Leté─˘s Make a Deal: Rainforest Edition

Yesterday, we learned from a New York Times article that the U.S government has agreed to forgive 20 percent of Guatemala’s whopping $108 million debt. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In exchange, Guatemala must spend $24.4 million over the next 15 years to protect its tropical rainforests.

Wherefore this sudden act of selflessness on the part of the U.S. government? It’s all part of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, which was passed in 1998. Under the Act, countries including Peru, Panama, and Belize have agreed to protect their forests in exchange for partial debt forgiveness. (According to the Times, the amount of debt that the U.S. will forgive Guatemala is the highest in the Act’s history.)

The humanitarian and conservation reasons to protect the rainforest abound, but it’s no secret that it’s in the U.S. government’s best economic interest (big pharma, we’re looking at you) as well. As the online Student Guide to Tropical Conservation, published by the United States Forest Service, puts it:

All forests have both economic and ecological value, but tropical forests are especially important in global economy. These forests cover less than 6 percent of the Earth's land area, but they contain the vast majority of the world's plant and animal genetic resources.


Many medicines and drugs come from plants found only in tropical rain forests. Some of the best known are quinine, an ancient drug used for malaria; curare, an anesthetic and muscle relaxant used in surgery; and rosy periwinkle, a treatment for Hodgkin's disease and leukemia. Research has identified other potential drugs that may have value as contraceptives or in treating a multitude of maladies such as arthritis, hepatitis, insect bites, fever, coughs, and colds. Many more may be found. In all, only a few thousand species have been evaluated for their medicinal value.

To the U.S. government, we’d like to suggest the following arrangement: We promise not to chop down any trees…if you forgive our student loans. Deal?