Amazon Theater

Peru moves to protect new swath of Amazon

Peru's creation of Yaguas National Park—covering nearly 870,000 hectares of rainforest along the remote border with Colombia—is being hailed as a critical advance for protection of global biodiversity. The territory in the Putumayo river basin is roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park, but with more than 10 times the diversity of flora and fauna—home to more than 3,000 plant species, 160 species of mammals (including manatees and the Amazonian river dolphin), 500 species of birds and some 550 fish species representing a full two-thirds of Peru's freshwater fish diversity. Some park also covers some 30 indigenous communities of the Tikuna, Kichwa, Ocaina, Mürui, Bora, and Yagua peoples. (NYT, Feb. 14; The Manual, Feb. 6; Mongabay, Jan. 11)

Canada First Nations back Ecuador against Chevron

In a setback to Chevron's effort to evade a $9.5 billion liability owed to rainforest communities, Canada's Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Ecuadoran indigenous leaders signed a protocol Dec. 6 to hold the corporation accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste and for ongoing violations of indigenous rights. The agreement was signed at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signed the protocol along with Jamie Vargas, president of Ecuador's indigenous federation, CONAIE, and Carmen Cartuche, president of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the community-based organization in Ecuador's Amazon region that brought an historic lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of indigenous and campesino communities. The agreement is supported by a resolution passed unanimously by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.

Brazil: Amazon road blocked to press demarcation

Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.

Peru: indigenous resistance defeats oil contract

Canadian oil firm Frontera Energy Corp has failed to secure a new contract for operating Peru’s biggest oil bloc because of a lack of "adequate conditions," state company PetroPeru announced Oct. 11. Frontera has operated Bloc 192 in the Amazonian region of Loreto for the past two years, but control of the oilfield will revert to PetroPeru once its contract ends in 2019. PetroPeru gave no further details on the decision, but it comes two weeks after Frontera applied to state regulator PeruPetro for an official declaration of force majeure over protests by indigenous communities living within the oil bloc. The declaration would allow the company to legally suspend contractual obligations due to an event outside of its control. Indigenous protesters seized oil wells in Bloc 192 to demand that their communities be consulted before a decision was made on renewing the contract.

China wins contract for Amazon mega-project

Peru's Transport and Communications Ministry on Sept. 7 signed a contract with Chinese state-owned engineering giant SinoHydro to build the Hidrovía Amazónica, a mega-project aimed at turning the Amazon's major rivers into arteries for delivering the resources of the rainforest basin to foreign markets. Peruvian firm Construcción y Administración SA (CASA) is also to be a partner in the deal, announced earlier this year by the government's foreign investment arm, ProInversión. With a projected cost of $95 million, the Hidrovía calls for dredging 2,687 kilometers of Amazon waterways to make them navigable year-round. It encompasses stretches of the rivers Marañón and Amazonas (from Saramiriza to Santa Rosa), Huallaga (from Yurimaguas to the Marañón) and Ucayali (from Pucallpa to the Marañón). These rivers usually are too low for commercial navigation during the July-October dry season). Proinversión claims to have carried out a "prior consultation" with impacted communities along the rivers, having won 40 agreements to proceed with work. (Gestion, Sept. 7; El Peruano, July 17; BBC Mundo, July 7)

Brazil: massacre of 'uncontacted' group reported

Prosecutors in Brazil have opened an investigation after reports that illegal gold-miners on a remote Amazon river massacred at least 10 members of an "uncontacted" indigenous band. If confirmed, this means up to a fifth of the entire band have been wiped out. Two gold-miners have been arrested in the case. The killings allegedly took place last month along the Rio Jandiatuba in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Territory, a huge area  in Amazonas state bordering Peru. The region is known as the "Uncontacted Frontier," as it shelters more isolated peoples than anywhere else on Earth. Reports of the massacre only emerged after the miners started boasting about the killings, showing off "trophies" in the nearest town.

Brazil: vast Amazon reserve opened to mining

Brazil's government issued an order Aug. 23 abolishing a vast national reserve in the Amazon in order to open up the area to mineral exploitation. The National Reserve of Copper and Associated (RENCA), covering 46,000 square kilometers (17,800 square miles, an area larger than Denmark), straddles the northern states of Amapa and Pará, and is thought to be rich in gold, iron, manganese and other minerals. It was created in 1984 to protect the rich natural resources of zone. In announcing the dissolution of the RENCA, the Mines and Energy Ministry said the objective of the measure is "to attract new investments, generating wealth for the country and employment and income for society, always based on the precepts of sustainability." But opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues denounced the move as "the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years."

Peru: 'mega-operation' against outlaw gold miners

Peru's government has mobilized some 2,000 National Police troops to the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve in the Madre de Dios region to evict illegal gold-miners operating in the zone. Authorities say over 80 camps have been evicted since the operation began July 3, and millions of dollars worth of equipment destroyed. Hundreds were briefly detained in the operaiion, dubbed "Mercury I," and 12 formally charged with illegal miniig and other crimes. Outlaw miners have for years been encroaching on the remote reserve, clearing rainforest and polluting waterways with mercury. The Interior Ministry's Vice-Minister for Internal Order Rubén Vargas, on the scene in Madre de Dios, told reporters: "Illegal mines have operated here for many years and the results, as you can see, are Dantesque. This is an activity that's equally or even more lucrative than drug trafficking."

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