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Bush, Biofuels and Latin America

March 2007

This is the first of three articles that we will be publishing about biofuels and their impact on trade, the environment and the water and land rights of rural workers and indigenous and traditional Afro-descendant communities in Latin America.

This week President Bush begins a three-week trip to four Latin American countries. His first stop is in Brazil where he will discuss a bi-national agreement around ethanol production.

Latin America, especially Brazil, is seen as the potential supplier for the increasing demand for ethanol in the U.S. Some go so far as to say that the coming boom will lead to a new bio-fuel based power structure, a 21st century version of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Far from seeing this as an opportunity for independence and new political power, however, many Latin Americans are concerned that ethanol will be yet another commodity that the U.S. economy controls in the region.

Worse, according to many social movements in Brazil, which are planning demonstrations during Bush’s visit, these new energy and trade policies will expand the reach of agribusinesses that have exploited workers, displaced rural families and have seriously damaged the bio-diversity of Latin America.

Representatives of organizations and social movements from Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic have expressed their concerns about the expansion of ethanol production. In an open letter this week these organizations stated, “The current bio-energy production model is based on the same factors that have caused the oppression of our people: appropriation of our land, our natural resources and labor.”

Latin Americans are also seeing the U.S. interest in ethanol production in the region with some alarm because of the history of U.S. policies related to energy around the world, including the use of military force to protect its access to oil reserves in other countries, especially in the Middle East.

As an alternative to a blanket embrace of ethanol, people in the United States might be interested in learning about and supporting local initiatives for food sovereignty, environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient technologies and public transportation. The skepticism of peasants and indigenous communities in Latin America demonstrate that bio-fuels, as envisioned by agribusiness and as promoted by President Bush during his visit, are not the cleaner and greener solution that their boosters would have us believe.

Globalize hope, globalize women’s rights for food sovereignty, respect and dignity. March 8, International Women’s Day.

More information:

The Myth of Biofuels by Edivan Pinto, Marluce Melo and Maria Luisa Mendonça

Brazil’s Ethanol Plan Breeds Rural Poverty, Environmental Degradation by Isabella Kenfield

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