From Paraguay to Italy: Development at All Costs

Jose Luis Coral, a farmer practicing family agriculture in
Colombia. Credit: Bibbi Abruzzini, Both Nomads, a multimedia studio
based in Brussels

By Bibbi Abruzzini
BRUSSELS, Nov 9 2020 (IPS)

I am speaking with Gladys and Raúl about civic space in
Paraguay, when Raúl suddenly tells me about the fires. Thick smoke
has reached the capital Asunción where he is based. In October,
Paraguay became Dante’s Inferno.

Wildfires broke out across the country
, with drought and record
high temperatures drying its rivers and lands. Most of the fires
concentrated in the vulnerable Chaco region in the west of the
country. Though the Amazon gets most of the attention, other
irreplaceable forests in Latin America are also under great

According to Earthside, the
dry forests of the Gran Chaco
are disappearing faster than any
other forests on Earth. By 2016, Paraguay had lost an area of
forest larger than Switzerland. This trend accelerated again in
2019. That year, every two minutes, a patch of forest the size of a
football pitch was bulldozed.

Raúl sends me a video on WhatsApp of a man burning land to
clear it for cattle ranching. Studies have shown that no
commodities in the world are more responsible for deforestation
than Paraguayan beef and leather. And what is the main destination
for leather? Some of Europe’s largest tanneries in Italy.

During undercover visits, Paraguayan tanneries bragged of
supplying leather to several famous car manufacturers, including
BMW models and the Range Rover Evoque.

“Everything in Paraguay has to do with the climate crisis. At
the moment, the middle-class doesn’t seem to suffer as much from
it, but the reality is that whether you live in the big residential
area or in the countryside, just like covid, the climate crisis
doesn’t discriminate, it’s going to affect us all”

“We are seeing it now in Paraguay with the fires and the
extreme droughts. Some of these phenomena were cyclical and normal
but now they are increasingly anomalous and profound,” says
Gladys. She works at POJOAJU, the platform for NGOs in
Paraguay, along with Raul.

“GDP growth doesn’t equal with sustainable development.
POJOAJU the name of our organization means manos juntas (hands
together). We want a horizontal cooperation, a responsible
cooperation, with sustainable development at its core. We don’t
need to reactivate the economy, we need to deconstruct it.”

Land-grabbing and “development done wrong”, are increasing
inequalities, having disastrous effects on biodiversity, and
impacting negatively on Paraguay’s indigenous peoples, the Ayoreo
Totobiegosode, whose numbers include the last ‘uncontacted’
peoples in Latin America outside the Amazon.

“Indigenous people are basically being wiped out; their lands
usurped. We are going backwards in terms of the environment, our
mountains are burning, we are aggressing nature,” Raúl

But this triggers even bigger questions: who is benefiting from
the current economic and development model? If it’s difficult to
influence businesses operating in Paraguay, there are some critical
institutions that need to hear our voices: public development

From Europe to the Americas, from Asia and Africa, these
financial institutions play a crucial role. Nearly 450 public
development banks controlling approximately $2 trillion in public
money will convene at the Finance in Common Summit, held in Paris
from November 10-12.

Activists, civil society and environmental campaigners are
calling for a
radical transformation
, and a much less “Westernised”
approach to financing for development. Public development banks
must not repeat the errors of the past, they can be part of the

Development at All Costs

But let’ start from the very beginning. Here’s the
definition from the Cambridge Dictionary. Development: defined as
the process
in which someone or something grows
or changes
and becomes
more advanced.
Yet, how many of us seriously question the terms and practices
linked to “development”?

Growing up in Brussels, it was a buzzword that I would often
hear, moving smoothly from mouths to ears, finding a righteous
place in the meeting rooms of the European bubble. “Development
projects”, “development finance”, “development

Always associated with the idea of progress, of things moving
inevitably forward. It echoes evolution, and the natural
progression of humans towards higher goals, higher dimensions.
It’s linked to expansion, to exploration, to wanting more. The
term itself promises something good, something superior.
Development at all costs.

Talking to communities around the world we see a dichotomy
between the Development Dream, its definition, and its impact.
Imagine if your house had to be destroyed for a new road to be
built. Wouldn’t you and your community want to have a say before
it’s too late?

This issue is linked to power, democracy and transparency and
it’s a matter that touches every single one of us as citizens –
whether we want to admit it or not. We don’t have to look too
far. Think of the thousands of
people in Italy fiercely opposing a high-speed train project
the French city of Lyon, as they see it as a waste of public funds.
You probably have a development project that is affecting – maybe
positively, maybe negatively – your community as you read these

Questions need to be asked: Where does public money go? Who
decides what development looks like and why? And finally, what are
the alternatives to our current development models?

“The most important thing is to get close to the reality of
the people, of communities. It’s not about technological
innovation or about progress, it’s about knowledge,” says Pina
Huaman, from ANC, the
national platform of NGOs in Peru.

“I remember being in Lima at the International Monetary Fund
meeting and the presenter from Mexico was telling all participants
about the Peruvian miracle of economic growth. And the first reflex
we had as civil society working in the field was to ask, “what
miracle are you talking about?”

In the words of Teresa, from Fundación Otras Voces in
Argentina, “we need to shift from ego to eco, from power over
people, to power with the people”. We cannot talk about financing
for development if it’s not responsive to the needs and demands
of climate, gender equality, human rights, indigenous communities
and biodiversity.

Being part of the development history of a country, whether in
Paraguay, Peru or Italy, comes with great responsibility. We need
dialogue with communities, not impositions. Few injustices have so
far-stretched repercussions as development gone wrong.

The Other Side of Development

CODE-NGO, a network of NGOs in the Philippines, has a message
for public development banks meeting in Paris in a couple of days:
to put “social development” first.

“Financing economic development projects is not enough; it is
only one side of the coin. Financing infrastructure projects may
result in economic growth, but at what cost to the only planet we
live on, or to people who can be adversely affected by such
projects? We can look at practices that both drive economic growth
and help our planet and people live at the same time.

We can build roads that do not damage ecosystems, and we can
harness sources of energy such as wind and solar power instead of
burning fossil fuels that are near depletion,” says Deanie Lyn
Ocampo, Deputy Executive Director at CODE-NGO.

In the Philippines, asking for different models of development
is risky, many human rights defenders, journalists, civil society
organisations and even local residents are stigmatized and attacked
for speaking up.
At least 272 environmental defenders were killed between 2001 and
, according to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the
Environment, a network of Philippine environmental

At global level, a recent Forus study
conducted in 18 different countries, shows the disturbing reality
of civil society facing increasingly serious restrictions on its
freedom to engage, express itself and be heard.

To highlight often objectionable development approaches and
insist on positive alternatives, civil
society organisations
published a joint statement calling on
public development banks to incorporate human rights, disinvestment
from fossil fuels and community-led development in the agenda and
outcomes of the Finance in Common summit. Let’s start
meaningfully engaging with those most affected by development

If you could ask something of public development banks, what
would that be? How can we promote new approaches to economic
development that prioritise human rights and planetary well-being
over financial interests and economic growth? How can
public-private partnerships trigger the multiplying effects needed
in communities? How can we create a more robust, just, ethical and
equitable social-ecological economies?

We might not have all the answers, but we should at least ask
these important questions.


The post From
Paraguay to Italy: Development at All Costs
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.


Bibbi Abruzzini is communication officer at
Forus International, Brussels

The post From
Paraguay to Italy: Development at All Costs
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
From Paraguay to Italy: Development at All Costs