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.
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."
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."
Bolivia and Brazil agreed to a joint plan to fight criminal gangs that operate on their shared jungle border, long porous for drug and arms traffickers. The decision was taken at a Brasilia meeting between Brazil's Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio and Bolivia's Government Minister Carlos Romero on May 13. The plan includes establishment of new border checkpoints in the Bolivian outposts of Bella Vista and Puerto Evo and the Brazilian villages of Costa Marques and Plácido de Castro. It establishes mechanisms for sharing intelligence, and operations to secure control of air-space over the border zone. It also calls for joint military training between the two countries.
Thousands of indigenous protesters clashed with police outside the congress building in Brasilia during an April 26 demonstration over territorial and land rights in the Brazilian Amazon. Police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas when some protesters tried to reach a ramp leading into the National Congress. Indigenous demonstrators in face-paint and traditional head-dresses shot arrows at police in return. The demonstration was called to oppose measures being pushed by the powerful agribusiness bloc in Brazil's Congress, the Bancada Ruralista, that would threaten indigenous lands in the Amazon. Topping the list is Proposed Constitutional Amendment 215, or PEC 215, that would shift responsibility on demarcating indigenous lands from the executive to Congress, where the powerful farm lobby holds sway.
Ecuador's government has deployed military drones and police helicopters to the Amazon village of El Tink, where Shuar indigenous residents have for weeks been blocking the only bridge leading to the community, over the Río Zamora. The stand-off began after a confrontation between indigenous protesters and National Police left one police officer dead in December at another Shuar village, Nankints, across the Cordillera del Condor from El Tink. The clash at Nankints came after Shuar warriors reportedly attacked a camp of the Chinese-owned Explorcobres copper exploration project. Nankints residents wanted by authorities in the attack have taken refuge at El Tink, also in Morona Santiago province. Nankints has been in resistance since troops arrived to demolish the settlement to make way for the 41,700-hectare mining project last August. With the stand-off at El Tink, the uprising has spread to a second village. (The Guardian, March 19; Mongabay, Feb. 8; Mongabay, Jan. 26)
Peru's prosecutor general Pablo Sánchez announced Feb. 7 that he is seeking the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo on charges of laundering assets and influence trafficking. Prosecutors opened a formal investigation this week into allegations that Toledo took $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, with investigators raiding his home in Lima on Feb 4 and carting off boxes full of documents. Sánchez is now asking a judge to approve 10 months of "preventative detention" for Toledo while the case is under investigation. Toledo is currently believed to be in Paris, where he arrived for an OECD conference last week, and Sánchez argues that he poses a flight risk. Toledo is said to have received the money, laundered through offshore accounts, in exchange for giving the firm approval to complete a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast in 2006.
A New Year's Day prison riot in Brazil's Amazon riverport city of Manaus left up to 60 dead before aithorities re-established control the following morning—with many of the bodies decapitated, mutilated and burned. The uprising at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (COMPAJ) is the bloodiest of several such episodes in recent years, pointing to extreme overcrowding in Brazil's prison system and effective control of many facilities by drug gangs. Authorities in Amazonas state say the COMPAJ rebellion was sparked by a fight between rival gangs. Local media reported that several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall. Twelve guards were taken hostage, and a still undetermined number of inmates escaped.