Amazon Theater

Amazon mega-dams: 'hydrological experiment'?

A new report issued by Peruvian NGO Environmental and Natural Resrouces Law (DAR) counts 412 hydro-electric dams to be built across the Amazon basin and its headwaters if current plans go ahead, potentially leading to the "end of free-flowing rivers" and contributing to "ecosystem collapse." Of the 412 dams already in operation, under construction or proposed, 256 are in Brazil, 77 in Peru, 55 in Ecuador, 14 in Bolivia, six in Venezuela, two in Guyana, and one each in Colombia, French Guyana and Surinam, said anthropologist Paul Little at the launch of the English version of the report, "Mega-Development Projects in Amazonia: A Geopolitical and Socioenvironmental Primer." (PDF). The report finds: "This new wave of dam building in the headwaters of the Basin is a 'hydrological experiment' of continental proportions, yet little is known scientifically of pan-Amazonian hydrological dynamics, creating the risk of provoking irreversible changes in rivers." (The Guardian's Andes to the Amazon blog, May 6)

Ecuador nixes vote on Yasuni oil drilling

Ecuador's government on May 6 turned down a petition for a referendum on plans to open Yasuni National Park to further oil exploration. The National Electoral Council determined that not enough signatures were collected—a claim rejected by the group Yasunidos, which led the drive. Electoral authorities validated 359,781 of the 850,000 signatures collected, well under the 583,323 needed under Ecuadoran law. The electoral council said it found numerous duplicate or otherwise invalid signatures. "Almost seven out of 10 signatures were thrown in the bin," Yasunidos said on its Twitter feed. "The council talks about irregularities. We talk about fraud." Yasunidos vowed to take its complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Plan V, Ecuador, May 7 via UDWBBC News, May 6)

Police close 'militia' following Guarani murders

Brazilian police have closed down a notorious security firm accused of killing at least two Guarani leaders, and brutally attacking hundreds more. Gaspem was described as a ‘private militia’ by public prosecutors who had called for the closure last year. Ranchers reportedly paid Gaspem 30,000 reais (US$ 13,400) each time it evicted Guarani Indians from their lands, which are now occupied by sugar cane and soya plantations, and cattle ranches. The company's owner, Aurelino Arce, was arrested in 2012 in connection with the murder of Guarani leader Nísio Gomes. For years, the Guarani have been appealing for the company to be shut down. A judge's decision to force the company to close marks a huge victory for Guarani communities across the central state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Peru: Shawi indigenous leader assassinated

Emilio Marichi Huansi, the apu or traditional chief of the indigenous Shawi community of Santa Rosa de Alto Shambira (Pongo de Cainarachi district, Lamas province, San Martín region), was assassinated April 5—two days before the opening a meeting of apus that had been called by the Shawi Regional Federation of San Martín (FERISHAM) to discuss the process of demarcating and titling the group's ancestral territories. FERISHAM said in a statement that he was killed by sicarios (hitmen) and that he had received threats from local "mafias" and "traffickers in land" who oppose the process of demarcation. (Kaos en La Red, April 12; Servindi, April 10)

Chevron seeks $32 million in Ecuador case

Chevron Corporation on March 18 filed (PDF) for reimbursement of attorneys' fees against attorney Steven Donziger and others in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Chevron prevailed earlier this month in its lawsuit against Donziger for fraud and racketeering and demands compensation for over $32 million the company allegedly spent in attorneys' fees associated with the trial. The racketeering trial was brought by Chevron in retaliation for a 2011 lawsuit between the same parties in which Donziger prevailed. That lawsuit, brought by Donziger and litigated in Ecuador, found Chevron liable for 8.6 billion for polluting large areas of the Ecuadorian rain forest. Chevron subsequently brought and prevailed on charges that the Ecuadorian lawsuit was a "multinational criminal enterprise" intended to defraud and extort "one of the best-known companies in the world."

US judge blocks enforcement of Chevron judgment

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on March 4 ruled (PDF) that US courts may not be used to collect $9.51 billion in fines and legal fees from an Ecuadoran court's judgment against Chevron. Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in his near 500-page ruling that the punishment inflicted against Chevron was not justified, and that the Ecuadoran court's judgement "was obtained by corrupt means." Kaplan asserted that fraudulent evidence had been introduced in the case, and that lawyers arranged to write the opinion against Chevron themselves by coercing a judge. Hewitt Pate, Chevron vice president, stated regarding the judgment, "We are confident that any court that respects the rule of law will likewise find the Ecuadorian judgment to be illegitimate and unenforceable." Lawyers for Ecuadoreans reported that they will be filing an appeal, saying the decision "constitutes a mockery of the rule of law and will not serve to reduce the risk the oil company faces in the imminent collection of the sentence dictated against it by the Ecuadorean justice system."

Peru to move ahead with Camisea gas expansion?

Peru seems poised to move forward with the controversial expansion of the Camisea gas project in the lowland rainforest of Cuzco region, following the Jan. 7 release of a new document by the Vice-Ministry for Interculturality. The document is an official response to consortium leader Pluspetrol's own response issued a week earlier to the Vice-Ministry's objections to the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project. The new response says the Vice-Ministry is lifting 34 of its 37 objections to the impact study. The remaining three points concern protection of the watershed of the Río Paquiría, which could impact where the consortium conducts seismic tests. But the statement apparently raised no concerns about isolated indigenous bands living in the concession area, which overlaps with the buffer zone of Manu National Park, hailed by UNSECO as having a level of biological diversity that "exceeds that of any other place on Earth." 

Peru: Achuar leader on prison hunger strike

Achuar indigenous leader Segundo García Sandi began a hunger strike Jan. 7 to demand his freedom at Huayabamba prison in Iquitos, Peru. García Sandi was arrested Dec. 5, on charges of tampering with an oil pipeline run by Argentine company Pluspetrol through his people's territory in the remote north of Loreto department. He claims he is being held illegally without evidence, but a habeas corpus action filed by his supporters has met with no response by Peru's judicial authorities. García Sandi's organization, the Río Corrientes Federation of Native Communities (FECONACO), asserts the arrest is retaliation for his demands for environmental justice. FECONACO reports that five Achuar children died in December as a result of contamination related to oil operations in the area, and that a state of emergency announced by Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal in October for the Corrientes Valley, calling for special monitoring, is going unenforced. The Environment Ministry in November took the rare step of fining Pluspetrol $7 million for contaminat