Brazil: judge agrees to first war crimes trial for members of dictatorship

A Brazilian federal judge in Pará on Aug. 31 agreed to conduct the first trial against members of the former dictatorship for alleged crimes during the military's rule from 1964-1985. The defendants are two retired army reserve members, Col. Sebastiao de Moura and Maj. Licio Maciel, accused of kidnappings during suppression of the guerilla movement in the Araguaia region between 1972 and 1975. The judge agreed with prosecutors that Brazil's 1979 amnesty law, which provides amnesty for members of the government and military alleged to have committed political crimes between 1961 and 1975, does not apply because bodies of the alleged kidnapping victims were never found, and the cases are therefore still technically open.

Brazil: quilombo threatened by rancher gunmen

Amnesty International reports that 45 families from the Quilombo Pontes community in Pirapemas municipality, in Brazil's northeastern Maranhão state, are being systematically threatened and intimidated by gunmen who are patrolling the area. The gunmen are employed by local ranchers who are trying to push the community off the land. Crops and property belonging to the community have been destroyed, and its members are now struggling to provide food for their families. The Pontes community was officially recognised as a quilombo territory—communities of descendants of escaped slaves—in December 2011, but the authorities have not intervened to guarantee the integrity of their land.

Venezuela: Yanomami massacred by outlaw miners

Authorities in Venezuela pledge to investigate breaking reports that illegal gold miners in southern Amazonas state carried out a "massacre" of an isolated Yanomami indigenous community. Witnesses of the aftermath described finding "burnt bodies and bones" at the community of Irotatheri, Alto Orinoco municipality, near the Brazilian border in the headwaters of the Río Ocamo, an Orinoco tributary. (See iTouch Map; Venezuela political map) Blame is being placed on illegal miners, known as garimpeiros, who cross the border from Brazil to prospect for gold and have attacked indigenous peoples before.

Brazil: court blocks mega-hydro to protect Pantanal

A Brazilian federal judge on Aug. 23 ruled that permits for more than 120 proposed hydro-electric dams in the Upper Paraguay River Basin cannot be issued without first conducting environmental impact assessments, dealing a blow to a major thrust of development planned for the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The ruling comes in response to a request from state and federal prosecutors in Mato Grosso do Sul, who petitioned the 1st Federal Court in Coxim for an injunction suspending construction of 126 new dams in the Pantanal, a vast region of wetlands in the basin. The ruling also impacts 20 already operating hydro plants, which will be able to continue running under their current licenses, but must submit to an impact study before seeking license renewals. Utilities must seek approval for the studies from the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) as well as state authorities before the projects can move ahead.

Brazil: high court orders release of rancher convicted in Dorothy Stang slaying

Brazil's Supreme Court on Aug. 22 ordered the release of Amazon rancher Regivaldo Galvão, convicted in the 2005 killing of US nun and rainforest activist Dorothy Stang. In 2010, Galvão was convicted by a court in Belém, Pará state, of ordering Stang's death, and sentenced to 30 years. The following year, the Pará court ordered that he start serving his term immediately, even while pursuing an appeal of his conviction. But the Supreme Court ruled that Galvão had the right to remain free pending the outcome of his appeal.

Brazilian appeals court suspends Belo Monte dam

A group of judges from Brazil's Regional Federal Tribunal (TRF1) suspended construction of the Belo Monte dam project on the Amazon's Xingu River Aug. 14, finding that indigenous people had not been properly consulted prior to approval of the project. The ruling upheld an earlier decision that declared the Brazilian Congress' authorization of the project in 2005 to be unconstitutional. The decision finds that the Brazilian constitution and ILO Convention 169, to which Brazil is party, require that Congress can only authorize the use of water resources for hydroelectric projects after an independent assessment of environmental impacts and subsequent consultations with affected indigenous peoples.

Brazil mobilizes troops to southern borders in anti-narco drive

Brazil on Aug. 8 announced the mobilization of nearly 9,000 military troops to its borders with four neighboring countries as part of an operation aimed at interrupting narco-trafficking networks. Army, navy and air force personnel are being deployed along the frontiers with Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay, the Defense Ministry said in announcing the mobilization, which has been carried out as an annual exercise since 2007. "One of our objectives is to control the airspace which is being used for illegal activities such as the drug trade and other contraband," said Brigade Commander Jose Geraldo Ferreira. The operation, code-named Agata 5, will last 30 days and bring F-5 fighter jets to the skies above the border zones. It will also involve sending troops to Brazil's Amazon region to crack down on outlaw gold mining. (BrazzilMag, Bernama, UPI, AP, Aug. 8)

Brazil: court orders Chevron to suspend drilling

A federal court in Brazil on Aug. 1 ordered Chevron and drilling company Transocean to suspend all oil drilling in the country within 30 days in the wake of two oil spills off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. A judge for Brazil's Regional Federal Court of the Second Region ruled that each company must pay 500 million reals, or $244 million, for every day that they do not comply with the suspension. In November, a Chevron appraisal well leaked 155,000 gallons of oil. In March, oil started leaking again from the well and Chevron suspended production in that oil field. In its ruling, the court rationalized that two oil spills in the span of four months demonstrated that Chevron and Transocean cannot operate the wells safely. Chevron plans to appeal the ruling, saying that it complied with all applicable laws and industry standards. 

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