Amazon Theater

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)

SCOTUS lets stand Chevron award against Ecuador

The US Supreme Court on June 6 declined to hear an appeal by the government of Ecuador of a $96 million arbitration settlement awarded to Chevron oil company. The high court let stand a 2015 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, upholding the 2013 award in Chevron’s favor issued by The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands. Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, originally brought suit in Ecuador for breaking terms of oil contracts and international agreements. Chevron initiated the arbitration proceeding at The Hague in 2006, seeking to hold Ecuador's government liable for damages from pollution of the rainforest. Chevron claimed Ecuador violated provisions of a 1997 investment treaty by failing to resolve lawsuits in a timely fashion. With interest, the arbitration award stands at approximately $106 million, Chevron said. Other Chevron cases related to matter before The Hague panel remain pending. (AP, Reuters, OilPrice, June 6; Chevron press release, Aug. 31, 2011)

Peru: state of emergency over illegal mining

Peru's President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in response to reports of mercury poisoning by outlaw gold-mining operations. According to country's Environment Ministry, as many as 50,000 people or 41% of the population of Madre de Dios, have been exposed to mercury contamination. The government plans to send hospital ships and loads of untainted fish to the area, where mercury has contaminated local waterways. Illegal gold production has increased five-fold in Peru since 2012, and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in Madre de Dios. Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer, but an estimated 20% of its annual output is of unknown origin. (Mining.com, La República, May 24)

'Stop Brazil's Genocide' campaign greets Olympics

UK-based indigenous rights advoacy group Survival International has launched a campaign to prevent the annihilation of tribal peoples in Brazil, to coincide with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the political chaos currently engulfing Brazil, the campaign aims to bring attention to serious human rights issues and threats facing the country's indigenous peoples. Survival states: "These threats persist regardless of the political turmoil in the country." The campaign, "Stop Brazil's Genocide," focuses on protecting "uncontacted" tribes of the Amazon such as the Kawahiva people; ending violence and land theft directed against the Guarani in southern Brazil; and stopping PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would undermine indigenous land rights and spell disaster for tribes nationwide.

Peru: Amazon leaders broach separatism

Fernando Meléndez, president of Peru's northern rainforest region of Loreto, announced April 29 that he will seek a referendum on seceding from the country, charging that the central government "has no interest" in addressing the region's needs. "Loreto will take historic decisions in the coming days to determine its destiny," he told local media. "If the government does not listen at the dialogue table, we will decide to seek a referendum and see the possibility of going down another path." He said that despite the "patriotic spirit" of Loreto, Lima has mainly seen the region as a source of oil wealth, abandoning its people to underdevelopment. He said that last year Loreto received only 600,000 soles ($180,000) in compensation for oil exploitation in the region. "This is inconceivable. Loreto is a region that over 40 years has given the national treasury billions of dollars, and therefore we demand that the government give compensation; all of the budgets in our region are broken."

Brazil: mega-dam suspended in win for indigenous

The planned São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam in Brazil's Amazonian state of Pará received a significant setback April 20 when its license was suspended by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natura Resources (IBAMA). The move came in response to a report published by Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), declaring "the infeasibility of the project from the perspective of an indigenous component." Some 10,000 Munduruku people live along the Rio Tapajós, and the flooding of their territory by the dam would necessitate their relocation—which FUNAI found to be in violation of Brazil's constitution. In the report, FUNAI recommends the demarcation of 1,780 square kilometers of indigenous Munduruku territory, known as Sawré Muybu, in the area that would be impacted by the project. The 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam would be Brazil's second largest, after the controversial Belo Monte plant, which finally began operating this week after years of protests by the Munduruku and other peoples. (Mongabay, The Guardian, April 22)

Amazon tribe takes hostages to protest oil spill

Members of the Wampis community of Mayuriaga in the northern Peruvian Amazon seized a grounded military helicopter March 6, holding crew members and eight officials who were on board to press for inclusion in the emergency response plan to last month's devastating oil spill in the region. The eight officials, from state company PetroPerú, were released two days later, after the government agreed to a meeting to discuss indigenous demands, including to improve electricity and other services for the remote area. The Wampis were angered that Supreme Decree 012-2016, instating the emergency response plan, did not actually include their community in the clean-up zone. Some  1,000 barrels spilled when PetroPerú's trans-Andean pipeline rupturted Feb. 3 at Mayuriaga, which lies in Morona municipalty, Datem del Marañón province, Loreto region. Nine days earlier, a second leak further west on the pipeline spilled some 2,000 barrels. The Oleoducto Norperuano is 40 years old, and has been repeatedly cited in recent years by environmental regulator OEFA for poor maintainence. (TeleSur, March 8; RPP, Reuters, March 7)

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