Amazon Theater

Ecuador: drones deployed in Amazon stand-off

Ecuador's government has deployed military drones and police helicopters to the Amazon village of El Tink, where Shuar indigenous residents have for weeks been blocking the only bridge leading to the community, over the Río Zamora. The stand-off began after a confrontation between indigenous protesters and National Police left one police officer dead in December at another Shuar village, Nankints, across the Cordillera del Condor from El Tink. The clash at Nankints came after Shuar warriors reportedly attacked a camp of the Chinese-owned Explorcobres copper exploration project. Nankints residents wanted by authorities in the attack have taken refuge at El Tink, also in Morona Santiago province. Nankints has been in resistance since troops arrived to demolish the settlement to make way for the 41,700-hectare mining project last August. With the stand-off at El Tink, the uprising has spread to a second village. (The Guardian, March 19; Mongabay, Feb. 8; Mongabay, Jan. 26)

Peru: Amazon highway at issue in Toledo scandal

Peru's prosecutor general Pablo Sánchez announced Feb. 7 that he is seeking the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo on charges of laundering assets and influence trafficking. Prosecutors opened a formal investigation this week into allegations that Toledo took $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, with investigators raiding his home in Lima on Feb 4 and carting off boxes full of documents. Sánchez is now asking a judge to approve 10 months of "preventative detention" for Toledo while the case is under investigation. Toledo is currently believed to be in Paris, where he arrived for an OECD conference last week, and Sánchez argues that he poses a flight risk. Toledo is said to have received the money, laundered through offshore accounts, in exchange for giving the firm approval to complete a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast in 2006.

Brazil: 60 dead in narco-fueled prison massacre

A New Year's Day prison riot in Brazil's Amazon riverport city of Manaus left up to 60 dead before aithorities re-established control the following morning—with many of the bodies decapitated, mutilated and burned. The uprising at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (COMPAJ) is the bloodiest of several such episodes in recent years, pointing to extreme overcrowding in Brazil's prison system and effective control of many facilities by drug gangs. Authorities in Amazonas state say the COMPAJ rebellion was sparked by a fight between rival gangs. Local media reported that several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall. Twelve guards were taken hostage, and a still undetermined number of inmates escaped.

Bolivia plans Amazon 'mega-dams' amid opposition

Indigenous communities in the Bolivian Amazon are joining with ecologists to oppose a "mega-dam" complex the government has announced for the Río Beni. Reviving a long-dormant scheme to turn the Bolvian Amazon into a regional energy hub, the plan calls for construction of two large hydroelectric dams and infrastructure to export the power to neighboring countries. President Evo Morales estimates the project would cost around $6 billion and, once operational, would bring in more than $1 billion a year. According to a leaked environmental impact assessment, the two dams will flood an area larger the city of La Paz, affecting around 4,000 people in 17 communities within and near the flood zone. Indigenous T'simanes, Tacanas, Mosetenes and Uchupiamonas communities reject the project, saying it never went through the consultation process required by Bolivia's constitution.

Peru: dramatic rainforest loss from mining

Gold mining in Peru has razed almost 62,500 hectares of rainforest —an area over ten times the size of Manhattan—between October 2012 and October 2016, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). While the tendrils of gold mining are spreading across the country, the region of Madre de Dios still accounts for the vast majority of mining-related deforestation to date, MAAP researchers write.

Fears for isolated tribe in Bolivian rainforest

The Central of Indigenous Communities of Tacana II Rio Madre de Dios (CITRMD), representing the Tacana people of Pando department in the Bolivian Amazon has issued a letter to the ministries of Justice and Environment requesting urgent government intervention to protect "uncontacted" indigenous peoples threatened by oil operations. The CITRMD said "footprints and broken branches" among other evidence were found within the operations area of BGP, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). September letters by BGP to Bolivia's state oil company YPFB, to which it is contracted, noting this evidence, as well as one physical encounters with "originarios." CITRMD is urging BGP and the government to respect "their wish not to be contacted." (The Guardian, Oct. 27)

Environmental official slain in Brazilian Amazon

Luiz Alberto Araújo, who headed the environment department for the municipal government of Altamira in Brazil's Amazonian state of Pará, was killed by two unknown gunmen Oct. 13. The assailants drove up to his car and fired nine shots into him, in front of his wife and two step-sons. Nothing was stolen and the killing is believed to have been a political assassination. In his endeavors to enforce environmental legislation in the largely lawless Amazonian region, Araújo made powerful enemies. Earlier this year, he provided information to the Federal Police and Federal Public Ministry that prompted them to launch Operaçāo Rios Voadores (Flying Rivers Operation). This crackdown on illegal logging enterprises led to 24 arrests—including that of the ring-leader, Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJJ. He and his son were accused of illegally invading rainforest lands, extracting valuable timber, and clearing the remaining forest and turning it into cattle pasture.

Peru: tense dialogue with pipeline protesters

After 37 days, indigenous protesters in Peru's Loreto region lifted their blockade of the Río Marañon Oct. 7 as the central government acceded to their demand that a high-level delegation be sent to their remote community of Saramurillo, Urarina district. The delegation—led by Rolando Luque, head of the National Office for Dialogue and Sustainability and vice-minister for interculturality Alfredo Luna—met with indigenous communities at a local installation of the state firm PetroPeru. The communities were represented by their spokesman José Fachin, while the region's Bishop Miguel Olaortúa moderated. But things turned heated Oct. 12, when indigenous leaders demanded that presidential advisor on social conflicts Jorge Villacorta leave the table. The conflict began in a dispute over whether indigenous leaders from outlying communities would be paid to attend the next meeting. The meeting broke down into shouting, and a physical altercation threaeted, before Villacorta agreed to leave. The river remains open with the next meeting still pending. The government has declared an "environmental emergency" in the distrcits of Urarinas and Parinari over the recent pipeline spills, shipping in potable water. But local communities are demanding the North Peru Oil-duct be closed until its safety is assured, as well as greater social investment in their jungle zone. (La República, Oct. 13; RPP, RPP, Oct. 12; RPP, Oct. 8; RPP, Oct. 7)

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