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)
The ongoing political crisis in Peru reached a grisly climax April 17 with the suicide of two-time former president Alan García as he was being arrested, over his suspected involvement in corruption surrounding troubled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. The ex-president shot himself in the head after asking for a moment to be alone to call his lawyer when National Police agents showed up to detain him at his home in Lima. He died in the city's Casimiro Ulloa Hospital—apparently after suffering three heart attacks. The remains were turned over the Casa del Pueblo, headquarters of his APRA party, after his supporters took to the streets to demand the body be transfered there. Outside the Casa del Pueblo, party followers have gathered to chant "Alan no está muerto, vive con su pueblo" (Alan is not dead, he lives on wth his people). (RPP, RPP, Clarín, Jurist)
In the last two weeks, Brazilian Amazonia has seen an alarming increase in targeted killings, with three massacres and at least nine deaths. The Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) defines a massacre as the killing of three or more people. The most recent killings took place April 3 in a landless peasants’ camp near the hamlet of Vila de Mocotó in the Altamira municipal district, in southwest Pará state, near the Belo Monte mega-dam. This is not far from Anapu, where Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked with Amazon landless peasant communities, was murdered in 2005.
A social leader seeking restitution for local peasants displaced by a hydroelectric mega-project in the Brazilian Amazon was slain by unknown assailants in an attack on her home March 22. Dilma Ferreira Silva, 47, was a leader of the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams, MAB), founded after construction of the massive Tucuruí hydro project on the Río Tocantins. Built during Brazil's military dictatorship, the project resulted in the forced displacement of some 30,000 local residents. She was slain along with her husband, Claudionor Costa da Silva, 42, and family friend Hilton Lopes, 38, when men arrived on motorcycles at their home in the settlement of Salvador Allende, Baião municipality, Pará state. The three were overpowered, tied up, and stabbed to death. Four men have since been arrested in the case, and in a simialr assault in the area which also saw three people killed; authorities are claiming the motive was robbery in both cases.
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."