Economic and Environmental Concerns in Latin America

The article "Environment and Trade," Dec. 4, gives a good account of the economic, societal, and environmental problems in much of Latin America.Stipulations by the International Monetary Fund and other lenders of capital to the area have worsened these problems. In order to more quickly pay back interest on their loans, many of these countries have been forced to pour more money into crops that yield a high profit in the international market (bananas, coffee, etc.) and less into social programs and staple food crops like rice and beans. While in Costa Rica last July with other University of Maine students, I was able to attend some lectures at their National University in the city of Heredia. Professors of political science, ecology, and environmental studies all expressed their concerns about the impact of these economic policies. As more and more land is being turned over to cash-crop farmers, subsistence farmers are forced to "slash and burn" rain forest to get land for farming. Unfortunately, the tropical soil in countries like Costa Rica is rendered virtually useless after five to 10 years of this type of farming - and the land displacement, slash-and-burn cycle continues. The need for economic development is urgent, but any agreements made by the United States should include guarantees that cultural and environmental concerns will be met. Progress in the upgrading of working conditions and wages to approach those in the US should also be stressed. With estimates that at the present rate of deforestation the tropical rain forest will disappear in the next 10 years, these problems must be dealt with quickly and correctly. The cost to the global environment and to the future of Latin Americans will be much too great if it is not. Mark Bouchie, Smyrna Mills, Maine

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