Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
The highlights this week: Brazilians debate how to move forward with climate policy if President Jair Bolsonaro leaves office, Caribbean nations weigh leaving the Commonwealth, and an ancient Mexican snack gains new appeal.
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A Climate Power Once More?
Under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation—Brazil’s leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—has soared to a 15-year high in the Amazon region. His turn away from protecting the rainforest has been so detrimental to global climate goals that it has even led the country to be ostracized in some Western diplomatic and economic forums. The European Union froze trade talks with South American countries over deforestation concerns early in Bolsonaro’s term, and just this week, EU lawmakers voted to ban the import of merchandise linked to deforestation around the world.
If Bolsonaro is reelected next month, Brazil can expect these trends to continue apace. If, however, polls prove correct and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wins, the country may see a climate policy overhaul. Internationally, Brazil should “play in a position of leadership” on climate, Lula tweeted last month.
During Lula’s two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, Brazil reduced its deforestation rate in the Amazon by over 70 percent. With its strong environmental credentials, the Lula government also helped push for wealthy countries to fund climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in poorer ones at the United Nations. In 2008, Germany and Norway created a fund with the Brazilian government to assist with Amazon conservation efforts; the two countries had paid Brazil over $1.2 billion through the fund before they froze their contributions over Bolsonaro’s environmental record in 2019.
But reinstating Brazil’s conservation credentials will be harder than simply swapping out leaders. Most deforestation in the country’s Amazon is illegal and conducted by a mix of actors including agriculture firms and small-scale loggers and farmers. As a result, any effective conservation effort depends on both offering economic alternatives to would-be deforesters and bolstering enforcement mechanisms to stop illegal logging and tree-burning.
Anti-conservation forces currently hold significant sway over Brazilian politics. Right-wing and agribusiness-friendly lawmakers comprise large blocs in Brazil’s National Congress and are spending big ahead of next month’s election. Outside of government, illegal loggers have been emboldened by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, and many are armed, Henrique Bezerra of Interface Environmental Advocacy told Foreign Policy.
Until recently, Lula’s campaign had publicized few detailed conservation plans. Some activists have also voiced concerns about his sustainability pledges, as Lula’s party weakened some of its environmental policies under his successor, Dilma Rousseff. Her government granted large-scale amnesty for past deforestation in 2012 and evicted at least 20,000 people to build a controversial hydroelectric dam in the Amazon that was completed in 2015—continuing Lula’s pattern of pressing forward with such dam projects despite environmental concerns.
In June, Lula released a platform pledging to combat environmental crimes, such as illegal logging; work toward net-zero deforestation; and meet Brazil’s emissions-reduction targets as set out in the Paris Agreement. He voiced support for the idea of an energy transition but also pledged to expand drilling and refining by Brazil’s national oil company to maintain what he called “energy security.”
This week, Lula embraced a host of new green pledges. On Monday, former Environment Minister Marina Silva—who resigned from the position in 2008 after clashes with Lula over a new hydroelectric dam permitting process—announced she would endorse Lula’s candidacy after he committed to over 20 policies she proposed. They include the introduction of carbon pricing, issuing new financial incentives for sustainable farming, and creating a so-called National Climate Change Authority to ensure all public policies adhere to Brazil’s Paris Agreement targets. O Globo reported that the creation of the body was Silva’s top priority. As for whether Lula would keep his promises, she said, “It was a public commitment made in front of everyone.”
The reunion between Marina and Lula energized activists. “Marina Silva makes me cry with hope,” tweeted former federal environmental official Natalie Unterstell.
Speaking to O Globo, Marina said she decided to move forward with her endorsement not only due to Lula’s environmental commitments but also to create a broad front against Bolsonaro. In recent weeks, the president—whom Marina called “the threat of threats”—has inched up in polls. Pollster Datafolha calculates he moved from an 18-point lag behind Lula in late July to an 11- point lag last week.
As Lula continues to formulate his potential climate policies, advocates have worked to develop policies of their own in the hope of influencing the next government. Unterstell, for her part, helped oversee the creation of a 10-part plan for decarbonizing Brazil’s economy that was created by consulting more than 100 policy experts. They estimate the plan would create at least 250,000 new green jobs in areas such as recycling and managing a carbon market.
Meanwhile, a coalition of over 230 activist groups and nongovernmental organizations named Amazon on Its Feet is collecting signatures to propose a new forest protection law in Brazil’s National Congress. Once a threshold of 1.5 million signatures is reached, the law would move through Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies like any other. Only four so-called popular initiative measures have ever become law in Brazil, but campaign coordinator Karina Penha told Foreign Policy that the lengthy process is worth it.
