil. “Goodwill alone is not enough anymore,” Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra added.

No New Instruments

In a message to the summit, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called on leaders to "reinforce existing instruments" designed to protect the Amazon.

"These instruments should be strengthened, more states encouraged to ratify them, increase protected areas, strengthen surveillance and action capabilities."

According to the "Leticia Amazon pact", the Amazonian countries will "strengthen coordinated action", "establish [a] regional cooperation mechanism", "increase efforts associated with monitoring forest cover", and "strengthen the capacities and participation of indigenous and tribal peoples", among other actions. The pact was thin on specifics, however. 

Amazon countries sign forest pact, promising to coordinate disaster response

Seven Amazonian countries on Friday signed a pact in Leticia / Colombia to protect the world’s largest tropical forest via disaster response coordination and satellite monitoring, amid recent fires that torched thousands of square miles of the jungle.  Luis Jaime Acosta (Reuters) 

Ricardo Lozano, Colombia's environment minister, told reporters in Leticia strengthening cooperation was key.

He said to do this, he hopes the region can build an Amazon network to work in a "more accelerated" way to have better forecasts, share information on illegal activities in the region and also educate themselves and each other about the communities of the region.

The countries will create a natural disaster network so they can better cooperate in the face of events like large-scale fires, the pact said.

The group will also work on reforestation initiatives, increase efforts to monitor deforestation activity via satellite, develop education initiatives and increase the role of indigenous communities in sustainable development, it added.

The countries also agreed to share information on activities like illegal mining that hurt conservation, the pact said.

The group will “work together to strengthen the programs and financial mechanisms, reiterate the commitments made by countries in these scenarios, mobilise public and private resources, including the multilateral banks, as appropriate, for the implementation of this pact.”

Leaders and officials from seven Amazonian countries attended the one-day summit [Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera]

Leaders and officials from seven Amazonian countries attended the one-day summit (Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera)

“This meeting will live on as a coordination mechanism for the presidents that share this treasure – the Amazon,” Colombian President Ivan Duque said at the signing, adding the countries will meet again at the United Nations Climate Change conference in December.

Indigenous leaders and analysts remain cautiously optimistic about pact, saying it is thin on details and directives.

Environmentalists say that especially Bolsonaro's policies have led to an increase in fires this year and that he has encouraged cattle ranchers and Soy farmers to clear vast swathes of the rainforest since his election last October.

Meanwhile, Brazil's leading meat export industry group and agricultural businesses have joined an environmental campaign calling for an end to deforestation in public lands in the Amazon and demanding government action.

Several international retailers have said they are suspending purchases of Brazilian leather because of the links between cattle ranching and the fires devastating parts of the Amazon rainforest.

'Pact is very vague'

The presidents were joined by indigenous leaders whose communities were most affected by deforestation and the fires in the Amazon and the seven nations also agreed to put more efforts into education and increase the role of indigenous communities - but didn't specify.

But Nelly Kuiru, coordinator of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, expressed doubts over the leaders' commitment to protecting the rainforest.

"It's a critical moment for the Amazon in terms of the environment and social issues with indigenous villagers that live in this territory," she told Al Jazeera in Leticia.

"I think it is important the presidents took the time to come to one of the Amazon's regions, in Colombia, and sign the pact. But I have doubts about it," she added. "I doubt the pact will be fulfilled, because to make a pact there first of all has to be an analysis of what is happening."

Colombia - Indigenous

Nelly Kuiru is the coordinator of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera)

She added that the pact itself was "very vague".

It is "very abstract and the Amazon region is not abstract, it is a lot more than just rainforest. There is a lot of biodiversity and cultural diversity and of the 102 indigenous villages that exist in Colombia, 69 are found in the Colombian Amazon," she said.

Sergio Guzman, Director of Colombia Risk Analysis, said, "There is this impotence for action in the international community and these presidents want to show that they care and that they're doing something.

"A meeting in the Amazon is all fair and good, a great photo opportunity, but it doesn't give me a lot of hope for swift change," he added, via phone.

Maria Gonzales, regional coordinator of ECOTERRA Intl., summarized: "Seven neo-colonial state-governments came together to sign a pact in order to tell the concerned and affected wider world that "everything is under control" and that they would cooperate. But this "pact" only enshrines that the subsequent care-taker governances of these seven post-colonial state-conglomerates ensure each other their sovereignty, which means only that they would not criticize each other if one is chopping down the forest or killing its Indigenous people at a faster rate than the other."

