Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)
Genaro Ledesma Izquieta, a campesino leader and later congressmember who was one of the most respected figures on Peru's political left, died April 1 at the age of 86. Born in Cajabamba, Cajamarca region, he moved in his youth to the mining town of Cerro de Pasco in the Central Andes, where he founded the Popular Worker-Student-Peasant Front (FOCEP), uniting campesinos and mine workers to fight for land and labor rights. In 1960, he was elected mayor of Cerro de Pasco province. But he was imprisoned later that year in connection with a May Day campesino mobilization at the hamlet of San Antonio de Rancas. Three were killed when police fired on the protest, but Ledesma was charged with provoking the violence. With the military coup of Gen. Ricardo Pérez Godoy in 1963, Ledesma was imprisoned a second time—now in the notoriously harsh island prison of El Frontón. But the workers and peasants of Cerro de Pasco launched a sucessful campaign to have him elected to Peru's Congress, and authorities were forced to free him to allow him to take his seat.
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.
Peru's creation of Yaguas National Park—covering nearly 870,000 hectares of rainforest along the remote border with Colombia—is being hailed as a critical advance for protection of global biodiversity. The territory in the Putumayo river basin is roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park, but with more than 10 times the diversity of flora and fauna—home to more than 3,000 plant species, 160 species of mammals (including manatees and the Amazonian river dolphin), 500 species of birds and some 550 fish species representing a full two-thirds of Peru's freshwater fish diversity. Some park also covers some 30 indigenous communities of the Tikuna, Kichwa, Ocaina, Mürui, Bora, and Yagua peoples. (NYT, Feb. 14; The Manual, Feb. 6; Mongabay, Jan. 11)
Thousands have repeatedly filled the streets of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, as a mounting protest movement demanding jobs and social development for the marginalized region was further fueled by a mining disaster that left two young brothers dead Dec. 22. The demonstrations started Dec. 12, with residents demanding lower electricity and water bills. But movement swelled after the deadly flood in a tunnel being dug by desperate locals at an abandoned coal pit in the mountains outside the town. The mine was for decades Jerada's economic lifeline, employing more than 9,000 people. After operations closed in the late 1990s many left the city. Those who stayed are struggling to survive—often by illegally taking coal from the abandoned pit, and selling it on the black market. Protesters accuse officials of turning a blind eye to the pirate mining despite the growing number of deaths in the improvised operations. They are demanding economic alternatives for the region, and government intervention to close "the mines of death."
After marching two weeks from the eastern rainforest to Quito, thousands of indigenous Ecuadorans claimed a victory Dec. 11 as their leaders met with President Lenin Moreno, winning pledges to respect their demands on cultural and territorial rights. Among key victories, the government agreed to suspend new mining concessions in indigenous territories pending a review to assure that they are in compliance with constitutional provisions. This includes Article 57, guaranteeing indigenous groups the right to prior consultation on extractive projects impacting their lands. The government also agreed to the reinstatement of a bilingual education program in indigenous languages.
Francisco Javier Ricaurte Gómez, one of the most powerful men in Colombia's justice system for the past 15 years, on Sept. 20 became the first former chief magistrate of the country's Supreme Court to go to prison. Bogotá daily El Tiempo reports that Ricuarte faces four charges related to the corruption scandal now unfolding in Colombia's highest judicial body. The Fiscalía, the country's top prosecutor, says he is one of the brains behind a ring that took in millions of pesos to pervert criminal cases.
In ominous news for environmental defenders in Peru, the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) is planning to revise mining regulations to enable the Andean country to overtake its southern neighbor Chile in copper production. Despite higher-grade ores and lower mining costs than Chile, Peru's government says its potential in copper exploitation is being restricted by too much bureaucracy. "We need to create the necessary conditions for mining to grow in our country so the government can invest in basic services, healthcare, education and infrastructure," said Mines and Energy Minister Cayetana Aljovin.