Human Rights Watch on March 26 released a report charging that Ecuador's former president Rafael Correa abused the criminal justice system to target indigenous leaders and environmentalists who protested mining and oil exploitation in the Amazon. The 30-page report, Amazonians on Trial: Judicial Harassment of Indigenous Leaders and Environmentalists in Ecuador, notes ongoing efforts by Correa to silence ecological opposition, starting with the 2013 closure of the Pachamama Foundation by presidential decree. In 2016, his administration sought to similarly close another leading environmental group, Acción Ecológica, but backtracked after the move provoked an international outcry, including condemnation by UN experts. The report also notes criminal cases against indigenous and environmental activists in which "prosecutors did not produce sufficient evidence" to support the serious charges they brought.
After three years of investigation, Bolivia's Public Ministry reached a decision on March 15 not to bring criminal charges against Adolfo Chávez, the former leader of the Confederation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB), and 21 others who were linked to a corruption scandal in a case many saw as politically motivated. Chávez and the others were accused of misappropriating monies made available through the government's Development Fund for Original Indigenous Peoples and Campesino Communities (FONDIOC). But he claimed he was targeted for his opposition to the government's development plans for the Isiboro Secure Inidgenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), in the eastern rainforest.
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)
In a setback to Chevron's effort to evade a $9.5 billion liability owed to rainforest communities, Canada's Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Ecuadoran indigenous leaders signed a protocol Dec. 6 to hold the corporation accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste and for ongoing violations of indigenous rights. The agreement was signed at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signed the protocol along with Jamie Vargas, president of Ecuador's indigenous federation, CONAIE, and Carmen Cartuche, president of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the community-based organization in Ecuador's Amazon region that brought an historic lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of indigenous and campesino communities. The agreement is supported by a resolution passed unanimously by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.
Canadian oil firm Frontera Energy Corp has failed to secure a new contract for operating Peru’s biggest oil bloc because of a lack of "adequate conditions," state company PetroPeru announced Oct. 11. Frontera has operated Bloc 192 in the Amazonian region of Loreto for the past two years, but control of the oilfield will revert to PetroPeru once its contract ends in 2019. PetroPeru gave no further details on the decision, but it comes two weeks after Frontera applied to state regulator PeruPetro for an official declaration of force majeure over protests by indigenous communities living within the oil bloc. The declaration would allow the company to legally suspend contractual obligations due to an event outside of its control. Indigenous protesters seized oil wells in Bloc 192 to demand that their communities be consulted before a decision was made on renewing the contract.
Peru's Transport and Communications Ministry on Sept. 7 signed a contract with Chinese state-owned engineering giant SinoHydro to build the Hidrovía Amazónica, a mega-project aimed at turning the Amazon's major rivers into arteries for delivering the resources of the rainforest basin to foreign markets. Peruvian firm Construcción y Administración SA (CASA) is also to be a partner in the deal, announced earlier this year by the government's foreign investment arm, ProInversión. With a projected cost of $95 million, the Hidrovía calls for dredging 2,687 kilometers of Amazon waterways to make them navigable year-round. It encompasses stretches of the rivers Marañón and Amazonas (from Saramiriza to Santa Rosa), Huallaga (from Yurimaguas to the Marañón) and Ucayali (from Pucallpa to the Marañón). These rivers usually are too low for commercial navigation during the July-October dry season). Proinversión claims to have carried out a "prior consultation" with impacted communities along the rivers, having won 40 agreements to proceed with work. (Gestion, Sept. 7; El Peruano, July 17; BBC Mundo, July 7)
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.