On his first day in office Jan. 2, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (Medida Provisório 870) taking away responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, and handing it over to the Agriculture Ministry. In the same decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over regularization of quilombos (lands titled to runaway slave descendants) from the agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the Agriculture Ministry. The measure greatly weakens FUNAI, taking away its most important function. In practice, key areas of indigenous and quilombo policy will now be in the hands of agribusiness advocates—a long-time demand of the Bancada Ruralista (agribusiness bloc) in Congress.
Brazil's far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on a plan to privatize vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he seeks to expand hydro-power and other energy mega-projects the region. Since his election in an Oct. 28 run-off vote, Bolsonaro's team has announced that his administration will merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment into a new "super ministry" to oversee the plan. Brazil now has some 720 indigenous reserves, ranging in size from a single hectare to nearly ten million hectares. Bolsonaro has said he wants to put all of those lands—13% of Brazil's territory—on the auction block. "Minorities have to adapt to the majority, or simply disappear," he said on the campaign trail, adding that under his administration, "not one square centimeter" of Brazil will be reserved for the country's indigenous peoples.
Speaking at the fifth International Andino-Amazonian Forum for Rural Development in Cobija, Bolivia, a member of the delegation from Ecuador accused the Quito government of masking the despoliation of indigenous territories in populist phrases. Mónica Chuji, a community leader from the Ecuadoran rainforest, accused former president Rafael Correa of invoking the indigenous concept of Sumaj Causay or Vivir Bien (Good Living) in his new constitution only to "folklore-ize it [folklorizaron] so it ends up being a cliché without content." She said there is a "divorce between the discourse and the reality" as Ecuador's Amazon is opened to "mega-corporations that destroy our territories with the protection of successive governments." She also charged the government with persecution of indigenous leaders who resist. "In Ecuador, there are now more than 500 leaders, men and women, subject to different legal processes—some sentenced, other facing trial, and many fugitives in the face of persecution and prosecution of social protest." (Agencia de Noticias Fides, Bolivia, Oct. 17)
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador has issued a long-awaited ruling in favor of those affected by the transnational oil company Chevron, which operated through its subsidiary Texaco in Ecuador between 1964 and 1990. The court rejected the protection action that the company filed in 2013. In the 151-page ruling, the court denied Chevron's claim of violation of constitutional rights. Chevron will now have to pay $9.5 billion for the repair and remediation of social and environmental damage that, according to audits and expert reports, were a result of oil company operations in the Amazonian provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana. The court found that Texaco deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste on indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest.
In a joint anti-drug operation code-named "Armagedon," Peruvian military and National Police troops carried out a series of raids in the remote Putumayo river valley along the Colombian border this week, arresting some 40, destroying four cocaine laboratories, and seizing large quantities of cocaine sulfate and harvested cannabis. The raids took place in the locality of Güeppí, near Laguna Pacora, Putumayo province, Loreto region. The majority of those detained were Colombian nationals, and authorities said they suspect the presence of "dissident" FARC units, who are trying to establish the zone as a staging ground to keep alive their insurgency. More than 350 troops have been deployed in the operation, with five helicopters and three planes as well as boats. The operation is being coordinated with Colombian security forces, who are carrying out similar missions on their side of the Río Putumayo. (BBC News, July 18; El Comercio, July 16)
In an April 6 decision being hailed as "historic," Colombia's Supreme Court of Jutsice ruled in favor of a group of 25 young people and children who brought suit against the state to demand it take measures to assure their right to inherit a healthy environment. They asserted that their future food security and access to water is threatened by continued deforestation in the Amazon and other ecological degradation. In its ruling, the court also noted Colombia's responsibilities on a global level to halt deforestation, as carbon dioxide releases from forest loss contribute to the greenhouse effect. The youth in the case were represented by lawyers from Colombia's Environmental Justice Network (Red por la Justicia Ambiental). (El Tiempo, April 8; Contagio Radio, April 6)
Legal proceedings continue in Bagua, a town on the edge of the rainforest in Peru's Amazonas region, against 25 Awajún and Wampis indigenous activists over deadly violence at a pumping station for the North Peru Oilduct in June 2009. Station 6 had at that time been under occupation by indigenous activists opposed to expansion of oil operations into their Amazonian homelands. Violence broke out at the occupied pumping station on June 5, 2009, when word reached the activists there of that morning's Bagua massacre, precipitated by National Police attacking an indigenous roadblock outside the town. Ten agents of DINOES, the National Police elite anti-riot force, were slain in the clash at Station 6. Prominent indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, already cleared of charges connected to the violence at Bagua, is now among those being tried for the bloodshed at Station 6. The trial at the Bagua Penal Chamber opened Jan. 9, with the defendants facing possible life terms for kidnapping, armed rebellion, riot and other charges. (La República, Ideele Radio, Lima, Jan. 9)
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.