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Cows graze in a deforested pasture on the Yari plains, in Caqueta, Colombia March 3, 2021. Picture taken March 3, 2021.

REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Deforestation surges in Colombia – and you’ll never guess why

For years, Colombian rebels and narcos perfected the art of kidnapping people for ransom – now they are holding the rainforest hostage.

New figures show that after declining for many years, deforestation in the Andean country has shot up 40% in each of the last two quarters.

The culprit? A major armed group that controls vast swathes of the jungle rescinded an earlier order to protect the vital forest resource. The “Estado Mayor Central,” as the guerilla command is known, is now using the rainforest as a bargaining chip in peace talks with the government, by allowing, or forcing, local farmers to clear trees for cattle or coca farms.

By way of background: In 2016, the government signed a peace accord that ended decades of war with the FARC, the largest of various Marxist and narcotrafficking groups active in the country. But as those rebels demobilized, other violent groups filled the vacuum.

President Gustavo Petro, the country’s first leftist president (himself a former guerrilla), pledged during his 2022 campaign to reduce chronic violence by negotiating a “Total Peace” with all armed groups. He also committed himself to a pro-environment agenda. Suddenly, those are two branches of a common problem.

Line graph of Amazon rainforest deforestation


The Graphic Truth: The big picture of rainforest deforestation

Eight Amazon rainforest nations are gathering in Brazil this week for a two-day summit of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization. It’s the first time the group has convened in 14 years, and negotiations on more than 130 issues are expected to prove contentious, especially proposals to prohibit new drilling projects and end deforestation.

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Hong Kong and Chinese national flags are flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2020.

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

What We’re Watching: Hong Kong a year later, Brazilian troops in the Amazon, Mexico’s marijuana moves

RIP Hong Kong as we knew it: Exactly a year ago on Wednesday, China imposed a draconian new national security law on Hong Kong. The measure gives Chinese authorities broad leeway to punish political dissent. It came in response to a massive pro-democracy movement on the semi-autonomous island that was touched off by Beijing's attempt to subject Hong Kongers to the jurisdiction of courts in mainland China, where the judicial system is more politicized. Since the new security law went into effect last summer, almost all vestiges of Hong Kong's once-vibrant civil society and relative political openness have been snuffed out. Opposition leaders have been jailed, pro-democracy lawmakers sidelined, and the free press largely shuttered. Meanwhile the US has revoked preferential trade and investment ties with Hong Kong, a number of European countries have cut extradition agreements, and most (but not all) countries around the world have condemned China's policy. And yet, from the perspective of Chinese President Xi Jinping, this is all arguably a win. He has suppressed one of the biggest popular challenges to China's authority in recent years, and made real the idea that there is only one system of government in China: his.

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Brazil’s uncertain role in the world: Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Brazil’s uncertain role in the world | GZERO World with Ian Bremmer

Brazil’s uncertain role in the world: Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and has been long considered an emerging global power. How does Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who served as Brazil's 34th president from 1995 to 2003, see Brazil's role in the world? On the topic of climate change, Cardoso observed, "The average people don't look after the Amazon, as an asset or a problem. And the Amazon represents both, an asset and a problem. We have to keep the Amazon going on." Cardoso, who is considered Brazil's elder statesman, also shared his perspective on his nation's relationship with China and attempts at global peace, in an interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Brazil on the brink

Podcast: Brazil on the brink: perspective from former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso


Listen: Latin America's largest economy has endured years of economic hardship, a barrage of political scandals, and one of the worst pandemic death tolls in the world. So where does Brazil go from here and how much longer can its president hold onto power? Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who remains one of the most influential political figures in the country, joins Ian Bremmer to discuss Brazil's increasingly divided society, the potential fate of its current far-right leader, the prospects of his most likely challenger (known to all as "Lula") the climate crisis in the Amazon, and the country's complicated relationship with China.

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Bolsonaro's Brazil is divided and in crisis
Ian Bremmer: Bolsonaro’s Brazil Is Divided and in Crisis | GZERO Media

Bolsonaro's Brazil is divided and in crisis

Ian's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone and got a Quick Take for you as we kick off this week. Thought we would talk today about Brazil. It is the epicenter today for coronavirus. The healthcare system in the country is getting overwhelmed. Over 90% of ICU beds are filled in most of the states in the country. As a consequence, you are triaging healthcare. This is what you remember happened briefly in Northern Italy at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. It's what we feared could happen in New York City, though never quite did. You've got nearing 4,000 deaths a day in Brazil right now, per capita that's worse than anything we've seen in the United States. And yeah, we blame the government. We blame President Bolsonaro.

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Smoke billows from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil.

REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

Who controls the “lungs of Earth”?

Those fighting to halt climate change call the Amazon rainforest the "lungs of Earth," and they're frustrated that Brazil's current president has made his country a chain-smoker.

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