Amazon Theater

Bolsonaro to The Hague?

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro failed to attend the summit of leaders of seven South American countries with Amazon Basin territory to address the devastating fires now consuming the rainforest. Duque claimed a medical emergency, and was represented by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, at the meeting in Colombia's Amazonian city of Leticia on Sept. 6. The presidents of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Araujo, the natural resouces minister of Guyana and vice president of Suriname agreed to form an "Amazonian cooperation network" to track deforestation across borders. Venezuela, despite having a large swath of Amazonian territory, was not invited, as Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro. Brazil has the largest share of the Amazon by far, and Bolsonaro's failure to attend was assailed by environmentalists worldwide. 

Amazon forest fires spread to Bolivia

President Evo Morales announced Aug. 21 that Bolivia has contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" to help extinguish huge forest fires in the Amazon have that have spread over the border from Brazil. The giant air-tanker, capable of carrying up to 19,200 gallons (72,680 liters) of water or fire retardant, was flown from California to Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia's eastern city of Santa Cruz, on lease from the firm Global Supertanker. Morales has also mobilized army helicopters to evacuate affected communites deep in the rainforest. Some 500,000 hectares of forest are now said to be in flames in Bolivia. (Fire Aviation, TeleSur, Folha de S.Paulo, Aug. 22)

Brazil: garimpeiros kill indigenous leader

Brazilian authorities are investigating the murder of an indigenous leader in the northern state of Amapá, in the Amazon region, where violence has escalated since a group of some 50 heavily armed men—believed to be garimpeiros, or outlaw gold-miners—reportedly invaded the Wajãpi indigenous reserve. On the morning of July 23, indigenous chief Emyra Wajãpi was found stabbed to death close to Waseity village where he lived, according to the Council of Wajãpi Villages (APINA). Three days later, the group of armed men appeared in the neighboring Yvytotõ indigenous village and threatened residents, forcing them to flee to the nearby village of Mariry, according to APINA.

Brazil: Yanomami lands overrun by illegal miners

Thousands of illegal gold-miners (garimpeiros) have invaded Yanomami Park, one of Brazil's largest indigenous reserves, demarcated in 1992, and covering 96,650 square kilometers of rainforest in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, near the border with Venezuela. An incursion of this scale has not occurred for a generation, bringing back memories among Yanomami elders of the terrible period in the late 1980s, when some 40,000 garimpeiros moved onto their lands and about a fifth of the indigenous population died in just seven years due to violence, malaria, malnutrition, mercury poisoning and other causes.

Ecuador: oil lease threatens 'uncontacted' peoples

The high court of Ecuador's Pastaza province on July 12 upheld a lower court ruling to protect the land rights of the Waorani indigenous people from oil drilling. The Pastaza Court of Justice rejected the Environment Ministry's appeal of the lower court decision to bar plans to open 180,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest to oil development before "prior consultation" with the Waorani is carried out. (AFP, July 12) Simultaneously, however, the Ministry approved the environmental assessment plans to drill for oil in a sensitive area of Yasuni National Park, where isolated or "uncontacted" indigenous peoples are believed to be living.

Amazon destruction jumps under Bolsonaro

Deforestation in Brazil's portion of the Amazon rainforest rose more than 88% in June compared with the same month a year ago—the second consecutive month of rising forest loss under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. According to data from the Brazilian Space Agency, deforestation totaled 920 square kilometers (355 square miles). (The Guardian, July 3) An analysis of satellite data by BBC News finds that "An area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch [soccer field] is now being cleared every single minute." A sobering study published June 24 in the journal Nature: Climate Change warns of a feedback loop in which climate change fueled in large part by rainforest destruction may itself become a cause of rainforest destruction and biodiversity loss: "Deforestation is currently the major threat to Amazonian tree species but climate change may surpass it in just a few decades." (Courthouse News Service)

Peru: acquitted Bagua defendants may face retrial

Defense lawyers for the 53 indigenous activists who were cleared of charges in the 2009 Bagua massacre were ordered to testify before a Peruvian Supreme Court magistrate June 26, as the high court's penal chamber considers a request from the government for a retrial in the case. The defendants were acquitted by a lower court in 2016 in the slaying of National Police troops in the clash at Bagua, which began when police attacked an indigenous roadblock during a protest campaign against oil and resource exploitation in the rainforest. By official figures, 33 were slain in the incident, including 10 indigenous activists. In 2017, Peru's Prosecutor General and Public Ministry called upon the Supreme Court to review the acquittals. The high court agreed to consider a retrail for the crimes of riot, illegal possession of firearms and obstruction of public services, although not homicide.

Peru: more indigenous protests over oil spills

A new rupture on the disaster-plagued North Peruvian Pipeline fouled local water sources that several indigenous communities depend on in Peru's rainforest region of Loreto. The spill occurred June 19 at kilometer 227 on the pipeline, in Manseriche district, Datem del Marañón province. The government's Environmental Evaluation & Fiscalization Organism (OEFA) is overseeing recovery efforts, but the local communities of Nuevo Progreso and Saramiriza are demanding emergency potable water deliveries, saying they have been without clean water since the spill. Pipeline operator PetroPeru is blaming the rupture on "an act of delinquency" by local residents. (Gestión, EFE, June 23; InfoRegion, Gestión, June 19)

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