At their annual protest encampment in Brasilia from April 24-6, some 4,500 indigenous people from across Brazil marched on the Supreme Court building to oppose a recent ruling that could negatively impact demarcation of indigenous territory. The case concerned Provisional Measure 870, signed by President Jair Bolsonaro on his first day in office Jan. 1, shifting responsibility for indigenous reserve demarcation from FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Agriculture Ministry. MP 870 was challenged as unconstitutional, but on April 24 Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso rejected that challenge—although he did agree that if the Agriculture Ministry failed to carry through with demarcation in future, further legal action could go forward at that time. During the three-day encampment, indigenous groups also protested Bolsonaro’s plan to open indigenous reserves to mining and agribusiness. The Free Land Encampment has been held in Brasilia every year since 2017. (Mongabay, April 26)
The Superior Court of Justice for Peru's rainforest region of Madre de Dios on March 12 upheld a lower court ruling that nullified mining concessions as well as the titling of agricultural properties and granting of water rights to third parties on the territory of the indigenous community of Tres Islas, without prior consultation with that community. The Regional Government of Madre de Dios (GOREMAD) is ordered to comply with the ruling, as is the National Water Authority (ANA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MINAGRI). The National Police are called upon to enforce the ruling if necessary. The decision confirms a Dec. 29 ruling by Tambopata Superior Court.
The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia on March 20 revived the case by Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe and her family against the US-based Newmont Mining Company. The family of subsistence farmers from Peru's Cajamarca region sued Newmont in the United States for abuse at the hands of the company's security forces. A lower court had dismissed the case, saying it should be heard in Peru. The Appeals Court reversed that decision. "Because of this decision, we are excited and full of hope. We have faith that sooner or later, there is going to be justice for us. We have always said we would knock on all the courthouse doors necessary in order to get justice; this brings us one step closer to the day when justice is finally done," said plaintiff Ysidora Chaupe-Acuña, who is represented in the case by EarthRights International.
For many years, international and Brazilian mining companies have sought access to the mineral wealth lying beneath indigenous lands. Finally, the government of Jair Bolsonaro seems determined to give them that opportunity. On March 4, while Brazilians were distracted by Carnival celebrations, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, Admiral Bento Albuquerque, announced plans to permit mining on indigenous reserves—without the consent of the inhabitants. Speaking at the annual convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), a major event in the mining world that attracts tens of thousands of attendees, Albuquerque said that Brazil’s indigenous people would be given a voice but not a veto in the matter. The opening of indigenous ancestral territories to mining, he predicted, would "bring benefits to these communities and to the country."
The Solomon Islands' caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou is threatening to "blacklist" the companies involved in a 100-ton oil-spill near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "My government is prepared to go as far as putting the companies on a black list internationally if they do not take on their responsibilities," he told a press conference March 7, without elaborating on how this would actually sanction the companies involved. He did say the lease for the Bauxite mine could be suspended. Hou, who faces an election next month, has called in Australia's assistance to clean up the spill, which he described as causing "irreversible damage," acknowledging his country's resources were inadequate for the task. "The impact on the marine life and the coral is already massive with much of it irreversible," he said.
Peru's central government is pouring troops into the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in an all-out effort against thousands of illegal gold-miners operating in remote areas. Under "Operation Mercury"—named for the mercury poisoning caused to local waters by the mining—three High-Mobility Temporary Mixed Bases, manned by military and National Police personnel, are to be established in the area of La Pampa, within the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Cabinet officials were flown into the remote area March 5 to inaugurate the first base, dubbed "Alpha." On hand were Defense Minister José Huerta, Interior Minister Carlos Morán and Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz. Each base is to have 100 soldiers, 50 police agents and a public prosecutor. In the first phase of the operation, launched last month, authoritiies "rescued" 51 people from the mining camps, detained 80, and confiscated millions of dollars in prperty.
US senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bob Menéndez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced a resolution calling on Bolivia's President Evo Morales not to stand for re-election this October. Cruz said Bolivia is going in a "very dangerous direction, aligning itself with illegal and illegitimate regimes, including that of [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela. It is important that all parties respect the constitution of Bolivia, which includes term limits." (Peru21, Feb. 1) Bolivia saw a wave of strikes and protests after a December ruling by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election.
Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.