When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Brazilian Fires 'Finally' Spark Colombian Concerns Over Rainforest

Colombians were not overtly upset by deforestation in their country until recently. But massive media coverage of the Brazilian Amazon on fire may be changing attitudes.

Fire in Rondonia, Porto Velho, Brazil on Aug. 26
Fire in Rondonia, Porto Velho, Brazil on Aug. 26
María Mónica Monsalve S.

BOGOTÁ — Brazil's 72,000 forest fires have finally prompted an unprecedented, global reaction to deforestation. One of our readers has angrily written, "My son has sent me El Espectador"s article on the Amazon fires. He asks me what we can do. It made me cross, I don't know. I don't see anything. Desperate things, I guess: clinging to trees. Months ago we were trying to plant something, which requires a lot of energy and strength."

The 72,850 fires registered in Brazil, mostly concentrated in the northwestern states of Acre and Amazonas, are provoking an immense sense of impotence, and prompting people to ask whether something can be done, or if it is too late. How can we avoid deforestation — a phenomenon that we have lived with for years but that needed a huge fire to finally turn into a global conversation?

There have been numerous suggestions intended to make us feel less helpless. Some people are simply praying while others have uploaded pictures onto the social networks. Others are organizing sit-ins or urging people to vote for better politicians. Or should we resign ourselves, or maybe eat less meat?

Carolina Gil, the Colombia program director of the Amazon Conservation Team, says that many feel there is no point in physically going to put out the fire as that is the duty of the Brazilian state. But she agrees with many experts who have spoken to El Espectador, that while there is nothing we can do for the trees and soil that have burned, we can still "honor" them by paying attention to the Amazon region. And not just the 60% of it that is in Brazil but also Colombia's share of the Amazon, which was up in flames just recently and shrank by 144,147 hectares in 2017.

Yes, do cut down on red meat

If we wish to be coherent on "saving the Amazon," we must certainly eat less red meat, or do so at least while demanding that firms and governments duly certify the means of production and origin of red meat. "Livestock farming is the world's biggest engine of deforestation and this happens in Brazil and Colombia," says Rodrigo Botero, head of the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, a Colombian non-governmental agency. While in the Brazilian states of Pará, Mato Grosso and Rondonia farmlands are aggressively expanded to make room for livestock, soy and African palm cultivation, in Colombia, Botero says, "in the past three years, they have razed 300,000 hectares to make way for 550,000 cattle heads."

Just like there are international treaties on not buying palm oil that comes from deforested areas, the same should happen with red meat.

The 2018 IPCC climate report was very clear recently in stating that we have already exploited 72% of all unfrozen land and must curb meat consumption. This must go beyond individual decisions meant to put our conscience at rest, and complement governmental action. Governments should ban livestock farming, says Botero, if it entails deforestation or happens in the Amazon. "Just like there are international treaties on not buying palm oil that comes from deforested areas, the same should happen with red meat," says Botero.

The power of electing really Green politicians

Colombia's President Iván Duque recently declared the Amazonian calamity as having "no frontiers." "Everyone must be concerned," he tweeted, adding his administration's willingness to back efforts to "protect the world's lungs," though he did not go into any details. While we have little faith left in our ability to choose politicians, experts agree that politicians do react, and take action, if their image is at stake. "That is where we can do something, with the pressure that we, as citizens, can exert on their political prestige," says Botero. Putting a grim picture of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro next to every photograph of the burning rainforest has consequences. It is true that forest fires are normal in this period, the driest time of the year in that region, but Bolsonaro's climate-hostile policies (he himself is a denier of climate change) have contributed to the current scenario.

Satellite image of the fires burning in South America on Aug. 22 — Source: NASA

Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, has said that Brazil has had many "difficult, environmental moments," but this was the first time the state was brazenly favoring the rainforest's destruction. Speaking in Colombia recently, she said that the Bolsonaro government"s resolve to roll back environmental norms suggested it was "in a race against the Amazonian rainforest, for wood or gold." She insists this is not a matter of politics but of ethics. The technology to avoid the destruction exists, she notes, but "it is the ethics of everyone that have failed here."

But, what is the use of putting pressure on our politicians? Can they do something? Peru's environmental lawyer César Ipeza says that having politicians speak up about the environment "is a first step." This, he says, leads to the possibility of implementing some neglected instruments of international law. "Imagine a scenario in which the effects of pollution from the fires and the smoke reach neighboring countries, similarly to what happened in Sao Paulo. This would amount to cross-border pollution and there is a principle that prohibits any state from using its territory to harm a neighboring country," says Ipeza.

Having politicians speak up about the environment is a first step.

There are grounds for claiming damages and demanding a compensation here, he adds, mentioning the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization that binds eight countries, including Colombia.

A moving image

Both Gil and Botero are surprised by one thing: the number of calls they have received over the past ten days after 30 years of working on the Amazon, including from politicians of differing credos. None of these had shown a particular concern for forests so far. "When they burned land in Colombia earlier this year, we also shared pictures of what was happening," says Botero. "Even though they were just as awful, there wasn't even 1% of the mobilization seen with the Brazil fires."

He urged Colombians to "raise the same hue and cry" when farmers engage in felling and burning in the Colombian Amazon. "I see this as an incredible opportunity," says Botero. "Our neighboring country is burning and people are worried. We are finally seeing the common house, the global house, and people are taking common goods into account."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

Keep reading...Show less

The latest