By Víctor L. Bacchetta
The difficult relations of the progressive government with environmental problems are not only explained by problems inherent to the various factors at stake but also by historical and ideological aspects of the founding left of the Frente Amplio, which is influenced by the culture of the country, particularly those of the unionism and the university.
The country's environmental problems did not arise with the government of the Broad Front (FA) that took office on March 1, 2005. Some have a long history, others began in the previous decade and all became more notorious with the growing awareness that it led to the creation of the ministry in 1990, and the enactment of specific laws in the following years. By organic resolutions and declarations of its candidates in the electoral campaign, the triumphant political force also generated the expectation of a change here.
A change in the direction of greater concern for the environment. Tabaré Vázquez said, in a speech in Minas de Corrales, on June 5, 2004: "... sometimes, it is the production of factories or the production of certain elements that the developed world knows that cause the destruction of the environment (...) and knowing the labor needs of the poorest countries, with their impoverished people, they bring us here investments in industries that destroy the environment. "
However, in one of his first acts as president of the republic, Vázquez received executives from Botnia and assumed as his own the decisions of his predecessors on the projected factories in Fray Bentos. Despite the requests, the presidency did not grant interviews to people or entities critical of monoculture tree plantations and large-scale cellulose production and went on to defend this investment model due to the need to generate jobs and industrialize the country .
Something similar occurs with the constitutional reform on water approved in the plebiscite of October 31, 2004, with the support of the Broad Front and its allies. The elected government interpreted that the reform did not question existing contracts with private drinking water supply companies and has not yet implemented its provisions on participation and social control and public policies in order to ensure sustainable and equitable management. of water resources.
From then on, a relationship was established with peaks of tension between the government and environmental organizations, which have been called fundamentalists, ecofascists or supporters of zero growth by official authorities, if not in more derogatory terms by notorious leaders of the ruling party. The same authorities make, at the same time, generic and categorical statements in favor of the environment, that putting them in question seems an offense or an unacceptable lack of personal confidence.
Multiple faces, little movement.
The researcher and writer Eduardo Gudynas, secretary of the Latin American Center for Social Ecology (CLAES) and of the Uruguayan Network of Environmentalist NGOs, who attends different consultation instances called by the government, says that "the current government has many faces on the issue environmental, there are differences between ministries and even within ministries according to personal attitudes "and he observes" a certain immobility where it is difficult to approach management with efficiency and innovation ".
"In general, this government has maintained spaces for dialogue with civil society and new advisory commissions have been created for the ministry of the environment, protected areas and others," says the director of the NGO network, but points out that pending issues remain. and regrets that the conflict with Argentina "instead of triggering environmental management, deepening it and expanding it to the entire country, it seems to end in a situation where it is an issue on which progress is made very slowly."
For Gudynas, especially in some sectors, environmental issues are not addressed in a modern way. "A good step was taken with the moratorium on transgenics - says the researcher - but the competitive options offered by the Uruguay Natural slogan or organic production are not taken advantage of." "In the energy sector, flirtations with nuclear fuels and coal would mean remaining dependent on imported fuels and increasing environmental impacts," he adds.
Professor Daniel Panario, director of the Epigenesis Unit of the Faculty of Sciences, agrees that "the real competences are still in the hands of different actors" and considers that two years after the current government administration "there is still no defined environmental policy ". He estimates that there was a reinforcement of the National Environmental Directorate, which was technically very weak, but the only effort that is pointing in the right direction is that of the National System of Protected Areas.
Among the shortcomings, Panario points out the non-implementation of the constitutional water reform, the afforestation at the same pace and with the same policy of savage capitalism, the lack of demand from the industries of the proper procedure, such as the fact that the pulp mills do not They were required to plant a tertiary wastewater treatment, nor are they expected in future state enterprises. And it indicates that "works of presumably strong impact such as the bridge over the Garzón Lagoon, to unite the coastal area of the Maldonado and Rocha departments, is now announced without anesthesia."
"Talking generically about the necessary investments and jobs is the same neoliberal concept that is heard in other places, without questioning what these megaprojects mean for the environment, population and social development", comments chemical engineer Ignacio Stolkin, who advised members of the government until he issued a technical opinion contrary to the pulp mills. "They have been left behind and the same thing that Europe did 40 or 50 years ago is being done," he concludes.
For Gudynas, the problem is that the leadership comes from a generation before the environmental issue. "Ideas and dreams of basically material development persist, with many machines and large buildings, where the environment is a cost that can be addressed but should not hinder economic growth," he says. The CLAES secretary believes that this idea goes beyond the party level and is deeply rooted in the culture of a generation.
"That explains - continues Gudynas - that some union leaders defend productive projects looking only at jobs, but not the quality of that work, that only a minority of the academy addresses the environmental issue in a more profound way than mere participation in consultancies. on environmental impact and the same is repeated in a good part of the Uruguayan press ". And sentence: "the deepening of the environmental issue is waiting for the next progressive generation."
One of the founders of the chemical engineering career in Uruguay, Stolkin, points out that the engineer does not think about the environment but about solutions to their problems. "In the Faculty of Engineering and in the Faculty of Chemistry the problems of the environment were never touched very seriously. When the Faculty of Sciences was created there was a new impulse, other approaches and other relationships emerged with respect to the environment and technique", it states.
From this last faculty, Panario considers that the University of the Republic suffered a considerable delay with respect to the rest of the world during the dictatorship and that in environmental matters it has not yet fully recovered.
The legacy of the left
The Uruguayan left of the 50s and 60s, where several leaders of the current government were formed, was a tributary of the socialist thought developed by Karl Marx, according to which the evolution of the productive forces and the class struggle are the engine of history. Although Marx put class struggle first as a factor of social transformation, Marxism of the time assumed that the advance of the productive forces was unstoppable and that it inevitably led from capitalism to socialism.
In the middle of the 20th century, the socialist countries led by the Soviet Union (USSR) and China, to which Cuba would join, were dedicated to achieving an industrialization capable of ensuring the well-being of their peoples. Confidence in the evolution of the productive forces reached such a point that the USSR, at the 20th Congress of its Communist Party in 1956, launched the slogan of "peaceful economic emulation between the two systems", assuming that socialism it would overcome and liquidate capitalism in this way.
The environmental dimension, which imposes limits and conditions on development, was not part of that conception. This was evidenced by the collapse of the USSR and its European alliance in the late 1980s, when serious environmental disasters came to light, aggravated by state censorship and corruption. The consequences of this approach are still observable today, in the serious impacts caused by the vertiginous growth of China.
Marx's references to the overexploitation and looting of the worker and nature have been rescued. There are reformulations, like the ‘ecosocialism’ of Michael Lowy and others. On the Uruguayan left, however, the theoretical discussion stalled 40 years ago. The Broad Front government has taken up a "developmentalist" vision that had a certain boom in the 1960s. Economic growth with social justice is intended and the environment has been formally integrated into development. But the promised change still depends on the primacy of society and the environment over the logic of capital.