Sunday, 21 September 2008

Why are the Russians present in Latin American waters?

In one of my previous diaries I wrote about the Bolivian crisis and Bolivia and Venezuela booting out the respective US ambassadors. This post is about what happened in the previous months, leading to the hateful relationship with the USA en the subsequent presence of the Russian fleet in the Latin American waters.

Having the US administration of Busch and Cheney in mind, the Latin American countries see in them the embodiment of the famous words of Frederick Douglas (1818 - 1895):
“There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”

US decision to reactivate the 4th Fleet is a matter of concern
The decision of the United States Navy ‘out of the blue’ to re-establish the 4th Fleet in order to have a higher profile in Latin American and the Caribbean waters raised concern in the hemisphere. The 4th Fleet emerged in 1943 during World War II, with the aim of protecting navigation and fighting Nazi submarines. It was deactivated in 1950, after being considered unnecessary by the US military sector.

The Venezuelan and Bolivian governments condemned the US announcement that warships will set sail on Latin American and Caribbean waters as of July 1 and termed it an insult to regional sovereignty. In their opinion, the reactivation of the 4th Fleet may provoke chaos, disorder and violence, and divide nations.

And they were not the only ones, who saw the dangers. Among others President of the NGO France-Libertés Danielle Mitterrand warned against US coup plans. In a letter published by local media, the former first lady, widow of late French President Francois Mitterrand, demanded the current US government to adopt a clear position regarding the Latin American countries.

But spokespersons for the US Navy insisted on saying that the move "is administrative in nature" and does not imply a bigger military presence. While Washington claims that this new navy component will not have "a military purpose, but one of cooperation."

As from July 1, the 4th Fleet will be based in Mayport, Fla., while it will be responsible for more than 30 countries, covering 15.6 million square miles, focusing on the waters adjacent to Central and South America, the Caribbean Sea, its islands, the Gulf of Mexico and an area of the Atlantic Ocean.

Rumours claim that the 4th Fleet has appointed the new George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier and several submarines. The chief of the Southern Command, Adm. James Stavridis, reasserted that the unit "will have never an offensive possibility. It is a promise." (But we all know the value of a Busch/Cheney or for that matter a McCain/Palin promise)

According to the Southern Command, the 4th Fleet renewed operations accomplish five specific missions: responsiveness in the event of natural disasters, humanitarian operations, medical aid, antinarcotics efforts, and cooperation in environmental and technology matters.

However, Venezuelan authorities have doubts about the underlying intention of the move. They think that the United States government seeks to "scare" Latin American countries, as they move to the left, particularly Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Cuba, and more cautiously Brazil and Chile.

In Latin American view, the revival of the navy component is a threat, because the administration of President Bush uses humanitarian tasks to get valuable information in the theatre of operations, such as recognition, communications testing, and salinity testing.

Such assumptions have been dismissed by Adm. James Stavridis, who feels that "hardcore populism" does not endanger his country. "I think that in this region there are different ideas in terms of politics and economy. For the United States, they are democracy, free market, freedom, and human rights. There are other ideas in the region that compete with those, but they are not threats," he said in a recent interview with the Argentinean daily La Nación.

But the treats are there, fresh in everybody’s memory.
The by the USA in conjunction with Spain orchestrated coup d’état in 2002 against the democratic elected president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the recent (diplomatic) intervention in the election of Fernando Lugo as president of Paraguay and the “physical” intervention in the crisis in Bolivia, are sufficient reasons for the Latin American countries to look for some ‘heavy’ friend. You can’t blame them that they turn to Russia (and China) at a moment they obviously can’t trust their neighbour any more. Latin America might be seen in the USA as its back-yard, but as the US doesn’t take care of it properly and with honour, the owners of that ‘back-yard’ have to call upon a faraway ‘barrel-chested friend’.

And here we sit with the consequences of the reactivating of the 4th Fleet.

A new Cold War in Latin American waters?
Two Russian strategic bombers, Tupolev TU-160, landed a week ago 60 kilometres outside the Venezuelan capital Caracas, at the Libertador Air Base, to "carry out training flights" in the region, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.
A few days before the arrival of the bombers Russia announced that it will dispatch a naval squadron to the Caribbean Sea and a spokesman for its navy, Igor Digalo, said that the vessels "will make a series of exercises, including joint manoeuvres, search and rescue operations, as well as telecommunication tests ", with its Venezuelan ally. The vessels would be the nuclear-powered cruiser "Piotr Veliki" (Peter the Great) and the anti-submarine frigate Admiral Chabanenko and probably anti-submarine aircraft."
"We want to calibrate our defence capacity with our strategic allies, and Russia is such an ally," Chavez said when the TU-160 arrived. Venezuelan Rear Admiral Salbatore Cammarata Bastidas said Venezuelan aircraft and submarines would be involved in manoeuvres with the Russians. "This is of great importance because it is the first time it is being done [in the Americas]," he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency and local media

Confirming the plans, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said it was not aimed against any third country.
(A same statement as the Americans have made. Who can we trust Bush/Cheney, McCain/Palin or Medvedev/Putin? Let's hope there is an Obama/Biden alternative, so the choice is hopefully more obvious).

