Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro failed to attend the summit of leaders of seven South American countries with Amazon Basin territory to address the devastating fires now consuming the rainforest. Duque claimed a medical emergency, and was represented by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, at the meeting in Colombia's Amazonian city of Leticia on Sept. 6. The presidents of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Araujo, the natural resouces minister of Guyana and vice president of Suriname agreed to form an "Amazonian cooperation network" to track deforestation across borders. Venezuela, despite having a large swath of Amazonian territory, was not invited, as Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro. Brazil has the largest share of the Amazon by far, and Bolsonaro's failure to attend was assailed by environmentalists worldwide.
Central Africa's rainforests are currently being consumed by a vast system of forest fires dwarfing even those that are ravaging the Amazon. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been engulfed by flames over the past weeks—to comparatively little notice in the world media. Bloomberg reported Aug. 23 that Weather Source satellite data recorded 6,902 fires in Angola over the past 48 hours, and 3,395 in the Democratic Republic of Congo compared to 2,127 in Brazil. French newspaper La Voix du Nord states, "In Angola, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, thousands of fires consume phenomenal amounts of vegetation." Since the beginning of 2019, it is the DRC that has recorded the most fires, far ahead of Brazil. NASA attributes the fires to "widespread agricultural burning," as farmers employ slash-and-burn methods to clear land for crops.
President Evo Morales announced Aug. 21 that Bolivia has contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" to help extinguish huge forest fires in the Amazon have that have spread over the border from Brazil. The giant air-tanker, capable of carrying up to 19,200 gallons (72,680 liters) of water or fire retardant, was flown from California to Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia's eastern city of Santa Cruz, on lease from the firm Global Supertanker. Morales has also mobilized army helicopters to evacuate affected communites deep in the rainforest. Some 500,000 hectares of forest are now said to be in flames in Bolivia. (Fire Aviation, TeleSur, Folha de S.Paulo, Aug. 22)
Brazilian authorities are investigating the murder of an indigenous leader in the northern state of Amapá, in the Amazon region, where violence has escalated since a group of some 50 heavily armed men—believed to be garimpeiros, or outlaw gold-miners—reportedly invaded the Wajãpi indigenous reserve. On the morning of July 23, indigenous chief Emyra Wajãpi was found stabbed to death close to Waseity village where he lived, according to the Council of Wajãpi Villages (APINA). Three days later, the group of armed men appeared in the neighboring Yvytotõ indigenous village and threatened residents, forcing them to flee to the nearby village of Mariry, according to APINA.
Thousands of illegal gold-miners (garimpeiros) have invaded Yanomami Park, one of Brazil's largest indigenous reserves, demarcated in 1992, and covering 96,650 square kilometers of rainforest in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, near the border with Venezuela. An incursion of this scale has not occurred for a generation, bringing back memories among Yanomami elders of the terrible period in the late 1980s, when some 40,000 garimpeiros moved onto their lands and about a fifth of the indigenous population died in just seven years due to violence, malaria, malnutrition, mercury poisoning and other causes.
An appeals court in Rome sentenced 24 to life in prison on July 8, including former senior officials of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The officials were found to have been involved in Operation Condor, under which opponents of military rule were tracked down and eliminated across South America's borders in the 1970s and early '80s. The exact number of people who were killed through this operation is not known. The case before the court focused on the disappearance of 43 people, 23 of whom were Italian citizens. The prosecutors applied the universal jurisdiction precedent from the 1998 arrest in London of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. They also referenced the 2016 conviction of leaders of Argentina's military dictatorship, which confirmed the existence of Operation Condor for the first time.
Deforestation in Brazil's portion of the Amazon rainforest rose more than 88% in June compared with the same month a year ago—the second consecutive month of rising forest loss under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. According to data from the Brazilian Space Agency, deforestation totaled 920 square kilometers (355 square miles). (The Guardian, July 3) An analysis of satellite data by BBC News finds that "An area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch [soccer field] is now being cleared every single minute." A sobering study published June 24 in the journal Nature: Climate Change warns of a feedback loop in which climate change fueled in large part by rainforest destruction may itself become a cause of rainforest destruction and biodiversity loss: "Deforestation is currently the major threat to Amazonian tree species but climate change may surpass it in just a few decades." (Courthouse News Service)
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)