Deforestation, Environment, and Sustained Development
in Latin America
Latin America is in many ways a test case for the ability of national govern- ments and the international community to restrain deforestation and attain sustainable development. The largest remaining tract of rainforest in the world, Amazonia, is in Latin America. Tropical South America as a whole is even larger, covering some 828 million hectares. Of this, some 59.8 percent was classified in 1995 as forest, and 0.6 percent of it—2,970,864 hectares—was lost each year between 1990 and 1995 (FAO 2000).
In Europe and the United States there has been extensive publicity for the deforestation of Amazonia, which is approximately as big as Australia. Amazonia captures the public imagination in a way that tropical Africa or Malaysia and Indonesia have failed to do. Partly the interest comes from its air of mystery as a region so impenetrable that it forms the refuge of most of the few remaining indigenous peoples not to have been incorporated into the global economy. The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 drew the world's attention to the role of Brazil as the custodian of the greater part of Amazonia. The role of the tropical rainforest in continuously renewing some one-fifth of our air supply (the sea does the rest) could hardly be more relevant to the rest of world. If only they were aware of just how important that might prove to be. However, at Rio nations were only able to agree on a vague Statement of Forest Principles, and as events have proved since, statements without actions are worse than useless.
The historical legacy of Amazonia is part of the problem. From the mo- ment of its discovery by Europeans there has been conquest and exploitation unrestrained by government and actually encouraged by law. The Amazon