Although Argentine and Brazil expressed their concern, Brazil downplayed the announcement, but denoted later that:
The Brazilian Navy will practise a fictitious war to protect the "Blue Amazon"
After discovering huge reserves of fossil oil before the Brazilian east coast, which might make Brazil the number one oil-country in the world, out manoeuvring Saudi Arabia, the Brazilian government, without doubt the reactivating of the US 4th Fleet in mind, launched vast military operations in the so-called "Blue Amazon", the 4.5 million square kilometres of Brazilian sea.

The combined navy and army manoeuvres simulate a war for control of the oil fields, pipelines and refineries on the coast of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.
With more than 10 thousand operational armed forces and 17 vessels, 40 aircraft and just over 300 military vehicles, the officers expect that the exercises guarantee the security of the riches of the Brazilian sea.
"The 'Blue Amazon’ is as important as the ‘Green Amazon’. No more important, but as important," said Admiral Edlander Santos, commander of the manoeuvres.

During the manoeuvres, the "green country" - composed of Rio de Janeiro, north of Sao Paulo and parts of Minas Gerais and Goiás - will attack the "yellow country" - Bahia and Espirito Santo - to get control over the mega-rich oil fields of Petrover, a fictitious state-owned company of the "green country". The location of the manoeuvres is not random.

According to Admiral Edlander Santos, the manoeuvres also bring answers to any questions involving the defence of the area.
"Will we have the vessels and means to protect the 4.5 million square kilometres?" He asked. "Well let's find out."

The initiative to the presence of Russia in the Latin American waters is as a matter of fact the consequence of a US ‘invitation’.
For Thomas Gomart, analyst with the French Institute of International Relations, the sending of Russian military units "is a double investment for Moscow: increasingly questioning the hegemony of the United States and support for nationalization in the areas of energy”.

What were Busch and Cheney thinking when they ordered ‘out of the blue’ the reactivation of the 4th Fleet, without giving any information to its neighbours, not even its most solid ally, Brazil? What did they expect? Any reasonable thinking person could prophesise the reaction!


Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Owner Doesn't Care Much

There is still no strategy to defend the Amazônia
In just one month, the deforestation of the Amazônia exploded. The National Institute for Spacial Research (Inpe) reported data on deforestation in the Amazônia Legal, for the month of April. According to the Deter system (Detecção do Desmatamento em Tempo Real = Deforestation Detection in Real-Time) there was an increase of 774.48% in deforestation in the region, eight times more. In March 2008, 145 km ² was cut down, while the number in April rose to 1,123 km ². Unfortunately Deter is only able to detect deforestation polygons of areas larger than 25 hectares due to the resolution of the space sensors.

And the owner of the Amazônia?
Unfortunately it occurs that the Amazônia has a not-properly-caring owner. Approximately 62% of the Amazônia delta with its rain forests belongs to Brazil, but the numbers of deforestation are alarming. Just in the first five years of Lula’s government, it was 100 thousand km2 (2½ x the Netherlands).

The Brazilian economic columnist Míriam Leitão stated in Bom Dia Brasil: “The argumentation that the world has no right to claim the protection of the Amazônia because rich countries pollute or have already destroyed their forests, is not quite correct. If the Amazônia is ours, we have to preserve it. ........ If Brazil protects its biodiversity, they have to use its wealth for the production of medicines, cosmetics, timber in a sustainable way and industrial production of various items.”

That’s why the Brazilian Academy of Sciences proposes to invest heavily in universities, technological institutes, training of scientists in the Amazônia, to activate research in the region to find the best model of exploitation of its wealth. Today, it is only being occupied by ‘grilagem’ (unlawful claiming of rain forest areas), deforestation and even criminal slave labour.
This is not development.

The main task of the extraordinary minister of Strategic Affairs, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, as coordinator of the Plano Amazônia Sustentável (PAS = Program for a Sustainable Amazônia) is to develop "a strategy of zoning the Amazônia, one with forest and another one without forest." As quoted by his own words.

"Let’s stop talking about the fiction that there is a war between environmentalists and developers. This is not the problem. The problem is that we have not yet formulated the necessary measures neither to defend the forest, nor to develop the Amazônia," he assessed.

The coordinator of the PAS believes (what others are saying for years on end) in a correlation between the unemployment rate and the (illegal) deforestation of native forests: "The Amazônia is not just a collection of trees, it is also a group of people, and if the Brazilians who live there do not have economic opportunities they will be inexorably led to illegal deforestation activities."

