Amazon Theater

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.

China pushes trans-Amazon railway project

China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railway project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.

Peru: protests against PlusPetrol turn deadly

Two have been killed by National Police and army troops in militant protests against the operations of PlusPetrol at Pichanaki, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Chanchamayo province of Peru's Junín region. In an action organized by the Environmental Defense Front of Pichanaki, some 500 campesinos and indigenous Asháninka and Nomatsiguenga warriors blocked access roads on Feb. 9 and two days later invaded a military base established to protect the PlusPetrol operations at Lot 108. The protesters are demanding the ouster of PlusPetrol and SIMSA mining company from the territory, saying their demands for dialogue over ecological damage have for years been rebuffed. On Feb. 12, the government finally did agree to send a delegation to meet with the protesters, headed by Justice Minister Daniel Figallo and Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga. The protesters have relaxed their blockades while the talks are underway. (Andina, Feb. 13; TeleSUR, Radio Azul, Puno, Feb. 12; La Republica, El Comercio, Feb. 11; La Republica, Feb. 9) 

Peru: Achuar protesters seize Amazon oil-field

Hundreds of Achuar indigenous protesters occupied 16 wells at Peru's biggest oil bloc Jan. 27, halting production to demand better compensation for use of native lands by Argentine firm Pluspetrol. Lot 1-AB, in Loreto region, includes 117 wells and produces some 15,000 barrels per day, nearly a quarter of Peru's output. Pluspetrol has operated the bloc since 2001, and has faced repeated protests from the local Achuar communities of Pampa Hermosa and Nuevo Jerusalen over contamination of lands and waters. The 16 wells and a Pluspetrol base camp at the community of Jibarito remain under occupation. On Feb. 4, the protesters said they would seize more wells if the company does not come to the dialogue table. "They have taken their measures of protest and are waiting for dialogue to resolve this as soon as possible," said Carlos Sandi of the Federation of Native Communities of Corrientes (FECONACO). He said demands include better compensation for the use of their lands, and installation of an industrial sawmill promised by the company. They also want a community-run company to provide services for the oil bloc. Pluspetrol says it has already paid nine communities, and the Achuar settlements are outside the bloc's area of influence.

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