Amazon Theater

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)

Brazil high court ruling sparks indigenous protest

At their annual protest encampment in Brasilia from April 24-6, some 4,500 indigenous people from across Brazil marched on the Supreme Court building to oppose a recent ruling that could negatively impact demarcation of indigenous territory. The case concerned Provisional Measure 870, signed by President Jair Bolsonaro on his first day in office Jan. 1, shifting responsibility for indigenous reserve demarcation from FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Agriculture Ministry. MP 870 was challenged as unconstitutional, but on April 24 Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso rejected that challenge—although he did agree that if the Agriculture Ministry failed to carry through with demarcation in future, further legal action could go forward at that time. During the three-day encampment, indigenous groups also protested Bolsonaro’s plan to open indigenous reserves to mining and agribusiness. The Free Land Encampment has been held in Brasilia every year since 2017. (Mongabay, April 26)

'Silk Road' to Peruvian Amazon?

Peru is to sign a memorandum of understanding to join China's Belt & Road international infrastructure initiative, Beijing's ambassador to Lima said April 24. Ambassador Jia Guide made the announcement at a private party in Lima alongside Peru's vice president, Mercedes Araoz. The soirée came as China kicked off a three-day summit in Beijing to promote the international project, which is also known as the New Silk Road. Peru's trade minister Roger Valencia attended the Beijing summit, where he announced that a revision of Lima's Free Trade Agreement with China will be implemented next year.

Ecuador court win for indigenous territorial rights

The Waorani indigenous people of the Ecuadoran Amazon won a legal victory hailed as historic April 26, as the provincial court of Pastaza Pilar Araujo blocked the opening of their traditional territories to oil exploitation. The case was brought last month by 16 Waorani communities, who charged that their right to "free, prior and informed consent," guaranteed by both Ecuador's constitution and international law, was violated when the government divided much of the province into oil exploitation blocs. One, Bloc 22, overlaps almost entirely with Waorani territory. The communities charges that technicians from the Ministry of Energy & Non-renewable Resources sent to the communities to conduct a prior consultation on the oil bloc instead attempted to bribe them with "gifts" of food and promises of education and other aid, wthout making clear that the offers were in exchange for opening the territory to oil companies. The ruling suspends auctions for Bloc 22 while the case is on appeal.

Peru: butcher of Bagua goes out by his own hand

The ongoing political crisis in Peru reached a grisly climax April 17 with the suicide of two-time former president Alan García as he was being arrested, over his suspected involvement in corruption surrounding troubled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. The ex-president shot himself in the head after asking for a moment to be alone to call his lawyer when National Police agents showed up to detain him at his home in Lima. He died in the city's Casimiro Ulloa Hospital—apparently after suffering three heart attacks. The remains were turned over the Casa del Pueblo, headquarters of his APRA party, after his supporters took to the streets to demand the body be transfered there. Outside the Casa del Pueblo, party followers have gathered to chant "Alan no está muerto, vive con su pueblo" (Alan is not dead, he lives on wth his people). (RPP, RPP, Clarín, Jurist)

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