But from whom is the Amazônia, after all?
A story published in the American newspaper The New York Times suggests that global leaders argue that the Amazônia is not a unique heritage of any country, which is causing concern in Brazil. And continues: "a chorus of international leaders are more openly declaring the Amazônia as part of a much larger heritage then the only nations that share its territory."

The newspaper quotes the former US vice-president Al Gore, who in 1989 said that "contrary to what the Brazilians believe, the Amazônia is not owned by them, it belongs to us all."

In the meantime the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva tries to pass a law to restrict access to the Amazônia Forest, imposing a licensing scheme for both foreigners and Brazilians.

"But many experts say that the Amazônia in the proposed restrictions conflict with his own efforts (of President Lula) to give Brazil a greater voice in the negotiations on global climate change - an implicit recognition that the Amazônia is critical to the world as a whole," the article reads.

"It's a fight that shall only become more complicated in the coming years in the light of two conflicting trends: a growing demand for energy resources and a growing concern with climate change and pollution."

But President Lula is adamant: "The Amazônia has an owner and that’s us, Brazilians."
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, attending the 20th National Forum in May that "the world needs to understand that the Amazônia has an owner and that we, Brazilians, are that owner."

He questioned the conditions of developed countries, the biggest polluters, to discuss this issue. "The countries which are responsible for 70% of the world’s pollution are talking now about the Amazônia," he said. Lula advocated the preservation, but also the development of the Amazônia. "It will be a discussion for the next two decades," he said.

“But don’t cry out prematurely”, the "Economist" is right after all
Although most Brazilians do not like it when someone, particular a gringo, wants to "put a finger" in the Amazônia, as President Lula called it, the truth is that the British "The Economist" had it spot on, when it stated that it is almost impossible to put rules in the region,” writes the Brazilian journalist Ricardo Kotscho in one of his columns. And he follows with:

In its story "Welcome to our shrinking jungle" the Economist states bluntly that it is very difficult for the Brazilian government to control the exploitation and deforestation of the Amazônia forest "because there is no control over the ownership of land in the region."

Nobody has control - and hardly somebody will one day. I say this with sadness. In Amazônia region everything is too grand, too immense, too vast, too dense and far too huge for anyone to even dream to place the forest under some form of order.

You can see it with the naked eye: the pastures progressing in cleared areas owned by nobody, where the law has not yet arrived and the State is a distant mirage for the owners of cattle that are multiplying in geometric progression.
Some alarming data show how the burst of cattle raising is devastating the forest:

• In 1964, Amazônia had a flock of about one million cattle and less than 1% of the area had been deforested for pastures.
• In just thirteen years, between 1990 and 2003, the Amazônia herd rose from 26,6 million to 63 million heads, an increase of 6,7% per year, ten times the increase in Brazilian population.
• Today, the pastures shelter more than 70 million heads of livestock, one third of the entire cattle herd in the country. Since the Amazônia has a population of 23 million people there is an average of three heads of cattle per capita (including babies and old people).
• To open the pastures 16% of the forest area has been deforested, which is more than 70 million hectares, equivalent to Spain and Portugal together.
• The Amazônia continues losing 24.000 km2 of native forest per year, an area equivalent to two thirds of the territory of Belgium. As 1% of the forest turns into grass each year, and the current progress of livestock in the region is kept, in 2050, half of the forest will have been cut to house a corral of 285 million head of cattle.
• The main reason for this burst in cattle raising is the low or even non-existent price of land by pure and simple invasion of public areas, the popular ‘grilagem’. It is cheaper to cut trees (USD 200 to USD 300 per hectare) than to recover land from areas already deforested and degraded and turned into ‘juquira’ (USD 700 to USD 750 a hectare). Juquiras are deforested areas which are claimed back by nature with the springing up of small trees and an abundance of weeds. As sugarcane took the place of pastures in the fever for ethanol and soybean moved to the centre west of the country, cattle farms were pushed into the Amazônia in search of new pastures.

A study carried out by Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Imazon = Institute of Man and Environment of the Amazônia), and commissioned by the World Bank, brought to light that 42 million hectares - an area corresponding to 8,5% of the Amazônia (an area the size of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium together) is in illegal possession and totally outside the control of the government.

"This is, in practice, a free privatization of the forest. They never paid for the land and continue without paying taxes," said the coordinator of the research, forestry engineer Paulo Barreto. The process is always the same: the ‘grileiro’ "lends" the land to a timber friend to "clear the area", that is, overthrow the forest, and then plant grass, moving forward without limits and without any control, because, here a title deed is a fiction, even if it were existing.

In this context, some initiatives announced by the federal government to stop the destruction of the rain forest after the world started to protest against the progressive deforestation, sound romantic. But the government actions are entirely insufficient and even laughable and can only be considered as serious and might even revert the situation, if and when the federal government sends the Brazilian Armed Forces with all available equipment including helicopters and planes to the Amazônia.

