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The Amazon Crisis - An outcome of the International Forum

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Globalization in the Amazon: Exploiting Natural Resources and the
Sustainability of the Human Factor

May 26th-28th, 2010
University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel

Prof. Amos Megged, Chairperson the Helena Lewin Chair in Latin American Studies
PhD Cambridge 1989 Senior Lecturer in Mesoamerican Ethnohistory
Department of General History, University of Haifa, Israel

Juliano Klevanskis Candido, MA
Department of General History, University of Haifa, Israel


The Amazon Basin is the largest, dense tropical rainforest in the world, covering about 7,235,430 square kilometres, an area larger than the entire continental United States. It is drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries, containingnearly one-third of the world’s species, one-fifth of the earth's fresh-water supply and within this vast space are 80% of the world's medicinal plants. For the past two decades or so, the Amazon Basin has witnessed the growing currents of social upheaval and catastrophes, side by side with disastrous, environmental consequences. By 1995 paved highways linked the major towns, hydroelectric dams on the Tocantins, Uatam? and Jamar? converted the rivers into large terra firme lakes, and the headwaters of the principal tributaries had been devastated physically and contaminated chemically by gold mining. Hundreds of square kilometres of virgin forest had been replaced by pasture and numerous indigenous populations had been displaced. Concurrently, the entire region is also undergoing a massive process of deforestation; unique plant species used for extracting medicine, as well as unique bird species are progressively becoming extinct. Human traditional activities, such as rubber tapping, are also under threat, especially in the southern Amazonas state, in the Purus and Jurua river valleys.

Currently, there is an intensified involvement of foreign NGO’s in the conflicts arising between indigenous groups and commercial actors that are invading the forest. Take for example, the German NGO's Brotf?r die Welt (Bread for the World), Robin Wood, Tropenholznetzwerk, GFBV who support the Tupiniquim and even the Guarani against the Aracruz Celulose S.A. production line. The protest is led by the German Lutheran Church.26 other foreign organizations are now working in many areas of the Amazon, side by side with over a hundred Brazilian NGO's.

The Amazon crisis still requires cautious review, which is the object of this symposium and workshops:

• "Is Globalization of the Amazon "indeed a reality? One of the most disturbing issues at stake is the degree in which local disastrous trends are fueled by Brazilian agents-of-change or by global, external, driving forces? The assumption is that about 70% of the harmful consequences are caused by Brazilian factors and actors, and only 30% by foreign-global factors (See: the 17th USAID Report from November 2009). What is the degree of the dialogues conducted by incoming companies with local actors?

• How the different law-enforcement agencies manage to both supervise and curb deforestation; excess mining; illegal dumping of fuels and intoxicants (kaolin) into the Amazon earth and rivers, and other harmful trends.

• Governmental initiatives: the current REDD policy aims to reduce deforestation by 80% until 2020. The Brazilian government seeks to reach this target through a series of incentives for forest conservation which will be conducted through forest conservation for indigenous and traditional groups, and reduction of emissions by settlers and private property owners (in Acre state). There is currently also an official ban on deforestation for cattle ranching in the Amazon, since November 2009. The question remains whether such policy is really implemented and is it effective?

• The allocation of lands to private and commercial sectors: the issue of lands and the privatization of Amazon lands by various agencies through both legal and illegal means coincide with the issue of assigning protected lands to the different indigenous tribes. On many occasions, there is an obvious conflict between the two.

• Yet another significant issue that requires attention is the role and capacity of local, indigenous initiatives of conserving the forest lands and developing self-awareness of managing their resources vis-?-vis the new challenges, such as the outflow from remote villages, and increasing links with towns and cities (The establishment of Ethno-environmental protection zones).

• In this context also is the issue of consider how best indigenous peoples can optimize the opportunities presented by the access and benefit sharing (ABS) debate in furtherance of the development imperative in international intellectual property law and policy. What are the obstacles that indigenous peoples face in the ABS process and how may those be mitigated for a meaningful indigenous people’s engagement in the new knowledge economy?

The goal of this symposium and workshop is to initiate a serious gathering of experts to form a unique framework of a "think-tank" over the entire complex of all these urging predicaments. In this light, then, this international symposium aims to further enhance public and governmental awareness and actions concerning the crucial implications and repercussions of the above issues on the Amazon Basin. It brings together leading, international experts from the diverse fields of the social and environmental sciences, and non-governmental organizations, side by side with senior representatives of petroleum and wood companies and the pharmaceutical industry, within the framework of a three-day concentrated endeavour.

• As expected, the outcomes of stirring such debate should result in the reaching of a special consideration over the need to establish a far more cautiously balanced policy of material exploitation, vis-?-vis human conservation and environmental sustainability of the Amazon basin for the generations to come.

The University of Haifa is the home of the Helena Lewin Chair in Latin American Studies, which is committed to current political, social and environmental developments, innovation and change in Latin America, as well as to historical aspects. In this spirit, back in 2002, this Chair initiated an international symposium that dealt with Impunity and Human Rights in Latin America, from the legal angle, in which leading jurists from Latin America and Spain participated. As a direct consequence of this present symposium, the Helena Lewin Chair in Latin American Studies strives to make public 'guiding principles' in order to preserve these forests and its peoples.

The workshop will be structured in the form of: a) plenary sessions, open to public and to the world press, in which the participants will address the most urging issues of this workshop (in English), and b) closed, round-table sessions (in English and Portuguese), during which discussions will be held among the participants in order to try and bring to light 'guiding principles' for resolving major issues, such as the growing currents of social unrest in the area, territorial rights, and patent rights of the indigenous peoples over natural resources and local traditional medicines. As one of the ten participants especially invited for this workshop, you will be expected to deliver one of the keynote speeches during one of the plenary sessions, as well as actively participate in the closed, working sessions and contribute your share in the composition of the formal document which we hope to materialize as a by-product of this workshop.

The city of Haifa sits atop Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In many respects, this city has become both a model and a symbol of coexistence, tolerance and mutual respect among Jews, Arabs, Druze, and new immigrants, who form an integrated part of a student body– the most pluralistic in the country – of more than 18,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Haifa. The University of Haifa is the largest comprehensive research university in northern Israel. It is a microcosm of Israeli society dedicated to academic excellence and social responsibility. Inter-disciplinary programs, cooperative endeavours with academic institutes around the world and a diverse student body primed to address regional challenges and universal social issues.