"The pact is a sham," she concluded and added: "Indigenous First Nations have been the stewards of the Amazon rainforest since times immemorial, which is why it is still existing and not a Sahara-like desert into which the present-day developers will undoubtedly turn it, if not stopped. The First Nations of the Amazon are between the rocks of heavily armed right-wing grabber-governances and the hard place of a New World Order under the UN, which both do not recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous nations who are the only ones having real rights to the Amazon forest biome, its biodiversity, waters, soil and air, because it is their homeland. Just keep your hands off and let the undivided communities decide for and by themselves."

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The presidency of Colombia was not even shy to hand out appallingly paternalistic pictures of Duarte showing off with paid people staging as the "Indigenous" - while in the country many true indigenous leaders have been killed in recent months and the country's largest freedom-fighter movement, the FARC, has terminated the peace agreement over governmental murders, returned to the bush and took up arms again. 

Colombia's President Ivan Duque embracing an indigenous leader before the meeting in Leticia (Colombian Presidency handout /AFP / NICOLAS GALEANO)

 

Tikuna indigenous people from a dance group at the Amazon summit only had to provide for picture opportunities (AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES)

WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO to see what Bolsonaro is up to.

While the stagefront president of Colombia Duque prepared a media show with indigenous dancers for the so-called Amazon Summit, the real Indigenous people of Ecuador protested.

Ecuadorean Indigenous Demand Gov't Protect Amazon

By TS - 05. September 2019

The protest on Wednesday was conducted before the Environment Ministry and on Thursday the demonstrators will show up in front of the Comptroller’s Office and the Constitutional Court in the Ecuadorean capital.

Representatives of Ecuador’s Indigenous peoples staged on Wednesday a sit-in before the National Assembly's building in Quito, demanding the government of President Lenin Moreno to enforce local and international legislation protecting their rights and the country’s environment.

In traditional Indigenous attire and painted faces, dozens of people–most of them from the Indigenous Waorani people that live in the Amazon region–participated in the demonstration, chanting slogans in their native languages “in defense of (their) land.”

“We reaffirm, once again, our position as nations of the Ecuadorean Amazon region, our struggle and, our total rejection of the Brazilian government,” said the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (Confeniae), Marlon Vargas, to EFE, referring to the Jair Bolsonaro administration that has fueled the physical and political flames that engulf Brazil's Amazon forest.

President of the Confeniae, which represents 11 Amazon nationalities, said that the Brazilian government “speaks about the fire (in that country), but it doesn’t say how many peoples and nationalities are being affected in that territory and doesn’t make visible what it happening (there).”

Vargas referred to judicial rulings in favor of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador’s rainforest region, including the ruling last April by a provincial court in Pastaza located within Ecuador's Amazon, to protect parts of the province against oil drilling there. The petition was also brought forth by the Waorani people. The ruling abided to national and international policies that require Indigenous communities to be consulted on such land matters.

“In Ecuador, extraction is the worst enemy of the Amazon peoples and nationalities,” said Vargas, citing another large-scale mining case that threatens Indigenous communities in Zamora Chinchipe province.

Meanwhile, the president of the Waorani National Coordination Council of Ecuador (Conconawep), Nemonte Nenquimo, demanded that the authorities comply with the court ruling and called on lawmakers to carry out their duties of monitoring the government.

“We’re going to be prepared and united with other Amazon nations in a single fist to demonstrate to the world that we must be respected,” said Nenquimo, adding that “our lives and those of our children depend on the Amazon.”

The gathering comes a day after the arrest of a judge accused of extortion, influence peddling and taking bribes in Pastaza, who had denied a motion by the Indigenous community to block the construction of a hydroelectric plant.

Judge Aurelio Quito was denounced by a colleague and is said to have taken money from the dams construction firm in exchange for issuing favorable decisions. According to preliminary reports he received US$40,000 in cash for the rulings.

Christian Aguinda, the president of a Kichwa community in Santa Clara, which includes 22 communities in Pastaza, said that "the construction of the hydroelectric plant on the Piatua River would transfer 90 percent of its water to another river, ignoring the fact that communities and international laws exist” against such actions.

He also expressed his concern about the arrest of the judge, asking: “What moral character are judges using to dispense justice regarding our communities?”