South America leaders gather to discuss protection of Amazon


Representatives of the Huitoto and Ticuna indigenous communities sit outside the room where leaders of several South American nations that share the Amazon are meeting, in Leticia, on Colombia’s Amazon river border with Brazil and Peru, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Presidents and representatives from several countries in South America’s Amazon region met to discuss a joint strategy for preserving the world’s largest rain forest, which has been under threat from a record number of wildfires. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

LETICIA, Colombia (AP) — Leaders of several South American nations that share the Amazon gathered Friday in Colombia to boost protection of the world’s largest rainforest.

But the one-day summit in Leticia — a town on the Amazon River where the borders of Colombia, Peru and Brazil meet — ended with little concrete action and exposed deep ideological and political rifts over sustainable development of the world’s largest absorber of carbon emissions.

While Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, who was born in the Amazon, offered an emotional, song-filed homage to the diverse plant and animal life with which he was raised, his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, launched into an attack on first world leaders for allegedly conspiring against the nations’ sovereignty over the region.

“We are killing the earth,” said Moreno, who was on the edge of tears as he recounted flying over the Amazon River, which he compared to a giant, dead Anaconda snake, “and all of us are responsible.”

Host Ivan Duque and his Peruvian counterpart Martín Vizcarra convoked the one-day summit following global outrage over a surge in the number of fires in the Amazon this year, which triggered a wave of protests at Brazilian diplomatic missions worldwide this week over Bolsonaro’s alleged indifference to environmental concerns. Since the start of the year, there have been more than 95,500 fires in Brazil, up 59% from the same period in 2018, according to government data. Neighboring Bolivia has also been ravaged by wildfires.

Efforts to jointly protect the Amazon began with the 1978 signing of a treaty by eight Amazon nations. All of them were represented at the summit with the exception of socialist-run Venezuela, whose exclusion was criticized by Bolivian President Evo Morales, a close ally of the embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.

But cooperation among the countries has stalled even as threats from climate change, unchecked development as well as illegal mining and drug trafficking have increased in the region.

Instead of focusing on those common challenges, Bolsonaro chose to lash out at an array of critics — socialists, indigenous groups and even France’s Emmanuel Macron — who he said alternately want to appropriate for themselves the Amazon’s riches or shut off from the modern world a region that’s home to more than 34 million people.

“This international outrage has the only goal of attacking Brazil’s sovereignty,” said Bolsonaro, who participated via videoconference due to medical restrictions preventing him from flying. “I regret that Brazil has been asleep for decades and is only now waking up to this threat.”

The meeting, under a thatch-roofed traditional building, began with the leaders being welcomed by a delegation of indigenous dancers with ornamental headdresses. Honoring the region’s vibrant ancestral culture, several leaders wore necklaces made of beads gathered from the Amazon.

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