Amazon Theater

Ecuador: clashes at Quito protest over Yasuni

Indigenous and environmentalist protesters clashed with police in Ecuador Aug. 27, as a mobilization dubbed a zapateo (foot-stamping) against plans to open the Yasuni Amazon reserve to oil drilling was held in both Quito and Cuenca. Carlos Pérez, leader of the ECUARUNARI indigenous alliance, said police fired rubber bullets on protesters in Quito, leaving 12 hurt—claims denied by the Interior Ministry. At the capital's Plaza de la Independencia, protesters were confronted by an organized counter-demonstration made up of supporters of the ruling Alianza PAIS. After the march, protesters held a public assembly in the city's Plaza Bolívar, where they agreed to meet every Thursday outside the Environment Ministry in an ongiong campaign until their demands are met. The movement is demanding a consulta popular—public discussion and referendum—on the fate of Yasuni. Ecuador's National Assembly is currently considering President Rafael Correa's proposal to open oil blocs within the reserve. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Aug. 29; AFP, Aug. 28)

Brazil: farmers block Belo Monte to demand power

Some 150 farmers blocked the access road to one of the construction sites for the giant Belo Monte dam in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará on Aug. 20 to demand access to electricity. The farmers said Norte Energia S.A., the consortium in charge of the dam, was running electric lines past their homes for the construction but wasn't giving them access to the power. Some 300 families live in the area without access to electricity, according to Iury Paulino, a member of the Movement of Those Harmed by Dams (MAB). The residents were also demanding the construction of a bridge near the community of Volta Grande do Xingu. 

Peru: oil spill threatens rainforest reserve

Indigenous leaders in Peru's northern Amazonian region of Loreto on Aug. 10 protested that a leak from Pluspetrol's oil operations at the exploitation bloc known as Lot 8X is causing contamination within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, with which the bloc overlaps. Alfonso López Tejada, president of the Cocoma Association for the Development and Conservation of San Pablo de Tipishca (ACODECOSPAT) said that the reserve is "every day more unprotected against oil spills." (RPP, Aug. 11; El Comercio, Lima, Aug. 10)

Ecuador: indigenous leaders get prison terms

On Aug. 12, a court in Ecuador's Amazonian city of Macas convicted indigenous leader Pedro Mashiant and lawmaker Pepe Acacho with the Pachakutik party on charges of "terrorism" and "sabotage"  for their roles in a protest demonstration in 2009. They were each sentenced to 12 years, and each ordered to pay a fine of $4,000. The two pledged to appeal. "I believe I am innocent, and I believe I am being persecuted, but I will never go into hiding," said Acacho. "I will never flee, nor will I seek political asylum. The innocent do not run, it is the guilty who who flee from justice." Acacho added that he would take the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if necessary. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) issued a statement in support of the two men. (TeleAmazonas, Aug. 13; El Comercio, Quito, Aug. 12)

Ecuador opens Yasuni reserve to oil interests

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa announced Aug. 15 that he is abandoning plans for an ambitious internationally funded conservation program at Yasuni National Park, which called for international donors to compensate his government for keeping oil interests out of the reserve. "The world has failed us," Correa said in a televised address. "I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and with this, ended the initiative." Correa said the program had received only $13 million, a fraction of the $3.6 billion goal. He said he would immediately seek approval from the country's Legislative Assembly, where his alliance holds a majority, for opening the Ishpingo Tambocoha Titutini (ITT) bloc within the park to oil companies. Yasuni park is recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Peru: Culture Ministry halts Camisea expansion

Peru's Vice-Ministry of Inter-Culturality (VMI) on July 12 issued a critical report temporarily blocking expansion of the country's biggest gas project and asserting that two "isolated" indigenous peoples living in the area could be made extinct if it goes ahead. The VMI report is a detailed review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the planned expansion of the Camisea project in the southeast Amazon, which was written by the operating company, Pluspetrol, together with UK consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Approval of the EIA is currently pending by Peru's Ministry of Energy (MEM). According to the VMI, the health, "traditional economic activities" and ways of life of the indigenous peoples in "initial contact" and "voluntary isolation" would be severely impacted and two of them, the Nanti and the Kirineri, could be made "extinct."

Brazil sends tanks to protect threatened tribe

Survival International says it has received reports that Brazil's military has launched a major ground operation against illegal logging around the land of the Awá, said the be the "Earth's most threatened tribe." Hundreds of soldiers, police officers and Environment Ministry special agents have flooded the area, backed up with tanks, helicopters and close to a hundred other vehicles, to halt the illegal deforestation which has already destroyed more than 30% of one of the Awá's traditional territories (in Maranhão state). Since the operation reportedly started at the end of June 2013, at least eight saw mills have been closed and other machinery has been confiscated and destroyed. The operation comes at a critical time for the Awá, one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in the Brazilian Amazon, who are at risk of extinction if the destruction of their forest is not stopped as a matter of urgency.

Peru: demands emerge for 'plurinational state'

Vladimiro Huaroc, head of Peru's National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (ONDS), weighed in on the controversy over the country's new Prior Consultation Law June 14, in comments published in the official newspaper El Peruano. "There are many sectors that want the government to execute these actions as soon as possible, and we do not understand the trouble," he wrote. Seeming to address assertions by President Ollanta Humala that the law should not apply in the country's sierras, Huaroc invoked Peru's responsibilities under ILO Convention 169 and stated, "Probably, there are sectors that are not adequately informed" about the government's responsibilities to indigenous communities. "Prior consultation means informing the population; the Executive must do everything possible so that communities know in detail the economic processes that will be realized." 

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