Social leader Milton Sánchez Cubas in Peru's northern Cajamarca region was acquitted July 16 of all criminal charges brought by the local subsidiary of US-based Newmont Mining. Prosecutors accused Sánchez of being "author" of the crime of "disturbance" in a protest concerning a land conflict between the company and a campesino family at the community of Tragadero Grande. Sánchez was represented by EarthRights International, which said in a statement, "[T]his case shows how the government uses legal tools to penalize freedom of expression, the right to information, freedom of assembly, and the right to protest." (ERI, July 16) Campesina Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, whose family lands were at issue in the dispute, was cleared of "land usurpation" by Peru's Supreme Court last May. (La República)
Chinese police used tear-gas and baton charges to disperse Tibetan villagers protesting a mine project in Qinghai's Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on July 7, following two months of demonstrations at the site. Rsidents said the project at a site called Upper Dechung was undertaken without informing the local inhabitants. Several were hospitalized following the police assault, including a 70-year-old man. There are also concerns for the whereabouts of a delegation of some 50 villagers who went to complain to provincial authorities about the mine, and have not been heard from since. The mine was seemingly initiated by private interests with little or no government oversight. "Local people suspect corruption is involved in connection with this joint venture," a source told Radio Free Asia.
Two opponents of a controversial hydro-electric project on Colombia's Río Cauca were slain by unknown assailants while they were working their fields in the riverside community pf El Pescadero, Puerto Valdivia municipality, Antioquia department, on May 8. Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and his brother Duvián Andrés Correa Sánchez were members of the Association of Artisanal Miners and Fishermen of Puerto Valdivia. Six days earlier, unidentified assailants killed Hugo Albeiro George Pérez, another community leader in Puerto Valdivia. All three were part of the Antioquia Ríos Vivos Movement that has publicly opposed construction of the Hidroituango project due to the environmental damage it has caused in the area, and had sought compensation for local families whose lands have been adversely impacted by the project. (Amnesty International, May 11; ¡Pacifista!, May 3)
All economic activities were suspended for several days in Peru's southern city of Moquegua as residents launched a civil strike to protest a planned large hike in water prices. The protests were relaxed April 19, when the central government sent a representative to meet with local and community leaders. The government initially proposed that the National Superintendancy of Sanitation Services (SURNASS) suspend for a year implementation of its March decree hiking water prices by 20% in arid Moquegua region. But protesters demanded that the decree be overturned entirely. Finally, the Technical Organism for Administration of Sanitation Services (OTASS), agreed to invest more money in Moquegua's infrastructure, heading off the need for the price hike. Authorities warned that the region's water system is at the brink of "collapse." (El Comercio, April 20; La República, Andina, April 19)
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)