The worst thing is that this time, we are obliged to accept that the English magazine is correct to say: "In practice, it is almost impossible for the Brazilian government to impose its will within the limits of its empire, even if it wanted."

If Lula claims: "the Amazônia is ours." Why can he only launche a grand-scale manoeuvre with the armed forces, including the navy and air forces, to defend the Amazônia Azul (Blue Amazon, in my next post I shall explain the Blue Amazon) and not do the same for the Green Amazon. Well, frustratingly, the answer is simple, as always: the Amazônia Azul has all to do with oil, while the Amazônia Verde has, as it is, only to do with the environment and global climate change.

source: IG Ultimo Segundo, Ricardo Kotscho

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Laugh: Obama in Brazil

The US is not the only one having elections this year, as we, here in Brazil, have some too in October. Ok, it is less important and world shocking but for the local people the election for mayor and the municipal council are of utmost importance.
And so ... Obama inspires and candidates in Brazil “borrow” his name

The candidate for the presidency of the United States Barack Obama enthused and inspired candidates for prefeito (mayor) and vereador (councilman) in Brazil, adopting his name in the municipal elections in October. There are candidates for mayor and councilman taking a ride on the fame of the US Democrat presidential nominee and decided to couple the name of Obama in their quest for success in the polls. No candidate in Brazil is using the name of John McCain.

The Brazilian law allows candidates to use nicknames during election campaigns and in their identifications. The adoption of the name “Barack Obama” is non-partisan and occurs in various regions of the country

The candidates said they appreciate the life story of the American and want to represent change in their municipalities, one of the banners of the real Obama campaign in the US presidential elections. They also said that the racial issue weighed in their decisions.

(photo above) "I am the first black candidate for mayor of my city," said “Claudio Henrique Barack Obama" who disputes on a PTB-ticket (Labour Party of Brazil) a seat in the municipal council of Belford Roxo, in the federal state of Rio de Janeiro. Officially: Claudio Henrique dos Anjos, is a consultant in information technology and is optimistic. He said that he occupies the third place in polls and consequently has a chance to go to the second round. (In Brazil there is a multi-party system and a candidate needs to be elected by an absolute majority (50% and one vote), if candidates not reach this absolute majority in the first election day, there is a second election day (second round) 14 days later between the top two or three candidates only.

Jovelino Selis (Labour Party), a mathematics teacher at the city's public college and a union leader, does not deny the reason for using the nickname of "Barack Obama" to compete for municipal councilman of Ubiratã in the federal state of Paraná. He didn’t have a choice. Not having the 20 thousand reais (12,000 USD), the opposition has, to activate a campaign, he decided to appeal to Obama’s popularity. "It was a marketing move. The idea caught. People are talking about you,” he observes.
Despite the satisfaction with the successful campaign, the candidate regrets the problems generated by the personal choice of his nickname. "They are calling my youngest son Obaminha (Little Obama)," he said, “ridiculing him in school.”

The Brazilian Obamas suffer the same prejudices as the real Barack Obama. Selis said that a few days ago he heard a rumour that he was using an Arabic name by now because of his links with terrorists. "They said that now I have links with the people in the Middle East. I have to do a teacher’s job to show that this is a lie."

Alexandre Jacinto Nunes (centro-democrats), "Alexandre Barack Obama," fears that the anti-American sentiments [rapidly expanded during the Busch/Cheney administration] are a backlash in his campaign for councilman in Petrolina, in the rural savannah like area in the federal state of Pernambuco. In some conversations with voters, Jacinto prefers to omit the nickname he chose for the campaign. Still, the salesman of air conditioners says he does not regret having adopted the name of the US presidential candidate.
Jacinto battles to achieve his dream. With few (financial) resources, he tries to convince the voters of Petrolina that he will improve the sanitation of the city and help revitalize the river San Francisco. "My difficulties are huge. I have to beg for shoes, as mine were only holes and I walk much. It is ugly," he says. "I campaign on foot, by bicycle and motorcycle when someone is funding the fuel."

For the full list: Meet the Brazilian "Obamas" click here
Meet the Brazilian "Obamas" (updated as from 01 Sept. 2008)

Alexandre Jacinto Nunes (centro-democrats), Alexandre Barack Obama, competes for a chair as city councillor in Petrolina, in the sertão (savannah) of Pernambuco. He is a salesman of air conditioners.

Claudio Henrique, (Labour Party of Brazil) candidate for mayor of Belford Roxo. Former parliamentary adviser to Minister Edson Santos (Secretary of Racial Equality) competes for the first time for public office.

David Cardoso, the Obama of Assentomento, competes for the second time for public office in Pompeu (Minas Gerais). He is candidate for city councillor for the Labour Party of Brazil. Is farmer, married, raised his own and other children, in total eight. He is 41 years and finished high school. Lives in a settlement with (just) 146 other families and did not know Barack Obama, till he got called by that name by others. He aims to fight for "the people who are suffering most."

