If you care about the mega-diverse ecosystems of Latin America and the Caribbean — and the economic health and welfare of its nations — you’ll want to read this brief essay about China’s role in the region’s development future.
Especially about the Amazon, Bolivia’s dam, and Jaguar fangs.
THE BELT & ROAD IN LATIN AMERICA
China is the biggest investor in Latin America — spending tens of billions of dollars each year on big road, dam, rail, mining, logging, and fossil-fuel projects.
Those investments could explode with China’s Belt & Road Initiative — by far the biggest development scheme in Earth’s history.
The Belt & Road originally spanned 70 nations in Asia, Africa, and Europe. But it keeps growing. It now includes Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Arctic, encompassing 130 nations and much of the planet.
At present, the Belt & Road will involve roughly 7,000 new mega-projects with an incredible cost — perhaps $8 trillion in total.
If you really want to learn about the Belt & Road, watch this recent public lecture (by ALERT director Bill Laurance at the University of Queensland). If it doesn’t scare you, you probably don’t have a pulse.
Unfortunately, no-one in China will see this lecture or anything like it.
Inside China, bad news about the Belt & Road is blocked by China’s government censors, its Great Internet Firewall, and a great deal of passive censorship — meaning no Chinese journalist who is sane would translate a negative story about the Belt & Road into Mandarin Chinese.
The Belt & Road is the scheme of President Xi Jinping — potentially China’s leader for life. Thanks to Xi Jinping, the Belt & Road is officially inscribed into the Charter of the Central Communist Party, making it illegal for any Chinese citizen or media outlet to openly criticize it.
Inside China, there are few brakes on the Belt & Road. Very little transparency. No balance. No open debate.
It’s not the fault of the Chinese people. It’s the fault of their authoritarian government.
And as the Belt & Road advances into Latin America and the Caribbean, there are very good reasons to worry.
For one thing, Chinese companies and financiers commonly use corruption to get what they want—bribing even at the highest levels of a government.
According to Transparency International, a highly respected organization, “There have been no investigations or charges ever laid in China against its companies, citizens, or residents for foreign corrupt practices”.
That’s truly astonishing. For Chinese firms and financiers, it’s OK — bribe away!
Furthermore, most Chinese corporations don’t reveal what they spent, where they spend it, or how much profits they make. That’s why only a few Chinese firms are listed on international stock-exchanges, such as the Dow Jones or ASIC, which require financial transparency.
This is a formula for promoting bad business practices, social abuses, environmental crimes, and predatory development.
These are massive risks for the 130 host nations that China wants to exploit for minerals, fossil fuels, timber, food, and land, as well as for ports and other geopolitical assets.
Giant risks also abound for the myriad investors from around the world that are being asked to help to pay for the Belt & Road — investors that could potentially contribute trillions of dollars to the venture. Unless these investors are careful, they could lose vast sums of money and take gigantic hits on their reputations.
How will the Belt & Road impact on Latin America and the Caribbean? You could write a book. Here are three examples:
1. Killer Dam: In Bolivia, Chinese mega-firm Sinohydro is building a major dam that will rip through the heart of Carrasco National Park — a jewel of tropical biodiversity. You can see a 30-second video about it here (and here in Spanish).
2. Assault on the Amazon: In Brazil, President Bolsonaro — an authoritarian populist with an extreme pro-development agenda, often called the “Tropical Trump” — is turning to China to help it fund an assault on the Amazon. With Chinese support, Bolsonaro wants to crisscross the Amazon with new roads, railroads, dams, mines, and other big development projects — potentially shredding the world’s greatest rainforest and imperiling its many indigenous groups.
3. Slaughtering Jaguars: China is the world’s biggest consumer of wildlife and wildlife parts. This is now impacting the magnificent Jaguar, which is being hunted down across Latin America for its fangs, pelt, and bones — in order to feed an insatiable Chinese market.
SMART DEVELOPMENT OR BAD DEVELOPMENT?
Nobody could argue that Latin America and the Caribbean don’t urgently need smart economic and social development.
But there’s a world of difference between well-conceived development that benefits a wide cross-section of society, versus ill-advised, often predatory projects that leave host nations mired in debt.
Such ‘bad’ projects tend to enrich a few powerful people — such as certain politicians and land developers — but the rest of the population gains little or falls behind economically.
Many bad projects also create environmental crises — creating long-term social and economic problems for the host nations.
ALERT’s scientists and economists are calling out the Belt & Road juggernaut— underscoring its exceptional dangers and excesses, of which we see far too many.
Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.