Authorities in Brazil late last month arrested members of a criminal gang that they described as "the greatest destroyers" of the Amazon rainforest. The organization allegedly logged and burned vast areas of the rainforest and illegally sold public lands for farming, resulting in estimated damages worth more than $220 million, according to the Brazilian Federal Police. Eight suspects have been arrested so far, with another six still at large. The police operation covered four Brazilian states, including Sao Paulo and Pará. Last year, the Brazilian government said the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28% between August 2012 and July 2013, after years of decline. It made a commitment in 2009 to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80% by the year 2020. (BBC News, TeleSUR, Aug. 28; BBC News, Aug. 27)
Rare video footage of the "first contact" with an isolated indigenous band near the Brazil-Peru border has emerged—along with new accounts of horrific violence against the group, prompting experts to warn of a threat of "extermination" and "genocide." The video clip, released by FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs department, and first published by Amazonia Blog, and shows several young and healthy members of the indigenous group exchanging goods such as bananas. But disturbing reports by the band mambers suggest that many of their elder relatives were massacred and their houses set on fire. Interpreter Zé Correia reported, "The majority of old people were massacred by non-Indians in Peru, who shot at them with firearms and set fire to the houses of the uncontacted. They say that many old people died and that they buried three people in one grave. They say that so many people died that they couldn't bury them all and their corpses were eaten by vultures."
Davi Kopenawa, traditional shaman and internationally renowned spokesman for the Yanomami people in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, has demanded urgent police protection following a series of death threats by armed thugs reportedly hired by gold-miners operating illegally on Yanomami land in Roraima state. In June, armed men on motorbikes raided the Boa Vista office of Brazil's non-governmental Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), which works closely with the Yanomami, asking for Davi. The men threatened ISA staff with guns and stole computers and other equipment. After the assault, one of the men was arrested, and reportedly told police that he had been hired by gold-miners. In May, Yanomami Association Hutukara, headed by Davi, received a message from gold-miners saying that Davi would not be alive by the end of the year.
Highly vulnerable "uncontacted" indigenous bands who recently emerged in the Brazil-Peru border region have said that they were fleeing violent attacks in Peru. FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has announced that the uncontacted bands have returned once more to their forest home. Seven members of the band made peaceful contact with a settled indigenous Ashaninka community near the Ríó Envira in Brazil's Acre state three weeks ago. A government health team was dispatched and has treated seven band members for flu. FUNAI has announced it will reopen a monitoring post on the Rió Envira which it closed in 2011 after it was overrun by drug traffickers. Survival International called the emerging news "extremely worrying," noting that isolated indigenous groups lack immunity to the flu, which has wiped out entire tribes in the past. Brazilian experts believe that the isolated bands, who belong to the Panoan linguistic group, crossed over the border from Peru into Brazil due to pressures from illegal loggers and drug traffickers on their land.
Officials in Brazil warned June 26 that isolated indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest face imminent "tragedy" and "death" following a rash of sightings in the remote area near the border with Peru. Experts with Brail's indigenous affairs agency FUNAI say the "uncontacted" indigenous bands are fleeing towards the border in response to incursions by illegal loggers into their lands. Asháninka communities in Acre state report a growing number of previously isolated bands appearing in their territories. FUNAI official José Carlos Meirelles said: "Something very serious must have happened. It isn't usual for such a large group of uncontacted indigenous people to approach in this manner. It is a disturbing and completely new situation, and right now we do not know what has provoked it."
Brazilian federal judge Claudio Henrique de Pina has revoked Toronto-based Belo Sun Mining Corp.'s environmental license for the construction of the $750 million Volta Grande open-pit gold mine near the Xingu river in the northern state of Pará, the federal Public Ministry office in the state announced June 25. Upholding a suspension ordered last November, the judge ruled that Belo Sun had failed to address "negative and irreversible" impacts the mine would have on three indigenous groups in the area, the Paquiçamba, Arara da Volta Grande and Ituna/Itatá. The communities are already under threat from the construction of the Belo Monte dam, which will cut water flows by 80% to 90% when it goes into operation, according to the government's National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI).
Meeting June 2 in Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas state, Venezuela's Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of Amazonas (COIAM) issued a statement protesting President Nicolás Maduro's Decree No. 841 of March 20, which creates a commission to oversee bringing illegal gold-miners in the rainforest region under government control. The program falls under the Second Socialist Plan for the Nation, charting development objectives from 2013 through 2019, with an emphasis on the "Orinico Mineral Arc." But the mining has caused grave ecological, cultural and health impacts on the Yanomami and other indigenous peoples of the area. COIAM is demanding a moratorium on all mineral activity in the Guayana administraive region, which covers the southern Orinoco basin in Amazonas and the adjacent states of Bolívar and Delta Amacuro. (See map.) (Sociedad Homo et Natura, June 9; COIAM, June 2; Survival International, Nov. 7, 2013)
Amnesty International called on Peru's authorities to ensure that all those suspected of criminal responsibility in the Bagua violence are brought to justice, in a statement issued June 5, the fifth anniversary of the incident that left 33 people dead. Demonstrators and police were killed when troops fired on a road blockade launched to protest against a series of laws allowing for the exploitation of natural resources on indigenous lands. During the violence, 23 National Police officers were killed, along with 10 civilians. Hundreds more were injured. So far only protesters have been brought to trial. "If the Peruvian authorities are truly committed to bringing to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility for these deaths, it is not enough to punish the protesters and ignore possible abuses by the police," said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty's Americas deputy program director.