Epaminondas Bernades Birth is the candidate for city councillor in Barretos (state of São Paulo) and registered for elections with the name: Epaminondas Epa Obama Brasileiro.

Fabio Alonso Jose de Melo, or Fabio Melo Barack Obama, is candidate for the municipal council in Marialva (Paraná). Compete for the PPS (Socialist Peoples Party). He is a law student at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Maringa, is 27 years and single. He adopted the nickname after seeing "the picture of the blessed on the Internet."

Jovelino Sellis, candidate for councillor in Ubiratã, Paraná, for the PT (Labour Party). He is a mathematics teacher with the High school and College education network in the state of Paraná. He is married with four children, evangelical, and is said to be a fan of Obama.

Marlúcio Pereira runs in this election for mayor of Aparecida de Goiania (Goianas), a city of 500 thousand inhabitants. He won the nickname “Barack Obama of the Savannah”, but did not register the name with the Election Board. He is black, evangelical and admits to the media that if the US senator takes off favourably, he certainly will embark on the wave until the elections here in October.

Natalino Braz, who simply is registered as Obama, is candidate for the council of Mendes (Rio de Janeiro) for the third time. He is a DEM (democrat) who joined the coalition with the Partida Communista do Brasil. He is a construction worker, is 60 years old and did not finish preliminary school. He is married and adopted the nickname Obama "to see if he was lucky this time."

sources: Revista Epoca, Noticias Terra

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bolivia in crisis. Booting out the US Ambassador

Recently some conflicts between Latin American countries and the USA have been escalating due to the (omnipresent) fear for US intervention in the Latin America area, the ‘back yard of the USA’. As you certainly know, the USA has always seen Latin America as its ‘back yard’. And it is the people in this back yard that is very scared at this moment, but also expectant in regard to the US presidential elections.

Without doubt you can say that Latin America in the recent years moved to the left. Socialism, if you like to call it that. But socialism is still a dirty word in de US and obviously little is known about its definition. But don't forget that socialism in Latin America is not more than something between the centre and the left-wing of the democrats in the US. It has nothing to do with communism, it is just a movement centring on the wellbeing of ordinary people. Giving the people, after so many years of corruption and exploitation a piece of the cake.

I will not talk about historical US (bloody) interventions in Latin America, such as Chile, Panama, Columbia, Grenada and many others. No, I just want to stipulate the (recent) interventions during the reign of the Busch/Cheney administration.

Let’s start with Bolivia, at this moment the centre of the conflict.
Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, is basically divided between the western highlands, home to the impoverished indigenous majority, and the rich eastern lowlands, where much of the population is made up of people of predominantly European (primarily Spanish) descent and where all the international corporations are sitting.

The support base of President Evo Morales, the country’s first-ever indigenous president, is largely found in the western altiplano. Meanwhile, several eastern provinces have been demanding autonomy and greater control over the rich farmland and natural gas reserves concentrated in that part of the country, and are staunchly opposed to any agrarian reform.
In the east, 90% of all land is owned by 10% of the large landowners, while in the western highlands, 90% of the indigenous campesinos (peasant farmers) own just 10% of the arable land.

The president wants to give more power to indigenous and poor communities, by carrying out land reform and redistributing gas revenues. That’s painful for the rich landowners and (mainly) Corporate America, which are bleeding the country. The answer to the intention of President Evo Morales is a movement (supported by the landowners and Big Oil) to declare the eastern states autonomous.
The opposition bloc tries to force the government to agree to the restitution to the provinces of a portion of the natural gas tax - 49 million USD - that the Morales administration has diverted to the payment of a universal pension of 26 USD a month to people over 60.

The governors of the lowlands provinces of Santa Cruz in the east, Beni in the northeast, Pando in the north, and Tarija and Chuquisaca to the south have made this one of the key demands in their opposition to Morales.
In response, the government argues that the funds diverted from the provinces for the universal pension are insignificant compared to the more than two billion USD that will be transferred to the provincial governments this year, a sum that is double the 952 million USD transferred in 2005.

The president of Bolivia’s Private Business Confederation, Gabriel Dabdoub, argues that a lack of government policies to foment private sector activity and attract investment has kept away 400 million USD a year in private (foreign) investment.
However, exporters are counting on a new record in sales of industrialised products and commodities, which according to the government will amount to more than 6 billion USD this year, compared to 4.78 billion USD in 2007.

