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The Facts

Click here to subscribe to the print edition. [image, unknown] New Internationalist 356[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] May 2003[image, unknown] Click here to search the mega index.

Latin America / THE FACTS

Liberation may be on its way – but
there’s a long way to go.

New movements are tackling common environmental issues in Latin America – they have a lot to do.4

[image, unknown]  Between 1972 and 2000 the urban population rose from 58.9% to 75.3% of the total.

[image, unknown]  Air pollution affects more than 80 million people in the region and is the main cause of 2.3 million annual cases of respiratory disease in children.

Photo: Julio Etchart
Photo: Julio Etchart

[image, unknown]  The region has more than 30% of the world’s total renewable water resources. But in 1995 27% of the population had no easy access to it.

[image, unknown]  The region has nearly a quarter of the world’s forest area containing 160 million cubic metres of wood – a third of the world total.

[image, unknown]  The rate of deforestation is the highest in the world; of the 418 million hectares of natural forest lost during the past 30 years, 190 million were in Latin America.

Latin America and the Caribbean:
change in forest area 1990-2000 (million hectares)

Total land area 2,017.8
Total land forested in 1990 1,011.0
Loss of forested land 1990-2000 46.7 million hectares

[image, unknown]  Latin America has 7 of the world’s 25 biologically richest ecoregions, containing between them 46,000 plant, 1,597 amphibian, 1,208 reptile, 1,267 bird and 575 mammal species.

[image, unknown]  As a result of habitat loss, 31 of the 178 ecoregions are in a critical state, 51 are endangered and 55 are vulnerable.

[image, unknown]  Soil erosion affects 14.3% of the land in South America and 26% in Central America. By 1980, nutrient depletion had affected 68.2 million hectares. Between 1972 and 1997 the use of chemical fertilizers increased from 3.7 to 10.9 million tonnes.

No progress has been made since the 1980s in reducing either the absolute or relative numbers of destitute people in Latin America.

People living on less than $1 a day.1
  People (millions) Share of population (%)

Photo: Julio Etchart
Photo: Julio Etchart

Human development
Every year the UN Development Programme ranks countries across a broad range of indicators – including health and education – and compiles a ‘Human Development Index’.

[image, unknown]   The latest Index, for the year 2000, shows Norway highest with a score of 0.942, Sierra Leone lowest with a score of 0.275.

[image, unknown]   On average, Latin America and the Caribbean scored 0.767 – as an individual country this would have placed it roughly in the middle of the 173 countries analyzed, on a par with Thailand (0.762) and Venezuela (0.772).

This is how the average for Latin America and the
Caribbean compares with the average for
‘High Human Development’ countries.

[image, unknown]

There are growing inequalities of material wealth between Latin Americans. Figures are scarce and not available for all countries in the same year. Those there are suggest that Paraguay now outstrips Brazil – which held the title for a long time – as the most unequal country in Latin America, and probably the world. The richest 10% of the Paraguayan population consumes 121.4 times as much as the poorest 10% – in Norway it’s only 5.3 times as much.

Income of richest 10% as a multiple of poorest 10%.
Selected countries, latest available years.2

[image, unknown]
Photo: Julio Etchart
Photo: Julio Etchart

Photo: Julio Etchart / Exile Images
Photo: Julio Etchart / Exile Images

Human rights
The worst years of military despotism in Latin America may have ended, but beneath the surface of ‘liberal democracy’ the systematic abuse of human rights continues.3

In the year 2001
[image, unknown] Torture and ill-treatment were reported in at least 20 Latin American countries, including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

[image, unknown] In Colombia over 300 people ‘disappeared’, more than 4,000 civilians were killed outside combat – the majority by army-backed paramilitaries – large numbers of people were displaced and over 1,700 people were kidnapped, mainly by guerrilla groups. Over 100 trade unionists and 10 journalists were killed.

[image, unknown]  In Argentina dozens of police killings were reported and over 30 people were killed during demonstrations at the end of the year.

[image, unknown]  In Brazil some 481 police killings were reported in São Paulo state alone.

[image, unknown]  In Peru approximately 200 people unjustly convicted of ‘terrorism’ charges were still in prison

More people, more trade – more debt

During the past decade foreign trade has increased a lot faster than population. The theoretical benefits to the people have, however, never materialized. Foreign debts have also risen faster than population, but most of the cash went into the pockets of a wealthy élite. The people of Latin America are now expected to repay them. In effect, the continent has been plundered of its resources simply to enrich a few – and ‘service’ mounting foreign debts.
More people, more trade – more debt

External debt servicing

*Regional Statistics invariably include the Caribbean with Latin America.
1 World Bank, World Development Report 2000-01.
2 UNDP, Human Development Report 2002, see also www.undp.org
3 Amnesty International, Annual Report 2002.
4 UN Environment Programme, State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective 1972-2002, Nairobi.
5 UN Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL), Aunario estadístico de América Latina y el Caribe 2001, Santiago, Chile.
6 World Bank, World Development Report 2002 and debt statistics from the World Bank website www.worldbank.org

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