The goal of Amazon Watch is to catalyze collaborative initiatives among local and international organizations towards the long-term protection of the Amazon Rainforest. Amazon Watch will target potential investors and key commodities markets. The strategy for the campaign is three fold: (1) deter and/or minimize impacts of ecologically disastrous projects while they are in the early stages of planning before capital has been accumulated and committed: (2) interject environmental and indigenous rights concerns at critical decision points: and (3) assist impacted communities in amassing economic and political clout for protection of their forest and for securing indigenous land titles.
Spanning over seven million square kilometers throughout eight countries, the Amazon Basin, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, is home to nearly half of the earth’s species and holds one fifth of all freshwater. It is estimated that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the Amazon rainforests have already been destroyed and an additional estimated 74,000 acres of rainforest are lost each year. In recent years, the rate of deforestation has increased by 34 percent in the Brazilian Amazon.
Development in the Amazon is shifting into high gear as a result of trade liberalization policies put into place by Mercosur, South America’s free trade agreement. Throughout the region, the end of hyperinflation has triggered consumer booms, while privatization of state owned enterprises is attracting record high foreign investments. South American countries have begun to physically integrate their economies by constructing interconnected transportation and energy infrastructure networks.
If built, the latest wave of massive infrastructure projects (roads, waterways, pipelines, railroads, and dams) planned to expand trade in the Amazon region, would open up the heart of the world’s largest tropical rainforest to intensive exploitation. These projects, which are being financed with private capital, will bring in their wake a trail of industrial logging, mining, oil extraction, cattle ranching, and large-scale agricultural development. At stake are millions of acres of pristine rainforests and indigenous people’s territories.
Amazon Watch is a new organization established in late 1996 in absence of campaigns by the major international forest protection groups to address the onslaught of new infrastructure schemes. Amazon Watch is investigation and disseminating critical information on the status, the potential environmental and human rights impact, and the players involved in these projects. In spring of 1996, Amazon Watch published an 82 page report entitled “Arteries for Global Trade, consequences for Amazonia,” which would connect Amazoian interiors with global markets via international shipping ports on the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The Key to protecting the ecology of the rainforest lies with securing rights to land for the region’s indigenous peoples. Indigenous land rights in most Amazon countries are weak or nonexistent. In Brazil, where there are strong land rights laws, the government has been backsliding on its 1998 constitutional mandate to demarcate all indigenous territories. Encroaching industrial development could provide an opportunity to settle long standing land claims or provide environmental protection to impacted communities if such communities can mobilize effectively.
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Phone: (301) 456-1340 or EarthWays (310) 456-8300
Amazon Watch is an independent project working in association with EarthWays; For the Earth.