In Episode 73 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Thomas Moore, anthropologist, advocate for indigenous cultural survival, and author of the newly released book, Madre de Dios: Refugio de Pueblos Originarios. The remote rainforest region of Madre de Dios in Peru’s southern Amazon is a last refuge for isolated indigenous peoples, but is now massively threatened by mining, timber and other resource interests that operate in a semi-legal gray zone in a nexus with criminal networks. Peru has made some progress in complying with international norms on protection of isolated peoples, but these advances stand to be dramatically reversed if far-right candidate Keiko Fujimori comes to power in the pending run-off election. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image: Amarakaeri)
The proliferation of pits and ponds created in recent years by miners dredging for small deposits of alluvial gold in Peru’s Amazon has dramatically altered the landscape and increased the risk of mercury exposure for indigenous communities and wildlife, a new study shows. The study found a 670% increase in the extent of ponds across the landscape in heavily mined watersheds since 1985. These formerly forested landscapes are now dotted by these small lakes, which provide low-oxygen conditions in which submerged mercury—a toxic leftover from the mining process—can be converted by microbial activity into an even more toxic form of the element, called methylmercury. The miners use mercury, a potent neurotoxin, to separate ore from soil and sediments, often without adequate safety precautions. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is believed to be the largest global source of anthropogenic mercury emissions. (Photo via EurekaAlert!)
A revered leader of Peru’s Awajún indigenous people, Santiago Manuin Valera, 63, died of COVID-19 at a hospital in the coastal city of Chiclayo. Head apu (traditional chief) of Santa María de Nieva in Amazonas region, Manuin was gravely wounded in the Bagua massacre of June 2009, when National Police opened fire on indigenous protesters. Hit with eight bullets, he was left for dead. Against all expectations, he recovered—although he had to use crutches or a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He continued to be an outspoken advocate for the territorial rights of the Awajún and other indigenous peoples of rainforest. His daughter, Luz Angélica Manuin, warned of a dire situation in the Awajún communities and across the Peruvian Amazon, with COVID-19 taking a grave toll. “There are many dead,” she said. “We keep vigil over them and we bury them. The government has forgotten us.” (Photo: Andina)
The US and Brazil announced an agreement to promote private-sector development in the Amazon rainforest. US officials said a $100 million fund will be established to “protect biodiversity” by supporting businesses in hard-to-reach areas of the forest. As if to drive home how cynical all this is, just days later Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in his address to the UN General Assembly unabashedly asserted his right to go on destroying the Amazon, saying it is a “fallacy” to describe the Amazon as the heritage of humanity and a “misconception” that its forests are the lungs of the world. (Image via Veganist)
The Supreior Court of Justice for Peru's rainforest region of Madre de Dios upheld a lower court ruling that nullified mining concessions as well as the titling of agricultural properties and granting of water rights to third parties on the territory of the indigenous community of Tres Islas, without prior consultation with that community. The regional government of Madre de Dios is ordered to comply with the ruling, as is the National Water Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. The National Police are called upon to enforce the ruling if necessary. Peru's International Institute of Law and Society, which represented Tres Islas in the case, hailed the ruling as "historic." (Photo: La Mula)
Peru's central government is pouring troops into the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in an all-out effort against thousands of illegal gold-miners operating in remote areas. Under "Operation Mercury"—named for the mercury poisoning caused to local waters by the mining—three High Mobility Temporary Mixed Bases, manned by military and National Police personnel, are to be established within the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Cabinet officials were flown into the remote area to inaugurate the first base, dubbed "Alpha." Peru is the top gold producer in Latin America and the sixth worldwide, but experts estimate that up to 25% of annual gold production in the country comes from illegal mining. The Andean Amazon Monitoring Project estimates that gold mining has deforested more than 18,000 hectares of Madre de Dios in recent years. (Photo: Andina via Gestión)
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. Despite new areas brought under protection, forest is still being rapidly lost in Peru. A recent analysis of satellite images by th Andean Amazon Monitoring Project (MAAP) found 143,425 hectares of forest were lost across the Peruvian Amazon during 2017. (Image: Inhabit.com)
Peru's government has mobilized thousands of National Police agents to the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve in the Madre de Dios region to evict illegal gold-miners operating in the area.
The Inter-Oceanic Highway, long a focus of protest in Peru's Amazon, is at issue in the corruption scandal implicating ex-president Alejandro Toledo.
Illegal gold mining in Peru has razed almost 62,500 hectares of rainforest—an area over ten times the size of Manhattan—over the past four years.
Indigenous leaders in Pando region of the Bolivian Amazon issued an urgent call for the protection of "uncontacted" peoples threatened by oil operations.
Peru sent elite troops to raid outlaw gold-mining operations in the Tambopata Nature Reserve—but they are massively outnumbered by perhaps 10,000 illegal miners in the area.