A climate favourable to trade, with heavy foreign demand for commodities like natural gas - of which Bolivia has South America’s second-largest reserves, after Venezuela - oil, minerals and agri products accompanied by high international prices, has led to an increase in foreign exchange earnings in a country whose gross domestic product (GDP) stands at 14.7 billion USD. (Note: ExxonMobil’s annual revenue (similar to the GDP of a country) was USD 405 billion in 2007)

Gas revenues soared from 188 million USD in late 2001 to 1.57 billion USD in 2007, after the Morales administration, which took office in January 2006, forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate the terms of their contracts, thus increasing the royalties and taxes paid by the companies.

Over the past year, the leftwing Morales administration has accused the US embassy in Bolivia of offering its backing to provincial governments in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Chuquisaca in their crusade for radical autonomy.
The decision to expel US ambassador Philip Goldberg came after major confrontations, such as the Bolivian Foreign Ministry's report that the US ambassador had held a private meeting on Aug. 25 with the rightwing governor of Santa Cruz, President Morales' main political opponent.
The following day, Ambassador Goldberg was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and asked for an explanation. Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca also asked Goldberg to be cautious in his contacts with opposition governors. Nevertheless Goldberg later paid a visit to the opposition governor of Chuquisaca, Savina Cuellar, on Sept. 4, further fuelling the government's annoyance.

So it is no surprise, that Bolivian President Evo Morales has declared the US Ambassador Philip Goldberg "persona non grata", after accusing him of aiding and abetting pro-autonomy opposition groups that are blocking highways and occupying government buildings, reducing the supply of natural gas to Brazil.
"I am not afraid of anyone, not even the empire (the United States)," Morales said when he instructed his Foreign Minister to inform the US ambassador in writing that he was no longer welcome in the country.

But indeed Latin America has all reasons to fear an intervention and even an aggressive active role plaid by the US to create a crisis. May I remind the reader the interference of US diplomats in the coup d’état in 2002 against Hugo Chavez and the attempts to frustrate the last presidential election in Argentina.

According to the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Argentinean Adolfo Perez Esquivel the autonomy movement is just the landowners and corporations pretext to try to stop a far reaching revolutionary process in this Andean nation. The same is true for Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, Ecuador with Rafael Correa and more recently Paraguay with Fernando Lugo, where US attacks are growing, but fortunately "Latin American people have begun to speak with their own voices," he added.

Latin America has been expecting an American military intervention for some time during this presidential election. At the end it was Georgia, where Busch/Cheney found their confederate, stupid enough to provoke Russia in an attempt to help the GOP to reign another 4 years. But, as said, Latin America, and particularly Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay, were and still are expecting American aggression to be in their area to steamroll the Dems, as all the signs are there.

This is in a nutshell the recent crisis and the reason to ‘boot out’ the US ambassadors of Bolivia as well as Venezuela.
But there is more. The recent presence of Russia in the Latin America area is due to the Busch/Cheney foreign policy of the last few months and the scary (for Latin America) sudden re-installment (after 60 years) of the 4th US Navy Fleet in this area.
Let me talk about this in my next post.

Facts in this post are based upon articles on the websites: WorldPress (a very reliable source regarding the relations between the US and Latin America) as well as Prensa Latina

Friday, 12 September 2008

Brazil and its ‘green’ bio-diesel

We all know that Brazil champions bio-fuels and as I wrote in a previous post, President Lula promotes worldwide the use (and thus Brazilian export) of ethanol from sugar-cane. You should think puffing out his chest Brazil is the prime example of clean air.

But as Míriam Leitão writes in her column “Economic Panorama” in O Globo, inhaling Brazilian air causes a frontal attack on your nose and your health.
People have to breathe to survive, but when you breathe in Brazil’s large cities, you are bound to inhale the sulphur rich fuel exhausts, mainly diesel. In the United States, Europe, Taiwan and Mexico, the sulphur content in diesel has already fallen. Seven years ago, a resolution determined clean fuel in Brazil. Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned petroleum giant said that it will commit to this resolution in 2009. Not meeting these requirements will cost more human lives.

The resolution 315 from 2002 published by Conama, the National Environment Institute, established that Brazilian diesel should have 50 parts of sulphur per million (i.e. a maximum of 0,005% of sulphur). Diesel is a composition basically consisted of carbon, hydrogen, and concentrations of sulphur, nitrogen and oxygen. There is a worldwide movement to reduce the share of sulphur as it is responsible for the existence of acid rain. Compared to the product in other countries, diesel in Brazil, a country that champions bio-diesel, is just a shame. For years ago the United States reached the level of 50 parts per million (ppm). At this moment the USA target for 15 parts per million. In Europe, the goal today is 10 ppm. In Brazil, diesel has 500 parts of sulphur per million in the large cities and 2.000 in the rural areas. Petrol (gasoline) has 1.000 ppm. But diesel raises more concern as it is a heavier compound with emitted particles more harmful to human health.

