Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon has admitted, in a prior column, that he understands nothing at all about ecology or the environment, but what he does understand is politics. And the first Rio conference, called the “Earth Summit” held in June 1992, was just as much about politics as Rio+20 will be.
Today, with fewer than thirty days remaining till the kick-off of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) aka “Rio+20” the Curmudgeon takes a look back at what was going on, politically, in Brazil and compares it to what is happening now.
In Brazil, 1992 came thirty years after the remark, incorrectly attributed to Charles De Gaulle, that “Brazil is not a serious country.” But in many ways, Brazil was becoming a serious country. In 1989, it had thrown off the last trappings of the military dictatorship, and had re-instituted direct elections for President, where Fernando Collor defeated Lula in the runoff.
By early 1992, the Collor regime was under attack for corruption. A week before Eco ’92 began, the President’s brother denounced him, and on June 1st, only two days before the start of the conference, the Brazilian Congress created a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission to investigate the allegations. The President was impeached in September, Vice President Itamar Franco assumed office in October.
If you’re looking for serious, look no further than a Brazilian President having to welcome 108 visiting Heads of State while knowing his own head was on the chopping block. Students of all ages were protesting by parading with faces painted in black (until the impeachment) and then in patriotic green and yellow (afterwards). Unlike the Occupy Movement twenty years on, the “caras pintadas” knew exactly what they wanted.
The irony is that, as we approach Rio+20, there is once again a huge corruption scandal, and a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission, and it involves former election opponents Collor and Lula—but on opposite sides. This year, Senator Collor is part of the Inquiry looking into alleged influence peddling by Carlos Cachoeira, a friend of many of the great and near-great politicos who were part of Lula’s governing coalition.
What did the 1992 Earth Summit accomplish? Internationally, rather a lot. The mere presence of 108 Heads of State at an environmental conference was extraordinary. Formal documents were negotiated and signed; most participating countries pledged themselves to take certain environmentally friendly measures. Some (not many) of these countries actually honored their pledges. Some countries, most notably the U.S., were clever enough to make no pledges at all.
For Brazil, and particularly for Rio de Janeiro, where the conference went off without a hitch, ECO ‘92 was, in many ways, a demonstration that the rest of the world was beginning to recognize just how serious Brazil was. Twenty years on, this recognition has become almost universal. The Curmudgeon hopes that Rio+20 will show that the City of Rio de Janeiro is now a serious place.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)