Authorities in Brazil say they freed over 1,000 workers who were being held captive as “debt slaves” at an ethanol producing sugarcane plantation. The Brazilian Ministry of Justice said that police from the Mobile Verification Task Force freed 1,108 workers who were cutting sugarcane for 14 hours a day: from 3 AM until 5 PM, with only a short break for lunch. Those who were in debt were "living in a horrifying condition in cramped shelters with poor sanitation." (AHN, July 4) Humberto Celio, co-ordinator of the Mobile Verification Task Force, told Agencia Brasil that many workers were sick due to spoiled food and contaminated water. (AP, July 3)
On June 19 US District Judge Leonard Sand of the Southern District of New York ruled against Chevron Corp.'s efforts to have the American Arbitration Association settle its dispute with Ecuador and the Ecuadoran state oil company Petroecuador. This was a significant setback for Chevron, which is trying to avoid paying for the cleanup of environmental damage in Ecuador's Amazon region caused by Texaco Petroleum Co.'s operations there from 1964 to 1992. Texaco left the country in 1992; it merged with Chevron in 2001.
Ecuador has offered to drop plans to develop the country's biggest oilfield at Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) in the Amazon basin if developed nations pay it to protect the land. President Rafael Correa hopes wealthy governments and environmental groups will pay $350 million annually to leave the oil in the ground and help slow global warming.
The Enawene Nawe, a remote Amazonian tribe in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, are blockading a highway in protest at a series of hydroelectric dams that will destroy their vital fishing grounds. Companies led by the world·s largest soya producers, the Maggi family, are pushing for the vast complex of dams to be built along the Juruena river which flows through the tribe's land. "The dams will bring our death, as they will raise the uncontrollable anger of the spirits," said tribe members.
On May 15, wealthy landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was given the maximum sentence, 30 years, for being one of the masterminds of the February 2005 murder of US-born nun Dorothy Stang, a 73-year-old defender of the Amazon rainforest and landless people. It is the first conviction of a member of Pará state's landed elite in a wave of killings of peasant leaders and forest defenders in recent years.
Members of the indigenous Achuar communities in the Amazon basin in the Peru-Ecuador border region have notified US Oil Company Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) that they will bring a lawsuit against the company in the US if it will not clean up toxic waste from drilling. [IPS, May 4]
Venezuela is advocating regional integration at a two-day, 12-nation energy summit of South American leaders that opens April 16 on the Caribbean island of Margarita. "Gradually, the US empire will end up a paper tiger and we, the peoples of Latin America, will become true tigers of steel," President Hugo Chávez said on the eve of the summit. Chávez is expected to use the summit to promote his plan to build a 8,000-kilometer gas pipeline linking Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina.
On March 24, Brazilian federal police and environmental agents shut down a major deep-water port on the Amazon River owned by Cargill Inc., saying the US-based multinational agribusiness firm failed to provide an environmental impact statement required by law. Cargill's controversial soy export terminal port is located in the town of Santarem, in Para state. Judge Souza Prudente ordered the port shut down late on March 23. Federal police agent Cesar Dessimoni said Cargill had prepared an environmental assessment that did not meet federal standards. "They'll have to do it correctly, as the law demands," he said. "A big step forward has been taken in enforcing the responsible use of natural resources and bringing greater governance in the Amazon," Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator in Brazil, said in a statement.