If the regulation of Conama, finally, comes into force in the coming year, the level of sulphur will fall to 50 ppm for diesel in both large cities and rural areas. Even when we get there, we are still far behind countries like Mexico, which today has 50 ppm and will go to 15 ppm next year. Taiwan reached 50 ppm 4 years ago. Canada, which has a heavy oil, had 340 ppm, but moved to 30 ppm. There are several large and medium-sized countries which are already reaching levels causing less pollution and less harm.

Why is this country with its abundance of ‘green’ bio-diesel one of the worst polluters in the world? Because it is typical Brazil, it contains all the signs of the various and many defects in Brazil: the excessive power of Petrobras (the Kingdom within a Republic), the inefficiency of the regulatory bodies, particularly the Agência Nacional do Petróleo (National Agency for Petroleum), the neglect of and the disinterest in the health of the citizens, and last but not least the lobby of the auto industry. Conama submitted to a long term period in which its resolution should be met, but the National Agency for Petroleum (ANP), which had to detail the technical specifications of fuels, let the time running out. Finally in October last year and after much pressure from entities such as the movement “Our São Paulo”, the OAB, the Department of Environment of São Paulo, among others, the ANP reported the specifications.
And then a lobby started to delay the enforcement of the resolution, whose implementation was scheduled for January 2009. The authorities reacted. The Ministry of Environment announced not to be inclined to accept postponements. Minister Carlos Minc of the Ministry of Environment reiterated this, saying that he shall require compensation from Petrobras and Anfavea (the Association of Brazilian Car Manufacturers) if they do not meet the deadline. Petrobras divulged in a bulletin that "the Company shall provide the 50 ppm diesel to be used by vehicles with technology P-6. This product is also available for tests by the auto industry."

Heavy sulphur loaded diesel is the main culprit for the pollution generated by traffic. The pollution causes various respiratory diseases and even lung cancer, 5% of the cases are caused by pollution. Two million people die each year worldwide from diseases caused by air pollution.

Professor Paulo Saldiva of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Pollution of the University of São Paulo, made a calculation regarding the effects on the economically active population, between 20 and 60 years in the metropolitan region of São Paulo; he arrived at a cost of 1,5 billion USD per year because of problems caused by pollution. While only 10% of the fleet is diesel, the fuel is responsible for 50% of the emissions of fine particles, which forms the black smoke, responsible for deaths and respiratory diseases. According to Paulo Saldiva, pollution causes some 400 deaths per year in the city of São Paulo only.

Petrobras, in its memo, said it is gradually removing the sulphur content of diesel and gasoline since the early 90’s and states that it invested 1,6 billion USD from 2000 to 2007 to improve the quality of fuels.
There is no reason for further postponements, the technology to reduce sulphur content is readily available and public health should be at the top of the list of priorities of the socialistic administration of President Lula.

But there is hope, although we have to wait a long time. Yesterday the Ministry of Environment proposed a plan to reduce the share of sulphur to 10 ppm in 2012. Nice, but various sources are reporting that the proposed resolution will not be imposed before 2017. Nine years from now, just to go from 50 ppm to 10 ppm, a level many a country has reached already nowadays. Nine years more to see Brazil change from a lavish green to a dry savannah.


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

An irreversible trend - It's the economy, stupid!

In Brazil energy products derived from sugar cane were responsible for 16% of the total energy supply in 2007, holding the second position in the total of consumed energy, surpassing for the first time hydraulic power, which supplied 14,7% last year, according to preliminary data released in the balance by the Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE), Brazilian’s Energy Research Company. The fossil-oil and derivatives remained in first place as an energy source, with a 36,7% stake.
The energy consumption rose with 13,5 million tonnes and of this more than 70% was from renewable sources. Once again, renewable energy of sugar cane grew most with 41,4%. The share of renewable energy in the matrix of Brazilian energy increased from 44,9% in 2006 to 46,4% in 2007.

The number of vehicles using bio-fuel exceeded five million in April 2008.

According to the chairman of EPE, the domestic consumption of energy, which takes into account any final energy consumption by individuals, companies and processing, grew 5,9%, more than the GDP, which advanced 5,4%. Of that total, according to him, there was an increase of fuel consumption with a 7,3%, against a 5,4% increase of electric energy, compared with 2006.

“For the first time energy supply from cane sugar exceeded hydro electric energy and became the second source of the Brazilian energy matrix, after fossil oil. I believe it is an irreversible trend” the president of EPE stated. At the end of the presentation of the energy balance of 2007 he defended the production of Brazilian ethanol, saying: “In Brazil, we have sufficient soil to increase the production of ethanol without affecting the production of food”, when asked about the criticism that the production of ethanol affects the prices of food in the world market.

Obviously so far so good. Brazil is a world example for renewable (green) energy resources, thanks to President Lula’s cuddling of his darling pet, promoting his fads and fancies with pride and little essential knowledge during all his official international visits with potential buying countries. Stubbornly fighting off his critics as even his Latin American colleagues call him a traitor.

