Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have appointed new ministers in charge of the Amazon. Who are they?

A view of the Amazon river. Image: Courtesy of Dialogo Chino

Brazil, Colombia,
Ecuador and Peru have appointed new ministers tasked with making critical decisions on the Amazon, at a time
when the world’s largest rain forest faces huge challenges. Rates of
deforestation have increased and threaten the planet’s largest oxygen reserve.

Brazil: links to
agribusiness

Ricardo Salles was the last of the 22 ministers
appointed by Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro picked Salles to lead the Environment Ministry
after reneging on his proposal to abolish it, which was widely publicized
during his election campaign.

Salles does not clash with the president-elect
on environment issues. One of his first
comments
on being
appointed was: “the discussion whether or not there is global warming is
secondary”. He has pledged to simplify environmental licensing, ease the fiscal
burden on rural producers and make the work of the ministry “more efficient”.

He also promises to “defend private property” from social
movements and ethnic communities. Indigenous groups will probably be the most
vulnerable under his watch. Bolsonaro has announced that he wants to allow mining on
indigenous communal territories.

Salles’s appointment, which was well received by
the country’s large agricultural producers, caused
great concern
among
environmentalists. His control of the ministry has come at a time when the rate
of deforestation in the Amazon is increasing. According to data from the
National Institute of Space Research (INPE), between
August and October 2018
deforestation
grew by 48.8%.

Environmental campaigners did, however, welcome Salles’s
announcement that Brazil will not withdraw from the Paris
Agreement
on climate
change.

Still, a lot can change. Salles stands accused
of violating environmental laws by altering the management plan for the Várzea
do Rio Tietê protected area during his tenure at the São Paulo State environment office with the “clear intention of benefiting economic
sectors”. The case may
be problematic for Bolsonaro, who was elected on a promise to fight corruption.

Colombia: deforestation
expert

Ricardo Lozano, the Colombian Environment Minister
since August, assumed his post at a crucial time. Two years after the signing
of the historic
peace agreement
with
the FARC, deforestation has rapidly increased in the Amazon and in many other regions
formerly controlled by the guerrillas and drug traffickers.

Lozano is a geologist, and the first
Colombian Environment Minister
with extensive experience in the field. He is known for having led IDEAM,
Colombia’s meteorological institute, ever since he created it in 2012. IDEAM
is a
robust forest monitoring system
which publishes early warnings of deforestation trends every three
months.

That is precisely Lozano’s biggest challenge.
Colombia is
losing
some 219.973
hectares of forest per year and the current government came to power with the
promise of promoting the country’s large agricultural sector.

Throughout his career, Lozano – whose
appointment was welcomed by environmentalists – has worked extensively on
important issues for Colombia and the Amazon such as climate change, risk
management (in a country that contributes little to global greenhouse gas
emissions, but is very vulnerable to the effects of extreme climatic events such
as floods and landslides), and water resource management.

That being said, Lozano still faces the
challenge of communicating the urgency of these problems to other government
departments. “Deforestation is not only a problem for the environment ministry
or for just one minister, but for the State,” he has
said
on several
occasions.

Ecuador: oil sector ties

Marcelo Mata Guerrero, the new Ecuadorian
environment minister, took office last month – in the midst of a cabinet
re-shuffle by President Lenin Moreno. His appointment concerns those working in
the Amazon.

Mata is a lawyer who managed environmental issues in the
hydrocarbons sector
. He was
responsible for the environment at the Repsol Ecuador oil company and an
adviser on environmental and social issues at State-owned Petroecuador. He also
held several environment-related positions at the Mines and Petroleum Ministry,
where he was national director of environmental protection and coordinator of
social participation and community relations.

“It is unacceptable that the head of the Ministry
of the Environment is a former corporate officer of the first company to
extract oil from Yasuní national park, the most bio-diverse area in Ecuador,
where there are people living in voluntary isolation”, says Elizabeth Bravo from the influential NGO Ecological
Action. “He has also participated in designing public policy measures for the
mining sector, and thus environmental movements in the country fear that his
appointment will facilitate mining operations in areas that are environmentally
vulnerable”.

Peru: forest
management expert

Fabiola Muñoz Dodero is a lawyer. She became
Peru’s Minister of the Environment when the country’s new president Martín
Vizcarra took office in April last year, after having worked in the forestry
sector for the last decade.

Until her appointment as minister, she led the
National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR), an agency connected to the
Ministry of Agriculture, the highest forest management authority in Peru. Prior
to that, she led the US Forest Service programme in Peru.

She has spent an important part of her career
fighting illegal activities that decimate the Amazon and other Peruvian
ecosystems. At SERFOR, she focused on logging and the illegal wood trade, joining
the National Pact for Legal Wood aimed at ensuring that by 2021 all
commercialised wood in Peru has legal origins and is verified.

Now, as a government minister, she focuses on
illegal mining and deforestation, and stresses the need to find alternatives
for the concerned communities.

“We have to recognise that the State is not
usually efficient in creating the necessary conditions for legal activity to be
cheaper and faster than illegal activity,” she
said
in April.

The Vizcarra government expects the new minister
to build bridges with the private sector. “We need a Minister of the
Environment who understands that the best way to maintain the environment is by
generating investment in the country, but in a responsible way for the sector,
which she will do”, said Prime Minister César Villanueva after appointing her.

What may help Muñoz is her previous role as
manager of community relations at the Peruvian subsidiary of the Anglo American
company, which operates the Quellaveco copper mine.

*****

This article was previously published by Diálogo Chino. Read the original here

Comments are closed.