Amazon Theater

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)

Amazonians protest in Lima over oil spills

Peru's Amazonian indigenous organization AIDESEP held a plantón or protest vigil Feb. 18 outside the Lima offices of PetroPerú, to demand action following devastating oil spills. The Jan. 25 spill from a pipeline rupture at Chiriaco, Amazonas region, was followed by another Feb. 3 at Morona, Loreto. Both were caused by ruptures of the Oleoducto Norperuano, and both have contaminated the Río Marañon, a major tributary of the Amazon. Both have left some 10,000 local inhabitants impacted, with waters the communities depend on for drinking and fishing heavily contaminated. AIDESEP leaders charged PetroPerú with a pattern of lax oversight, pointing to a similar spill at Cuninico, Loreto, in June 2014. They demanded the Oleoducto Norperuano be shut down until safety can be assured. Leaders also said the government's response to the disasters has been insufficient, leaving communities without access to fresh water. (Peru21, Feb. 19; Servindi, Feb. 18; La República, RPP, Feb. 15)

Peru: oil spill fouls major Amazon tributary

Crude from an oil pipeline spill in northern Peru has spread due to heavy rainfall and reached the Río Marañon, a major tributary of the Amazon, a local indigenous leader said Feb. 12. The rupture on the North Peru Pipeline (Oleoducto Norperuano) occured Jan. 25 in Imaza dsitrict, Bagua province, Amazonas region, and immediately contaminated Quebrada Inayo, fouling several campesino plots in the canyon. At least some 2,000 barrels escaped. In the days since, it has spread down the Inayo into the Río Chiriaco and finally into the Marañon. Edwin Montenegro, president of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon of Peru (ORPIAN-P), charged pipeline operator PetroPerú with irresponsibility. "The populations of the communities are affected by nausea, vomiting and illness due to the strong odor," he said. "PetroPerú is more concerned with recovering the lost petroleum than cleaning up the affected zone and bringing assistance to the communities that now see their principal source of water contaminated." Imaza municipal authorities also accused PetroPerú of negligence and playing down the extent of contamination. PetroPerú admits the clean-up effort has been slowed due to the rains, which in turn are spreading the oil. (EFE, Correo, Perú21, Andina, El Comercio, Feb. 12; AIDESEP, Feb. 1)

Peru: miner protests paralyze rainforest region

On Dec. 9, informal gold-miners in Peru's southern rainforest region of Madre de Dios suspended a paro or civil strike they had launched more than two weeks earlier. Leaders of the Alliance of Federations said they would call off the strike as talks were underway with a team from Peru's cabinet, the Council of Ministers, that arrived in the remote region that day. Since Nov. 23, regional capital Puerto Maldonado had been paralyzed by protesters demanding the national government drop its new plan to crack down on illegal mining and logging operations. Specifically, they sought the overturn of Supreme Decree 013-2015—which would supervise and control the sale of chemicals that can be used for illegal mining—and Supreme Decree 1220, a measure that seeks to fight against illegal logging. Talks are to center around establishing a "Table for Sustainable Development" in the region, coordinating national policy with popular organizations.

Brazil: 'zero deforestation' push

Following a three-year campaign, Greenpeace Brazil activists formally presented a petition signed by 1.4 million Brazilians to the country's congress, calling for legislation establishing a "zero deforestation" polcy. "We submit this bill to Congress and now it's time for them to reflect on the will of the people. There is enough space for development without cutting down more of our forests." The annual rate of Amazon forest loss in Brazil has slowed by 75% since the early 2000s, but roughly 5,000 square kilometers (1.2 million acres) of rainforest is still destroyed every year. Some lawmakers have signed on to the proposal. "I signed the petition in 2012 and I admit that I was anxious to see it completed," Sen. João Capiberibe said in a statement. "This is certainly an important step toward the objective of zero deforestation in Brazil and then beginning a new project for developing the country, one that is not based on environmental destruction."

Peru declares 'Yellowstone of the Amazon'

Peru's government on Nov. 8 officially designated as a national park the Sierra del Divisor area of the Amazon rainforest, along the Brazilian border and straddling the regions of Ucayali and Loreto. President Ollanta Humala symbolically signed the decree from the indigenous community of Nuevo Saposoa in Ucayali after taking a helicopter flight around the sierra's iconic "Cone Mountain" that rises dramatically from the jungle plain. "We want to preserve this geographic area as an important part of the lungs that allow us to purify the air of the world and, moreover, to save it from illegal activities such as illegal logging, drug trafficking and other activities that deforest our jungles," Humala said.

Brazil: indigenous activists disrupt fracking auction

Indigenous leaders and activists interrupted an auction of oil and gas exploration blocs overseen by the Brazilian Agency of Oil and Gas in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 7, seizing the stage to discuss climate change, indigenous rights and divestment. The intervention by indigenous leaders in face-paint and traditional head-dresses was followed by a delegation of unionized oil workers who also spoke against the auction. The auction was described as a failure by local media, with only 37 of the 266 blocs sold. Many of fracking blocs extend deep into the Amazon rainforest, including the territories of remote and vulnerable indigenous peoples. The most critical blocs for isolated indigenous peoples are in the Juruá Valley and Serra do Divisor of Amazonas state, and the Javari Valley of Acre. Registered bidders included BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. (EcoWatch, Oct. 9; Brasil ao Minuto, Oct. 7; The Ecologist, Oct. 6)

Bolivia: Guaraní denounce 'parallelism' strategy

The Guaraní People's Assembly (APG) local chapter at Itika Guasu Original Communal Territory (TCO) in Bolivia's Tarija department on Oct. 4 issued a statement protesting the eviction of their leaders from the organization's offices by a new "parallel" leadership they say has been imposed by the national government and ruling party. APG spokesman Henry Guardia said the move was instrumented "in an illegal manner" by administrative authorities of the local O'Connor province, with the complicity of the National Police detachment in the area. He said some 40 followers of the "parallel" faction seized the offices and blocked the entrance. Under Bolivian law, the APG local is the political authority over the TCO, which has been the scene of conflicts over hydrocarbon exploitation in recent years. The Itika Guasu APG is the first indigenous governance structure in South America to establish an investment fund for community development from oil and gas revenues within the territory, which covers some 200,000 hectares. The fund now stands at nearly $15 million, and control of the revenues was cited as a factor in the factional split. (ANF, Oct. 5; ANF, Oct. 4)