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)
Thousands have repeatedly filled the streets of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, as a mounting protest movement demanding jobs and social development for the marginalized region was further fueled by a mining disaster that left two young brothers dead Dec. 22. The demonstrations started Dec. 12, with residents demanding lower electricity and water bills. But movement swelled after the deadly flood in a tunnel being dug by desperate locals at an abandoned coal pit in the mountains outside the town. The mine was for decades Jerada's economic lifeline, employing more than 9,000 people. After operations closed in the late 1990s many left the city. Those who stayed are struggling to survive—often by illegally taking coal from the abandoned pit, and selling it on the black market. Protesters accuse officials of turning a blind eye to the pirate mining despite the growing number of deaths in the improvised operations. They are demanding economic alternatives for the region, and government intervention to close "the mines of death."
Francisco Javier Ricaurte Gómez, one of the most powerful men in Colombia's justice system for the past 15 years, on Sept. 20 became the first former chief magistrate of the country's Supreme Court to go to prison. Bogotá daily El Tiempo reports that Ricuarte faces four charges related to the corruption scandal now unfolding in Colombia's highest judicial body. The Fiscalía, the country's top prosecutor, says he is one of the brains behind a ring that took in millions of pesos to pervert criminal cases.
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.
Community leaders throughout Colombia have spoken out against a proposal by the central government to limit the power of consultas populares, or popular referenda, to bar oil and mineral projects at the municipal level. Some are questioning the constitutionality of the government's plan to "fast track" a sweeping reform of the Organic Law of Territorial Ordering (LOOT) that would strip municipalities of the ability to restrict subsoil exploitation. Jaime Tocora of Comité por la Defensa de la Vida accused the government of "going over the heads of the communities and territories," and added: "The public good is with a clean environment, not the multinationals." (Contagio Radio, July 25)
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."
The Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan on Aug. 21 warned that continued illegal extraction of the country's mineral wealth is leading to problematic security and political consequences. Acting ASA director Suraya Popal stated: "Terrorists and strongmen with illegal extractions and revenues from mines weaken the rule of law and fund the insurgency. Thus, extraction of the country's minerals should be done in line with the law and international standards before it's too late." She called on the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP) to bring the mineral indsutry under "strong management," with the aid of the international community.
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."