It is a fact, the country’s emergence is partly accelerated by bio-fuels as bio-fuels have become the vanguard of the green-tech revolution. For politicians and corporations the trendy way to go as most of the damage created by bio-fuels is less direct and less obvious.
Indeed only a tiny portion of the Amazônia region is being torn down to grow the sugarcane that fuels most Brazilian cars. The shocking explosion of deforestation is a result a subtle chain reaction: Farmers in the USA are selling one-fifth of their corn to ethanol production, so US soybean farmers are switching to corn, as a result Brazilian soybean farmers are expanding into cattle pastures, so Brazilian cattlemen are displaced to the Amazônia.

Amazônia rain forest pushed back by large areas of soybean fields in the state of Mato Grosso

So far Lula’s ‘green’ positioning on bio-fuels is correct. Sugar growers here have a greener story to tell than do any other bio-fuel producers. They provide 45% of Brazil's fuel (all cars in the country are able to run on ethanol) on only 1% of its arable land. They've reduced fertilizer use while increasing yields and they convert leftover bio-mass into electricity. With the slogan: "Grain is good for bread, not for cars. But sugar is different." their trade group expects production to double by 2015 with little effect on the Amazônia.

So far, they are right. Corn ethanol and soy bio-diesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline. Sugarcane ethanol is much cleaner, and bio-fuels created from waste products that don't gobble up land have real potential. So, obviously the Amazônia region is safe.

But take a look at the Cerrado, south of the Amazônia region, an ecological jewel in its own right.
Map of the Cerrado eco-region. The limits of the eco-region are marked in yellow.
Photo: NASA

The Amazônia gets the ink, but the Cerrado is the world's most bio-diverse savannah, with 10.000 species of plants, nearly half of which are found nowhere else on earth, and more mammals than the African bush. You can watch toucans and macaws, find puma tracks and admire a carnivorous flower. The Cerrado's trees aren't as tall or dense as the Amazônia ones, so they don't store as much carbon, but the region of some 2 million km2 (50 times the Netherlands) stores its share. Or should we say ‘stored’ its share, as it is transforming by the march of progress - first into pastures, then into sugarcane fields.
Caracteristic vegetation in the Cerrado
But also in another way sugarcane is a shady business. Sugarcane is a typical product from the slave era and that is exactly what it still is.
In 2007, the federal government freed 3.131 “sugar cane” slaves. In the same period the Brazilian Bank for Development released 3,6 billion USD for projects of the sector.
The Cerrado near "The three lakes" - Mato Grosso do Sul

Almost daily there are stories in the news papers about rescue of sugarcane labour (including children) working under - what is now euphemistically called – a “degrading situation”, but in fact is just pure and simple slavery.
But let us just have a look at one:

In March 2008 the papers headlined, after the Ministry of Labour and Employment visited the premises of a company called Brenco (Brazil Renewable Energy Company, note that this Brazilian company has an English name and you will see why):
- Workers of Brenco are living in precarious housing
- Investigating Brenco ends with 17 labourers freed and 140 “slave” contracts terminated

Brenco is commanded by the former president of Petrobras, Brazil’s giant state-owned petroleum company, Henri Phillipe Reischtul.
Brenco has, among its shareholders, the former US President Bill Clinton, James Wolfensohn, former World Bank chairman, Steve Case, former America Online (AOL)-Time Warner, and Vinod Khosla, multimillionaire Indian rooted in the United States who founded the Sun Microsystems. Not by any means the ordinary slave driver you should expect.

But the story does not end here. In August 2008 Brenco reached the headlines of the news papers another time:
The BNDES (Brazilian’s Bank for Development) releases 1,2 billion USD to deploy four units of sugar cane processing in Mato Grosso, Goias and Mato Grosso do Sul (all Cerrado states). In all, the units will install 15 million tonnes of sugar cane grinding capacity per season, producing 1,4 billion litres of alcohol. And the market could sell up to 220 MW of energy through cogeneration. The project has an estimated investment of 1,8 billion USD, with the BNDES entering with 2/3, although, the BNDESPar should get only some 15% to 20% of the shares of the venture. According to the bank, the venture will generate 8.400 jobs and will run a fully mechanized harvesting.

In regard to the “progressive social policy” of a President who was a militant union leader first, do you understand this? No? Neither do I.
But Clinton himself gave us the answer to this apparent contradiction when he was campaigning for US president in 1992: "It's the economy, stupid!"

For this post I used some text extracts from the article in Time Magazine “The Clean Energy Scam” by Michael Grunwald published March 27, 2008. The story and facts relating to slavery I took from the websites of Leonardo Sakamoto and Repórter Brasil. Both websites are worth visiting, although unfortunately they are only in Portuguese.



Sorry, I have not updated my websites for the last three months.
This summer season was very hectic and I had to upload my spirits also.
From now on, you can read (and enjoy) my regular posts again.