Economic Development and Environmental Protection in Latin America

By Joseph S. Tulchin | Go to book overview

13
Commentary

Thomas E. Lovejoy

It is quite apparent from everything that has been said that this subject is very complex.Environment and economics are intertwined in a variety of ways; I do not think that is terribly surprising. We are at a real moment of truth between ourselves and the total biological system on the planet. It is also a moment of truth between the North and the South and between the rich and the poor.In a sense the debt conversion mechanism can help to resolve these problems. It takes on an extra symbolic value as a consequence. Almost by definition the countries that are saddled with heavy debt are not in a position to do the things they may clearly see they need to do for their environment. I heartily endorse Congressman Porter's very broad definition of what debt conversion for environmental purposes can include.We also are at a point where the federal government is fairly broke as well. Under those circumstances, and until we reach a point where we are more comfortable about turning some guns into butter, debt-for-nature swaps are one of the principal resources we can use in countries that are so driven down by international debt.

I would like to make one minor clarification on something Richard Liroff said.Originally, when we thought about debt-for-nature at the World Wildlife Fund, we saw it as a way to pay for things we wanted to do, projects we had already programmed.But very early on, the ball was taken—and very happily taken—by nationals in the countries involved. Most of these packages have been put together entirely within the country in question, others with some consultation from the point of view of what is likely to sell. Clearly we have to move to an era where debt conversion for these purposes is not solely dependent on the limited working capital of the private conservation organizations of this country. That is what is so heartening about the Madagascar debt swap, where, for the first time, US government dollars, albeit funneled through a

____________________
Thomas E. Lovejoy is assistant secretary for external affairs for the Smithsonian Institution.

-93-

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