Amazon Theater

Peru: satellite to monitor rainforest

Peru launched its first satellite into space this month, to monitor illegal mining, logging and other extractive activities in the country's vast stretch of the Amazon rainforest. The Peru SAT-1, developed with French aid and the most sophisticated in Latin America, was launched Sept. 15 from Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana and monitored from the Satellite Images National Operations Center (CNOIS) in Pucusana, south of Lima. The satellite bears the logo of Peru's space agency, CONIDA, with the words "Kausachun Peru" (Viva Peru in Quechua). (Peru This Week, Nature, Sept. 15)

Peru: indigenous leaders cleared in Bagua massacre

Following a trial lasting seven years and four months, a court in Peru's Amazonas region on Sept. 22 absolved 52 indigenous leaders in charges related to the 2009 Bagua massacre. Initially, charges were brought against 53, but one defendant died over the course of the proceedings. The Penal Chamber of Bagua district found insufficient evidence that the accused indigenous protesters had handled firearms at the scene of the massace, in which at least 32 lost their lives. The defendants faced charges in the deaths of 12 police officers at the scene. The violence began when National Police troops attacked protesters blocking the road at Devil's Curve on June 5, 2009—yet no police officer or commander has served time for the massacre. The incident came amid indigenous protests over changes to Peru's land tenture system pushed through in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement with Washington and aimed at opening the rainforest to oil exploitation.

Brazil Olympics amid invisible terror

More than 20 land rights activists have been killed in Brazil so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness—ongoing terror amid the Olympics spectacle. According to data from Brazil's Pastoral Land Commision (CPT), 23 activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. Released as the Olympic Games opened in Rio de Janeiro, the figures indicate a crackdown on land rights campaigners in South America's biggest country, with indigenous people particularly affected. "For many visitors to the Rio Olympics, Brazil is synonymous with its vast, plentiful rainforests and traditional ways of life," said Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte in a statement. "Yet the people who are trying to protect those things are being killed off at an unprecedented rate."

Peru: yet another spill from trans-Andean pipeline

A new spill on Peru's northern trans-Andean oil pipeline has contaminated a rainforest community—the fourth rupture from the 40-year-old pipeline this year. Villagers from the indigenous community of Uchichiangos noticed the new leak early on Aug. 10, according to a representative of the province of Condorcanqui, Amazonas region. Some 90 local residents have been affected, with 12 homes damaged by oil, and 15 hectares of yucca and other crops fouled. Parastatal PetroPerú, which runs the pipeline, has acknowledged the spill in a statement, vaguely blaming it on "third parties."

US court rules for Chevron in Ecuador pollution case

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Aug. 8 affirmed (PDF) a lower court ruling that barred Ecuadoran plaintiffs from collecting a $8.646 billion Ecuadoran judgment against Chevron Corp. The lower court had concluded in 2014 that the Ecuadoran judgment was obtained through corruption and fraud and barred the plaintiffs' attorney, Steven Donziger, from attempting to enforce the judgment or profit from the award anywhere in the world. The appeals court affirmed the lower court's judgment that concluded that Donziger and his team had secretly authored the judgment and offered the Ecuadoran judge $500,000 to sign it. The appeals court also said that the lower court's decision does not invalidate the judgment and does not prevent the enforcement of the judgment outside the US. The dispute arises from allegations by Ecuadoran plaintiffs of Chevron's  role in environmental damage in the Amazon rainforest. Chevron disputes these claims, while Donziger maintains his innocence and that he is the victim of a coordinated campaign against him by Chevron.

Peru: losing battle against outlaw gold mining

New York Times reporter followed a a force of Peruvian marines and rangers in a raid against illegal gold-miners in the Tambopata Nature Reserve, in the country's southern Amazon. Upon finding mining camps along the Río Malinowski, troops slashed bags of rice and plastic barrels of drinking water before setting everything on fire. But, massively outnumbered by perhaps 10,000 illegal miners in the area, they seem to be fighting a losing battle. They soon ran out of dynamite and resorted to a less sophisticated tactic: using mallets to smash the truck engines that miners use to power their derricks.

Peru: another spill from trans-Andean oil pipeline

Peru's northern trans-Andean oil pipeline suffered its third serious rupture of the year June 24, spilling over 1,000 barrels of crude into an expanse of the Amazon rainforest. An area of 16,000 square meters is said to be contaminated in Barranca district, Datem del Marañón province, Loreto region. PetroPerú, the parastatal that runs the pipeline, has instated an emergency "contingency plan" and says it has contained the spill. But a preliminary report by the Dátem del Marañón Health Network, part of the Loreto Regional Health Office (DIRESA) warns that contract workers and local residents involved in the clean-up effort lacked special equipment.. Health risks could include "poisoning and burns" from direct exposure to the oil. (EFE, June 27; La República, RPP, Peru21, Mongabay, June 25; El Comercio, June 24)

Colombia: campesinos block oil operation

Colombia's feared anti-riot force, the ESMAD, used tear-gas June 20 against campesinos occupying lands in the Amazonian department of Caquetá to block oil exploration efforts. Seismic activities are being carried out in the municipalities of Valparaiso and Milan y Morelia by a contractor for firm Emerald Energy. Protest leader José Antonio Saldarriaga said: "We defend our territory, the water and the future for the next generations... It caused us much sadness that 95% has been displaced by violence, and now that we are returning, the multinationals want to displace us for extractive projects." the new blockades come almost a year after three local campesinos were gravely injured in a similar police operation to break up a blockade of seismic exploration workers. UK-based Emerald Energy was purchased by China's Sinochem in 2009. (Contagio Radio, June 21)

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