Indigenous peoples across Brazil declared a victory when the country's Congress concluded work for the year on Dec. 17, having failed to approve a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 215, aimed at gutting the process of land demarcation. PEC 215 would have transfered responsibility for demarcation from the executive to legislative branch, where the land barons have far more power. This would have effectively halted pending demarcations of indigenous lands and Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) territories. Under congressional rules, the ending of the session without a vote on the amendment automatically disbands the special commission that was established to analyze it. The congressional agribusiness bloc that pushed for PEC 215 will have to start over from zero when the body re-convenes next year. The Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) issued an open letter to mark the victory, stating, "We indigenous peoples have shown that we will never allow our lands to be recolonized, invaded or destroyed, even if that means sacrificing our own lives."
The UN Climate Change Conference, officially the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed its 14-day meeting in Lima, Peru, late Dec. 14, two days after its scheduled end. The 196 parties to the UNFCCC approved a draft of a new treaty, to be formally approved next year in Paris, and to take effect by 2020. An earlier draft was rejected by developing nations, who accused rich bations of dodging their responsibilities to fight climate change and pay for its impacts. Peru's environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, told reporters: "As a text it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties." Friends of the Earth's Asad Rehman took a darker view: "The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year. Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialized world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change." (BBC News, ENS, Dec. 14)
On Dec. 3, a group of Shuar indigenous women from Ecuador's Amazon arrived in Quito to demand an investigation in the death of community leader José Tendetza Antún, who was planning on travelling to Peru for the Lima climate summit this month to press demands for cancellation of a mining project. Tendetza represented that Shuar community of Yanúa, El Pangui canton, Zamora Chinchipe province (see map). He disappeared Nov. 28 while on his way to discuss the mine matter with officials in the town of Bomboíza. The community launched a search, and his body was found Dec. 2 by local gold-miners. But the remains were turned over directly to the authorities, and quickly buried. Shuar leaders are demanding they be exhumed, and an autopsy conducted. Shuar leader Domingo Ankuash said based on what the miners said, he believes Tendetza had been beaten to death, and perhaps tortured.
At least 10 people were shot dead by a group of masked men on motorbikes accompanied by two cars the early morning of Nov. 5 in several impoverished suburbs of Belém, the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Residents reported on the massacre by social media while it was in progress, warning people to stay indoors. Some of the killings may have been targeted, but in other cases the attackers apparently shot randomly at people on the streets. The incident came just hours after the Nov. 4 shooting death of Antônio Marco da Silva Figueiredo, a corporal in an elite military police unit, the Metropolitan Tactical Patrol (ROTAM). "There is a big probability that if there was not active police involvement" in the subsequent massacre, "then there were people who already passed through the police," Anna Lins, a lawyer from Pará Society for the Defense of Human Rights (SDDH), told a reporter. "It was summary execution."
On Sept. 30, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos and their respective cabinet ministers held a rare joint meeting in Peru's Amazon river port of Iquitos. There, they signed a binational accord to launch a joint effort to "cleanse Putumayo"—a reference to the jungle river basin that has for many years been under the virtual control of criminal enterprises. The Río Putumayo, a tributary of the Amazon, forms the border between the two countries in the lawless region. The Colombian side is a key stronghold of the FARC guerillas, which is believed to do business with the criminal gangs that operate freely on the Peruvian side. Santos said "we have common enemies, such as the narco-traffic, illegal mining and cutting of forests." (El Tiempo, Sept. 30) He did not mention that efforts at cooperation to get the Putumayo under control have been hampered by an ongoing border dispute in the area.
Amid the current UN climate talks and massive march for action on climate change in New York City, the New York Times runs an oh-so-naughty op-ed by Nadine Unger, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at Yale, entitled "To Save the Planet, Don't Plant Trees." Now, if she had reversed the title as "Don’t Plant Trees To Save the Planet," she might have had a bit of a case. We ourselves reject the "carbon trading" scam that gives corporations a license to pollute if they plant trees—despite the fact that they often don't even plant the trees, but just grab forested lands from indigenous peoples, and (worse) the burninng of fossil fuels releases carbon that had been more thoroughly "locked" than that in trees, which do eventually die and rot. This is indeed a point that "carbon trading" and "biofuels" boosters seek to obfuscate. But this is not Unger's point. Instead, she is literally loaning legitimacy to Reaganoid nonsense that "trees cause pollution." To wit:
Four Asháninka indigenous leaders, well known for their work against illegal logging in the Amazon, were murdered near their home in eastern Peru, authorities admitted this week. The men—Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Melendez and Francisco Pinedo—were traveling from their community of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, in Masisea district of Ucayali region, to attend a meeting with other Asháninka leaders in Brazil. Their dismembered remains were found Sept. 1 by a local search party that was organized when they failed to return from the meeting. The widows of the men traveled for three days through the jungle, arriving in the regional capital of Pucallpa, arriving late on the night of Sept. 8, to demand immediate action by Peruvian authorities to bring the killers to justice. Vice minister for Interculturaity Patricia Balbuena announced that she will fly to Pucallpa to meet with the survivors. Chota, had received frequent death threats from illegal loggers he sought to expel from traditional Asháninka lands for which his community is seeking title. (Survival International, Sept. 9; El Comercio, AIDESEP, AP, Sept. 8)
Authorities in Brazil late last month arrested members of a criminal gang that they described as "the greatest destroyers" of the Amazon rainforest. The organization allegedly logged and burned vast areas of the rainforest and illegally sold public lands for farming, resulting in estimated damages worth more than $220 million, according to the Brazilian Federal Police. Eight suspects have been arrested so far, with another six still at large. The police operation covered four Brazilian states, including Sao Paulo and Pará. Last year, the Brazilian government said the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28% between August 2012 and July 2013, after years of decline. It made a commitment in 2009 to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80% by the year 2020. (BBC News, TeleSUR, Aug. 28; BBC News, Aug. 27)