“We are betting on popular mobilization,” she said. And during election time, it’s all the more important “so that politicians understand this is an urgent issue.”
Saturday, Sept. 24: Brazil holds a televised presidential debate.
Monday, Sept. 26: The U.N. Human Rights Council discusses Venezuela.
Sunday, Oct. 2: Brazilians vote in general elections.
Deal-making in Mexico. A high-level U.S. delegation that included U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Mexico City this week at Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s request. Although a multibillion-dollar trade dispute currently looms large over relations between the two countries, participants in the meeting struck a friendly tone, and U.S. officials said that planned investments in domestic manufacturing could offer spillover benefits to Mexican suppliers.
Afterward, Reuters reported that U.S. officials had pressed Mexico to accept more migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, whom the United States is turning away at its borders under Title 42, a controversial Trump-era rule that enables the United States to effectively remove migrants’ right to seek asylum.
Fertilizer trails. While Russia’s war in Ukraine has politicized access to natural gas in Europe, the same could be said of fertilizer in Latin America, analyst James Bosworth points out in the Latin America Risk Report. Russia is one of the world’s leading fertilizer producers, and its global price has shot up since February. “Latin America should be rethinking its dependency on fertilizer from Russia and elsewhere outside the hemisphere,” Bosworth wrote.
In Brazil, dependence on Russian fertilizer is part of why Bolsonaro has refrained from criticizing the Kremlin. In Colombia, access to fertilizer is a driving issue amid the country’s reestablishment of relations with oil-rich Venezuela. In Peru, which imports much of its fertilizers from Russia, President Pedro Castillo’s high subsidies for fertilizers could help keep his popularity high despite repeated scandals.
New gourmet. In southern Mexico, street vendors have long sold fried grasshoppers, known as chapulines, as a crunchy, tangy snack. As eaters both in and out of the country look for beef alternatives, chapulines’ appeal has grown. Mexico’s government has even begun to study how to regulate the market, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.
Often served as a guacamole topping, chapulines are now appearing at fine restaurants and even as a hamburger meat substitute. Although they are experiencing a boom today, the culinary tradition comes from precolonial times and was enjoyed by the Indigenous Aztecs.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the bugs are not cheap. They require harvesting using special nets, and different times of year are ideal for catching different ages of the bugs, author María Ítaka writes for Culinary Backstreets. “Chapulines are for tacos or tostadas what grated parmesan is for pasta; they upgrade any dish with their herby and slightly acidic aftertaste.”
Brazil is home to the majority of the Amazon biome. What country is home to the second-largest portion?
Amid a string of political turbulence in Peru, deforestation levels in the country hit six historical highs in the past 10 years, according to University of Maryland data.
FP’s Most Read This Week
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• A Ukrainian Victory Would Liberate Eastern Europe by Brian Whitmore
In Focus: Quitting the Crown
Last year, Barbados turned heads by removing Queen Elizabeth II as its official head of state. It was the first former British colony and member of the Commonwealth of Nations to take this step since 1992. Meanwhile, other former colonies in the Caribbean have created committees tasked with demanding reparations from London for slavery and colonization.
Those efforts were energized further last week after Elizabeth’s death. The monarch’s passing comes “amid increasing calls for the United Kingdom to reckon with its colonial history and as republican sentiment gains traction among countries in the Caribbean,” FP’s Amy Mackinnon reported.
“Most people didn’t understand we were independent yet we have the queen as head of state,” Jamaican reparations and republicanism advocate Rosalea Hamilton told the Miami Herald. “We’re being told about protocols we now have to follow to transition from a queen to a king; the mourning period … all of this is new to Jamaica. And it is now raising more discussions about this transition.”
Back in June, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s minister of legal and constitutional affairs, said officials were working to transition the country toward being a republic by 2025. And in Belize, a constitutional reform commission is set to consider whether the nation should do the same.
In the past few days, more announcements followed suit. Last Friday, the prime minister of the Bahamas said a referendum on the country becoming a republic was “always” on the table. On Saturday, Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister said he plans to hold a referendum on casting off the British monarchy within three years.
The Caribbean was a key proving ground for the British imperial strategy of enrichment through chattel slavery in the 17th through 19th centuries, FP’s Howard French wrote this week.
“Given the immensity of the horrors inflicted through slavery on Black people in the Caribbean, the British have traditionally preferred to think of their empire as having been seated in India. But starting long before the Raj, it was this region, the so-called West Indies, that would see a succession of the richest colonies in economic history,” French wrote.
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