Amazon Theater

Peru: state of emergency over illegal mining

Peru's President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in response to reports of mercury poisoning by outlaw gold-mining operations. According to country's Environment Ministry, as many as 50,000 people or 41% of the population of Madre de Dios, have been exposed to mercury contamination. The government plans to send hospital ships and loads of untainted fish to the area, where mercury has contaminated local waterways. Illegal gold production has increased five-fold in Peru since 2012, and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in Madre de Dios. Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer, but an estimated 20% of its annual output is of unknown origin. (Mining.com, La República, May 24)

'Stop Brazil's Genocide' campaign greets Olympics

UK-based indigenous rights advoacy group Survival International has launched a campaign to prevent the annihilation of tribal peoples in Brazil, to coincide with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the political chaos currently engulfing Brazil, the campaign aims to bring attention to serious human rights issues and threats facing the country's indigenous peoples. Survival states: "These threats persist regardless of the political turmoil in the country." The campaign, "Stop Brazil's Genocide," focuses on protecting "uncontacted" tribes of the Amazon such as the Kawahiva people; ending violence and land theft directed against the Guarani in southern Brazil; and stopping PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would undermine indigenous land rights and spell disaster for tribes nationwide.

Peru: Amazon leaders broach separatism

Fernando Meléndez, president of Peru's northern rainforest region of Loreto, announced April 29 that he will seek a referendum on seceding from the country, charging that the central government "has no interest" in addressing the region's needs. "Loreto will take historic decisions in the coming days to determine its destiny," he told local media. "If the government does not listen at the dialogue table, we will decide to seek a referendum and see the possibility of going down another path." He said that despite the "patriotic spirit" of Loreto, Lima has mainly seen the region as a source of oil wealth, abandoning its people to underdevelopment. He said that last year Loreto received only 600,000 soles ($180,000) in compensation for oil exploitation in the region. "This is inconceivable. Loreto is a region that over 40 years has given the national treasury billions of dollars, and therefore we demand that the government give compensation; all of the budgets in our region are broken."

Brazil: mega-dam suspended in win for indigenous

The planned São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam in Brazil's Amazonian state of Pará received a significant setback April 20 when its license was suspended by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natura Resources (IBAMA). The move came in response to a report published by Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), declaring "the infeasibility of the project from the perspective of an indigenous component." Some 10,000 Munduruku people live along the Rio Tapajós, and the flooding of their territory by the dam would necessitate their relocation—which FUNAI found to be in violation of Brazil's constitution. In the report, FUNAI recommends the demarcation of 1,780 square kilometers of indigenous Munduruku territory, known as Sawré Muybu, in the area that would be impacted by the project. The 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam would be Brazil's second largest, after the controversial Belo Monte plant, which finally began operating this week after years of protests by the Munduruku and other peoples. (Mongabay, The Guardian, April 22)

Amazon tribe takes hostages to protest oil spill

Members of the Wampis community of Mayuriaga in the northern Peruvian Amazon seized a grounded military helicopter March 6, holding crew members and eight officials who were on board to press for inclusion in the emergency response plan to last month's devastating oil spill in the region. The eight officials, from state company PetroPerú, were released two days later, after the government agreed to a meeting to discuss indigenous demands, including to improve electricity and other services for the remote area. The Wampis were angered that Supreme Decree 012-2016, instating the emergency response plan, did not actually include their community in the clean-up zone. Some  1,000 barrels spilled when PetroPerú's trans-Andean pipeline rupturted Feb. 3 at Mayuriaga, which lies in Morona municipalty, Datem del Marañón province, Loreto region. Nine days earlier, a second leak further west on the pipeline spilled some 2,000 barrels. The Oleoducto Norperuano is 40 years old, and has been repeatedly cited in recent years by environmental regulator OEFA for poor maintainence. (TeleSur, March 8; RPP, Reuters, March 7)

Amazonians protest in Lima over oil spills

Peru's Amazonian indigenous organization AIDESEP held a plantón or protest vigil Feb. 18 outside the Lima offices of PetroPerú, to demand action following devastating oil spills. The Jan. 25 spill from a pipeline rupture at Chiriaco, Amazonas region, was followed by another Feb. 3 at Morona, Loreto. Both were caused by ruptures of the Oleoducto Norperuano, and both have contaminated the Río Marañon, a major tributary of the Amazon. Both have left some 10,000 local inhabitants impacted, with waters the communities depend on for drinking and fishing heavily contaminated. AIDESEP leaders charged PetroPerú with a pattern of lax oversight, pointing to a similar spill at Cuninico, Loreto, in June 2014. They demanded the Oleoducto Norperuano be shut down until safety can be assured. Leaders also said the government's response to the disasters has been insufficient, leaving communities without access to fresh water. (Peru21, Feb. 19; Servindi, Feb. 18; La República, RPP, Feb. 15)

Peru: oil spill fouls major Amazon tributary

Crude from an oil pipeline spill in northern Peru has spread due to heavy rainfall and reached the Río Marañon, a major tributary of the Amazon, a local indigenous leader said Feb. 12. The rupture on the North Peru Pipeline (Oleoducto Norperuano) occured Jan. 25 in Imaza dsitrict, Bagua province, Amazonas region, and immediately contaminated Quebrada Inayo, fouling several campesino plots in the canyon. At least some 2,000 barrels escaped. In the days since, it has spread down the Inayo into the Río Chiriaco and finally into the Marañon. Edwin Montenegro, president of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon of Peru (ORPIAN-P), charged pipeline operator PetroPerú with irresponsibility. "The populations of the communities are affected by nausea, vomiting and illness due to the strong odor," he said. "PetroPerú is more concerned with recovering the lost petroleum than cleaning up the affected zone and bringing assistance to the communities that now see their principal source of water contaminated." Imaza municipal authorities also accused PetroPerú of negligence and playing down the extent of contamination. PetroPerú admits the clean-up effort has been slowed due to the rains, which in turn are spreading the oil. (EFE, Correo, Perú21, Andina, El Comercio, Feb. 12; AIDESEP, Feb. 1)

Peru: miner protests paralyze rainforest region

On Dec. 9, informal gold-miners in Peru's southern rainforest region of Madre de Dios suspended a paro or civil strike they had launched more than two weeks earlier. Leaders of the Alliance of Federations said they would call off the strike as talks were underway with a team from Peru's cabinet, the Council of Ministers, that arrived in the remote region that day. Since Nov. 23, regional capital Puerto Maldonado had been paralyzed by protesters demanding the national government drop its new plan to crack down on illegal mining and logging operations. Specifically, they sought the overturn of Supreme Decree 013-2015—which would supervise and control the sale of chemicals that can be used for illegal mining—and Supreme Decree 1220, a measure that seeks to fight against illegal logging. Talks are to center around establishing a "Table for Sustainable Development" in the region, coordinating national policy with popular organizations.

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