Amazon Theater

Venezuelan tribes protest violent mining gangs

Members of the Pemón indigenous people on June 1 blocked the landing strip of Venezuela's Canaima National Park in southern Bolívar state, in protest of illegal miners operating on their lands. The action was undertaken to mark the 20th anniversary of Canaima being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leaders announced via Twitter that the Pemón will maintain a state of "rebellion" until there is action on the issue. Over the last decade, illegal mining for gold, diamonds and other minerals has spread rapidly through the Venezuelan Amazon, affecting peoples including the Pemón, Yanomami, Hoti, Eñepa, Yekuana and Arekuna. Some operations run by armed gangs said to be linked to Colombia's FARC guerillas. Rivers are being contaminated with poisonous mercury used in gold mining, devastating the health of indigenous communities. In some communities, the infiltration of gangs has led to prostitution and alcoholism.

Trans-Amazon rail project strikes fear in tribes

A controversial mega-project to build a transcontinental railway through the Amazon basin has caused outrage among indigenous people and advocacy groups. UK-based Survival International charges that the rail project, backed by the Chinese government, would cross through many indigenous territories and areas of high biodiversity across the rainforest in Peru and Brazil, opening them to industrial exploitation, illegal mining and logging, and peasant colonization. Survival warns that "uncontacted tribes" would face devastation from invasions into their lands, calling these peoples "the most vulnerable societies on the planet." Whole populations could be wiped out by violence from outsiders and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

Brazil: prosecutors move against Belo Monte dam

Federal prosecutors in Brazil on June 16 called for authorities to halt the eviction of some 2,000 families living in an area of the Amazon rainforest where the huge Belo Monte dam is being built. Prosecutors with the Federal Public Ministry said the consortium building the dam has broken numerous agreements on the relocation of residents. The Norte Energia consortium is violating terms of a contract with guarantees that the indigenous people, peasant settlers and fishermen living in the area would be relocated and provided with alternative means of survival, prosecutors said. The statement especially urged the government to halt the work of a vessel, known as the "demolition boat," hired by the consortium. "It has been travelling along the Xingu River evicting the families who live by the river, in the area to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam," the prosecutors' statement charges.

China pushes trans-Amazon railway project

China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railway project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.

Peru: protests against PlusPetrol turn deadly

Two have been killed by National Police and army troops in militant protests against the operations of PlusPetrol at Pichanaki, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Chanchamayo province of Peru's Junín region. In an action organized by the Environmental Defense Front of Pichanaki, some 500 campesinos and indigenous Asháninka and Nomatsiguenga warriors blocked access roads on Feb. 9 and two days later invaded a military base established to protect the PlusPetrol operations at Lot 108. The protesters are demanding the ouster of PlusPetrol and SIMSA mining company from the territory, saying their demands for dialogue over ecological damage have for years been rebuffed. On Feb. 12, the government finally did agree to send a delegation to meet with the protesters, headed by Justice Minister Daniel Figallo and Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga. The protesters have relaxed their blockades while the talks are underway. (Andina, Feb. 13; TeleSUR, Radio Azul, Puno, Feb. 12; La Republica, El Comercio, Feb. 11; La Republica, Feb. 9) 

Peru: Achuar protesters seize Amazon oil-field

Hundreds of Achuar indigenous protesters occupied 16 wells at Peru's biggest oil bloc Jan. 27, halting production to demand better compensation for use of native lands by Argentine firm Pluspetrol. Lot 1-AB, in Loreto region, includes 117 wells and produces some 15,000 barrels per day, nearly a quarter of Peru's output. Pluspetrol has operated the bloc since 2001, and has faced repeated protests from the local Achuar communities of Pampa Hermosa and Nuevo Jerusalen over contamination of lands and waters. The 16 wells and a Pluspetrol base camp at the community of Jibarito remain under occupation. On Feb. 4, the protesters said they would seize more wells if the company does not come to the dialogue table. "They have taken their measures of protest and are waiting for dialogue to resolve this as soon as possible," said Carlos Sandi of the Federation of Native Communities of Corrientes (FECONACO). He said demands include better compensation for the use of their lands, and installation of an industrial sawmill promised by the company. They also want a community-run company to provide services for the oil bloc. Pluspetrol says it has already paid nine communities, and the Achuar settlements are outside the bloc's area of influence.

Ecuador: Waorani warriors on trial in oil-field raid

Indigenous leaders in Ecuador are calling for the release of Waorani (Huaroani) tribesmen arrested in a raid on a jungle oil-field that left six soldiers injured. In the Jan. 6 raid, tribesmen armed with spears, bows and arrows, blowguns and firearms seized a facility run by Petrobell, a subsidiary of Brazil-based Synergy Group, in Arajuno canton, Pastaza province. The action shut down production at the field, which normally produces 3,200 barrels a day. Six Waorani were arrested in the raid, and denied bail. The Defense Ministry said the detentions were necessary to stop "looting" and disruption of oil production. Franco Viteri of indigenous organization CONAIE is calling for the men to be released, arguing that they were defending their traditional territory from incursions by oil companies. "For 40 years, oil companies, with the consent of the state, have been smashing, looting and sabotaging the good life of indigenous peoples," he said in a statement. (Mongabay, Jan. 15)

Peru to evacuate village in Amazon conflict

Army and National Police forces in Peru sent riverboats to evacuate a remote rainforest village after it was raided by an indigenous band that has long lived in voluntary isolation in southeastern Madre de Dios region. Around 200 men armed with bows and arrows raided the community of Monte Salvado on the Río Piedras near the Brazilian border Dec. 19. The raiders—thought to be members of the Mashco-Piro tribe—took machetes, rope, blankets and food in the attack. There were no injuries reported, although the raiders did fire arrows. After the raid, they retreated back into the forest. But fearing another attack, Monte Salvado residents—themselves of the Yine tribe, a linguistically related group—are seeking refuge in Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital. Some 40 have now been evacuated.

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