Amazon Theater

Bolivia: police attack indigenous roadblocks

Bolivian National Police on Aug. 18 used batons and tear-gas to break up a road blockade launched a week earlier by Guaraní indigenous residents—and then raided the homes of several people thought to be organizers of the action. At least 10 people were detained on the highway and in the subsequent raids at Yateirenda community, Cabezas municipality, Santa Cruz department.Community leaders accused the police of "disproportionate" force in the raids, terrorizing women, children and elders. and filed a complaint with the Bolivian Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB). Local Guaraní from Takovo Mora Original Communitarian Territory (TCO) began blocking the Santa Cruz-Camiri highway to demand the right to "prior consultation" on the development of wells at the Chaco gas-fields, run by the parastatal YPFB. The company maintains that the four wells in question are all on private lands and therefore not subject to prior consultation with the TCO. The TCO, in turn, maintains that the wells are within its traditional territory and will impact their lands. (Eju!, Aug. 18; FM Bolivia, Aug. 14; Entorno Inteligente, Aug. 11)

Brazil: indigenous activists occupy Justice Ministry

Some 100 Guarani activists on Aug. 13 launched an occupation of an auditorium at the Justice Ministry building in Brasilia, demanding a meeting with the minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, as well as cabinet chief Miguel Rosseto and the head of the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, João Pedro Gonçalves. The protesters, joined by lawmaker Paulo Pimenta of the ruling center-left Workers Party (PT), are demanding urgent demarcation of their ancestral lands. (CIMI, Aug. 13) In one of several ongoing land conflicts involving the Guarani, on June 24 the indigenous community of Kurusu Mba in Mato Grosso do Sul state was attacked by gunmen after re-occupying traditional lands that had been usurped by local ranchers and soy growers. Huts were put to the torch, and an infant was burned to death. Brazil's high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, ruled in April that the community should not be evicted from the re-occupied lands until its traditional territories have been demarcated. The demarcation process remains stalled, while attacks on the Guarani continue. (Survival International, June 26; Survival International, April 3)

Peru: plan to 'contact' isolated tribe draws protest

In late July, Peru's Ministry of Culture announced a "Care Plan" for a band of Mashco Piro indigenous people believed to be living in voluntary isolation in a remote area of Madre de Dios region in the southern Amazon basin. Ministerial Resolution No. 258-2015-MC stated that the Vice-ministry of Inter-Culturality, through its General Directorate of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, would implement the plan, which emphasized establishing peaceful coexistence between the Mashco Piro and other indigenous communities in the area. The plan was sparked by increasingly frequent sightings of the band and two fatalities in confrontations between band members and communities on the edge of its territory. Encroachments on the band's territory by illegal loggers is believed to be pressuring the group to seek new lands. But government plans to initiative "contact" with the group immediately drew harsh criticism from indigenous rights advocates. "We are extremely worried about this situation and its possible disastrous consequences," said Francisco Estremadoyro, director of Lima-based ProPurús, a nonprofit that seeks to protect the peoples and environment in the remote region.

Peru: Amazonians suspend dialogue over oil bloc

Citing a lack of clear response from Peru's government, a group of some 50 apus (traditional leaders) of indigenous peoples in the Pastaza and Corrientes watersheds on July 18 suspended dialogue in the "consultation" process over expansion of oil operations at Bloc 192, in the northern Amazon region of Loreto. For the past 15 years, the bloc has been under development by PlusPetrol, but next month the government is take bids on its expansion over the next 30 years. Pacific Rubiales and Perenco as well as PlusPetrol are expected to place bids. Indigenous organizations FEDIQUEP and FECONACO have been in talks over the expansion with agencies including PeruPetro, the Culture Ministry, the Mines & Energy Ministry, and the General Directorate of Environmental and Energy Issues (DGAAE). FECONACO president Carlos Sandi charged, "The State seeks to repeat that same history of 45 years of oil exploitation," which for rainforest communities has meant "45 years of oil pollution." Added Magdalena Chino of FEDIQUEP: "Mother Earth is suffering, her breast has gone dry and she is crying for us; the animals are missing... It is easy to make standards that destroy us, but when it comes to making standards to protect us, they say it is too difficult." A representative of the Culture Ministry categorically denied negotiating in bad faith. (Diario Uno, July 20; El Comercio, July 19; Observatorio Petrolero, July 18; RPP, June 25)

Bolivia: government divided on Amazon road project

Bolivia's Vice-Minister of Government Alfredo Rada was asked by a reporter from TV show "Levántate Bolivia" June 25 how he viewed the controversial highway that would cut through the Isiboro Secure Inidgenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in light of Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the dangers of climate change. Implicitly referencing the repression of protests against the highway in 2011, which resulted in suspension of the project, Rada responded: "At the time I considered, and still consider, that TIPNIS has been one of the errors of the government." (ANF, June 25; ENS, June 18) Just weeks earlier, President Evo Morales made a statement indicating that the highway project would be revived. At a ceremony marking the 45th anniversary of founding of Villa Tunari municipality, Cochabamba, which would be a hub on the new highway, Morales said: "This road, compañeros, will be realized." Alluding to the neighboring jungle department of Beni as a stronghold of the right-wing opposition, he added: "First, it will liberate Beni. Second, it will bring greater integration between the departments, we are convinced of this." He claimed the project has the support of the governments of Cochabamba and Beni departments, both now controlled by Morales' ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). (La Razón, June 25)

Venezuelan tribes protest violent mining gangs

Members of the Pemón indigenous people on June 1 blocked the landing strip of Venezuela's Canaima National Park in southern Bolívar state, in protest of illegal miners operating on their lands. The action was undertaken to mark the 20th anniversary of Canaima being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leaders announced via Twitter that the Pemón will maintain a state of "rebellion" until there is action on the issue. Over the last decade, illegal mining for gold, diamonds and other minerals has spread rapidly through the Venezuelan Amazon, affecting peoples including the Pemón, Yanomami, Hoti, Eñepa, Yekuana and Arekuna. Some operations run by armed gangs said to be linked to Colombia's FARC guerillas. Rivers are being contaminated with poisonous mercury used in gold mining, devastating the health of indigenous communities. In some communities, the infiltration of gangs has led to prostitution and alcoholism.

Trans-Amazon rail project strikes fear in tribes

A controversial mega-project to build a transcontinental railway through the Amazon basin has caused outrage among indigenous people and advocacy groups. UK-based Survival International charges that the rail project, backed by the Chinese government, would cross through many indigenous territories and areas of high biodiversity across the rainforest in Peru and Brazil, opening them to industrial exploitation, illegal mining and logging, and peasant colonization. Survival warns that "uncontacted tribes" would face devastation from invasions into their lands, calling these peoples "the most vulnerable societies on the planet." Whole populations could be wiped out by violence from outsiders and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

Brazil: prosecutors move against Belo Monte dam

Federal prosecutors in Brazil on June 16 called for authorities to halt the eviction of some 2,000 families living in an area of the Amazon rainforest where the huge Belo Monte dam is being built. Prosecutors with the Federal Public Ministry said the consortium building the dam has broken numerous agreements on the relocation of residents. The Norte Energia consortium is violating terms of a contract with guarantees that the indigenous people, peasant settlers and fishermen living in the area would be relocated and provided with alternative means of survival, prosecutors said. The statement especially urged the government to halt the work of a vessel, known as the "demolition boat," hired by the consortium. "It has been travelling along the Xingu River evicting the families who live by the river, in the area to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam," the prosecutors' statement charges.

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