Eye on the Amazon: The Official Blog of Amazon Watch

Reopening the Wounds of Bagua

Peruvian government actions to criminalize social protest started with indigenous peoples

April 2, 2013 | Andrew Miller

Reopening the Wounds of Bagua

Almost four years ago gunshots in the Peruvian Amazon were heard around the world. On the morning of June 5th, 2009, the Peruvian anti-riot police moved in to evict indigenous protesters blocking a road near the town of Bagua. The following violence in the place known as The Devil's Curve – including the related Pumping Station 6 confrontation the following day – resulted in an official death toll of 34 people, between civilians and police.

Last month, the Superior Court of Bagua heard arguments about the proposed charges against 54 indigenous leaders in the "Curva del Diablo" case. The state prosecutor has asked for the most severe charges, including life sentences (usually reserved for murder and other heinous crimes). Peru's national indigenous federation, AIDESEP, sent lawyers to contest the charges, as did some of the country's most respected human rights groups.

These charges are not about bringing to justice those responsible for the deaths of either policemen or protestors in June of 2009. The criminal process has instead served as an underhanded political tactic to criminalize social protest and intimidate grassroots leaders. 

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Voices of the Xingu: Interview with Maini Militão

March 28, 2013 | Sarah Freeman

Voices of the Xingu: Interview with Maini Militão

Notes from the Amazon Watch Brazil field team, currently in Altamira.
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It was 7 a.m. when I started talking with Maini while she waited with me in line for four hours at the Altamira private hospital in the remote jungle boomtown deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Maini is the second oldest of Seu Sebastião's four children. Ten years ago, her father Seu Sebastião built his life as a farmer near the banks of the Xingu River. At that time he couldn't have predicted how much his life would change because of his country's desire for "progress." Nearly 14 months ago, when the construction of the Belo Monte dam began, Sebastião and his family were forced off their land and to this day they have not received any compensation. Maini and her sister say often, "They have not given even a kilo of salt in compensation."

This 17-year-old girl with long hair, exuberant and full of energy, did not try to hide her anger about what happened to her family. She told me that she was now dedicating her time to studies and fighting against the Belo Monte dam.

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Peruvian Government Declares State of Environmental Emergency in Pastaza Region

March 27, 2013 | Stefan Kistler

On Sunday, Panorama, a primetime Peruvian news program, aired a short documentary on the contamination in the Pastaza Basin caused by Pluspetrol Norte S.A. – Argentinian oil giant and the largest producer of oil in the Peruvian Amazon. Pluspetrol operates the oil concession 192 (former 1AB) and 8, affecting the four river basins Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre, and the Marañon, in the northern Peruvian Amazon region of Loreto.

Although the images reported in the documentary were shocking, they are not new. The indigenous federations in the affected areas, and its allies, have long been monitoring and broadcasting to the world pictures of crude oil spills, contaminated soils, rivers, and entire lagoons which have been made to disappear by PlusPetrol to cover up contamination. Yet, the testimonies of the Quechua, Achuar, Kukama, Candoshi, among other indigenous groups, have long gone unheard in over forty years of oil exploitation in their territories.

IMG 1782An unexpected announcement then followed the report by Panorama, when they invited the Peruvian Minister of the Environment, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, to do an interview. Pulgar-Vidal pronounced on the television program that a state of environmental emergency would be officially declared in the Pastaza the following day. Moreover, he stated that the Peruvian government would release a new law on environmental quality standards for soils, something which environmental groups in Peru have been demanding for over a decade.

The two pieces of legislation were officially released on March 25th, and beginning yesterday the environmental state of emergency in the Pastaza is now in place. It orders the government to take immediate action to "reduce the risk on the health and the environment in the zones affected by human activities in the Pastaza River Basin."

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"Volta Grande do Xingu"

A poem by Luciano Gouveia de Moraes Silva, age 13

March 22, 2013 | Caroline Bennett

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I just stumbled upon this poem that 13-year-old Luciano read to me by candlelight from his family's modest home on the banks of the mighty Xingu River, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. We had spent the day exploring his rainforest backyard, stopping to sample fruits and to tell stories about our surprisingly similar childhoods growing up on rivers. He taught me how to swing out over the sandbank just the right way to make the biggest SPLASH!, and how to carry overflowing buckets without spilling a drop. He shared the magic secrets of the Xingu as if he'd been safeguarding them all his life for that very moment.

"Caro, can I read you a poem I wrote about the river?"
"Claro (of course)!" I whispered. "Can I record it so that maybe someday all the world can know the magic secrets of the Xingu?"

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Bringing the Fight over Bolivia's TIPNIS Road to Washington, DC

Bolivian indigenous leaders denounce human rights violations in Isiboro-Sécure case in Washington

March 22, 2013 | Carwil Bjork-James

Fernando Vargas, president of the TIPNIS Sub-Central federation of indigenous communities, outlining the violation of indigenous rights to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. Credit: Andrew Miller / Amazon Watch

Subcentral TIPNIS leader Fernando Vargas Mosua and Adolfo Chávez, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB), addressed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Friday, March 15. The hour-long hearing was the culmination of a weeklong trip aimed at putting the Isiboro Sécure situation on the hemispheric human rights agenda. The visit came in the third year of high-profile campaign to prevent the Bolivian government from building a highway through the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS).

Since their march to La Paz in 2011, residents of TIPNIS have experienced restricted freedom of movement. Military detachments, variously labeled an "environmental brigade," an anti-narcotics measure, and part of "integrating the territory under state control," restrict access and have hampered the activities of external organizations. Boat fuel, the essential ingredient of mobility on the rivers, has been tightly regulated as a "narcotics precursor." Meanwhile the Bolivian government backed its own parallel leadership for CIDOB and assisted in evicting Adolfo Chávez and the rest of its elected officers from their headquarters in Santa Cruz. Domestic and Amazon Basin-wide indigenous organizations continue to recognize his leadership.

At the headquarters of the Organization of American States, the indigenous representatives offered a wide-ranging presentation concerning all of the events since the inauguration of the Villa Tunari–San Ignacio de Moxos highway project. Adolfo Chávez introduced his compatriot and to ask that indigenous and individual rights be protected by the IACHR. Fernando Vargas described the territory and the project and presented the struggle of his people as a defense of the territory, of their rights, and the natural environment. "We cannot be accomplices," he said, "to the destruction of the environment and global warming."

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