Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Minister From the Wrong Environment

Colombian biodiversity - in good hands?

After eight years, Colombia, one of the world's most biodiverse nations, finally has a minister of the environment again. 

In 2003, then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe merged the ministry of the environment into that of housing and territorial development - in order to save money, I suppose. A glance at the combined ministry's website shows that its housing side, which generates political support, gets lots more priority than does environmental regulation, which can cost votes.

So it was encouraging last June when Pres. Juan Manuel Santos once again gave the environment its own ministry.

Frank Pearl: Good at resolving armed conflict,
but can he protect the environment?
However, it would be more reassuring if Pres. Juan Manuel Santos had actually appointed an environmentalist to head the ministry. His designee, Frank Pearl is, by all appearances, an intelligent, accomplished well-meaning guy. He was Pres. Uribe's high commissioner for integrating ex-guerrilla and paramilitary combatants into society. He's also got university degrees in law, economics and business administration, and has taught, worked and studied in such far-flung places as Canada, Russia, Ukrania and Lithuania. He's also been an activist against Colombia's conflict.

An open-pit mine in Colombia.
The gold, coal and other industries
want more of these.
But missing from his resume is experience on the environment. As Colombia's environmental minister,  Pearl will be charged with safeguarding some of the planet's greatest biodiversity - at a time when it is under assault by oil, mining, agricultural and other economic interests eager to yank Colombia's natural resources out of the ground and ship them north to wealthy nations.

One suspects, unfortunately, that Pearl was chosen because, as a greenhorn on the environment  and untrained in biodiversity defense, extraction industries expect him to be a pushover for those strip-mining, clear-cutting multinationals.

Wasn't there anybody else available? The leader of an environmentalist NGO? A respected official in the existing ministry of the environment and housing?

Sandra Bessudo: Too radical to be minister?
Back in July, the president had said he'd appoint Sandra Bessudo, a current ministry official and accomplished defender of the marine environment, to head the new ministry. But Bessudo, something of a hippie Earth child, was perhaps too radical and unconventional for Pres. Santos' pro-business agenda. Fortunately, at least, she will be staying on at the ministry.

Most disappointingly, I haven't heard any objections to Pearl's apppointment. In fact, Colombian beauty queen crownings have sometimes generated more controversy.

Perhaps Pearl will surprise. For Colombia's future, let's hope he does.

But I'm not betting on it. And I suspect that the multinationals don't expect him too, either.

See Also: Environment: A Ministry Found. ... and Lost?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

1 comment:

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