Eye on the Amazon: The Official Blog of Amazon Watch

Belo Monte Dam Update: CCBM Spy Discovered in Activist Strategy Meeting

February 26, 2013 | Maíra Irigaray

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Today we thought it would be just another day of long meetings; however, we were in for a shocking surprise. Who could have imagined that among the 35 people sitting in our circle to plan this year's strategy was a traitor? Luckily one of the activists with sharp eyes realized that someone was recording the meetings using a spy camera hidden inside a pen.

This man recording these meetings with his hidden camera had been working as a volunteer with the Xingu Alive Forever Movement since last year. It turns out he was being paid by the Belo Monte Construction Consortium (CCBM) to infiltrate the Movement's meetings in order to gather information on its leaders and activities. His role was to inform these details to the Brazilian government's national intelligence agency, ABIN.

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The Zápara Language: Nonmaterial World Patrimony May Soon Disappear

February 21, 2013 | Alex Goff

Photo Credit: Eduardo Pichilingue

Today is International Mother Language Day, a day promoted by UNESCO to recognize the intrinsic value in the diversity of languages across the world and the importance of their conservation for the good of humanity. Language is an integral part of culture; it is a crucial element of oral history and is intimately related to cosmology. Without language, cultural identity loses its roots and quickly disappears.

There are well over 100 languages in the Amazon, reflecting the incredible cultural diversity of the region. After Papua New Guinea, it is the area with the greatest linguistic diversity on the planet. There are approximately nine distinct languages in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Among them is the Zápara language, officially recognized in 2001 by UNESCO as a nonmaterial world patrimony.

Throughout modern history the Zápara population has suffered under the effects of colonialism, foreign diseases, deforestation, slavery, forced displacement, abuse by settlers, and on the other hand, by extractivist industry such as oil, mining, rubber, and logging. In 1680, the Zápara population numbered around 98,500 people, distributed between Ecuador and Peru, but by the beginning of the 20th Century their numbers had been reduced to around 20,000 people, according to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Patrimony. There is disagreement about the actual number of Zápara today. While the Ministry of Patrimony claims there are 400 Zápara in Ecuador and 500 in Peru, other sources argue that the number is far smaller, some 100 Zápara in Ecuador and 200 in Peru.

Zápara cosmology is based in large part on dreams. These form an integral part of decision-making and activities in the communities. This cosmology is expressed in the language, the loss of which would mean the loss of a fundamental part of the Zápara identity. The Zápara have developed an oral culture rich in knowledge of their natural surroundings, with an abundant terminology for rainforest flora and fauna and for the Zápara's knowledge of medicinal plants. Their language, which transmits myths, cultural and artistic practices, represents the living memory of an entire region and history.

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Reject Keystone XL

Attend the Forward on Climate rally this Sunday or participate online

February 15, 2013

Forward on Climate rally - February 17th, 2013 Twice before – in August of 2011, then again in 2012 – we joined with thousands of others across the country to ask President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest on the planet and our top climate scientist, NASA's Dr. James Hansen, has said that fully exploiting the tar sands would mean "game over" for the climate. Read our recent post for more thoughts on the risks and reality of tar sands oil.

On February 17, 2013, this coming Sunday, our friends at Sierra Club and 350.org along with more than 120 partner organizations are planning what could be the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Together, we are asking President Obama once again to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and to provide leadership to advance real solutions to the climate crisis.

We need your help – and your voice – to make this event happen, and to spread this message across the country.

Already this week, concerned citizens and leaders have been sticking their necks out to raise the volume on the issue: on Wednesday 48 environmental, civil rights, and community leaders from across the country joined together for a historic display of civil disobedience at the White House.

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The Amazon is Not for Sale!

February 14, 2013 | Adam Zuckerman

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"Why are you auctioning off millions of acres of the Ecuadorian Amazon without the consent of the communities that live there?"

I managed to get the first question during a Q&A with the Ecuadorian Minister of Hydrocarbons Andres Donoso at the Ecuadorian government's invitation-only meeting with oil executives in Houston, where I had gained entry by saying that I worked for Goldman Sachs. Trying hard not to think about the team of security guards who were eyeing me closely, I politely asked Mr. Donoso why he was selling off the Amazon without the permission of the communities that call it home and asked whether potential investors knew about the legal, environmental, social and financial risk factors that their companies would face. That's when I was invited to leave.

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Brazil's Energy Crisis Creates Opportunities for Alternatives

February 12, 2013 | Christian Poirier

Brazil's Energy Crisis Creates Opportunities for Alternatives

Is Brazil running out of energy? Recent news reports detail electricity shortages due to depleted reservoirs at the country's hydroelectric facilities, which Brazil depends on for more than 80% of its electricity generation. Drought has left reservoirs dangerously low, and several large cities have already suffered blackouts.

Despite the recent alarming shortages, the Brazilian government denies the need to implement electricity conservation measures – an option deemed "ridiculous" by President Dilma Rousseff – and has instead responded by firing up its network of polluting thermoelectric plants, which spew CO2 emissions while driving up electricity costs to the ire of Brazilian consumers. Meanwhile, the country's powerful Ministry of Mines and Energy has been thrown on the defensive, vehemently dismissing reports that Brazil will lack the energy it needs to power the 2014 World Cup.

This predicament not only exposes the vulnerabilities of the country's current energy matrix; it also highlights the inadequacies of government policies, which have focused on constructing dozens of large dams in the Amazon instead of implementing energy efficiency measures and diversifying energy supplies to include advanced technologies such as solar and wind.

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