Eye on the Amazon: The Official Blog of Amazon Watch
September 26, 2011 | Hank Edson, AW Volunteer
Tomorrow Amazon Watch will be holding a fundraising luncheon celebrating its fifteen years as a leader of innovative engagement in the Amazon rainforest environmental movement. This is naturally a time to remember successes, such as Amazon Watch's participation in the lawsuit resulting in a historic $18 billion verdict against Chevron for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into an area of pristine rainforest that is home to more than 30,000 people. It is also a time to look ahead to new challenges, such as the fight to stop the mammoth Belo Monte Dam project in Brazil, and to consider new ideas, such as Amazon Watch's focus on alternative energy solutions for Brazil.
Today, however, the spotlight deservedly belongs to the extraordinary group of individuals who make up the Amazon Watch team. This exceptional crew pursues a dynamic three-pronged approach to protecting the rainforest. First, it works primarily through indigenous groups, helping them acquire the skills necessary to advocate effectively on behalf of the rainforest. Second, it engages in sophisticated corporate accountability strategies that are rendered all the more powerful by the participation of indigenous leaders. Third, it advocates for affordable clean energy alternatives that will alleviate the development pressures that are among the greatest threats to the rainforest. Multilingual, backcountry traveling, politically savvy, technologically astute humanists, the group that not only conceives, but executes such an agenda must be remarkable. And they are.
Over the past few months it has been my privilege to volunteer at Amazon Watch and to get to know its special mixture of sophistication, guts, and compassion, which is leavened with a down-to-earth sense of humor and heated with a passionate commitment to the planet. I'd like to share with you a few odds and ends I have picked up about this team because, in my experience, sometimes the odds and ends provide the most telling insights.
September 23, 2011 | Leila Salazar-Lopez
As global leaders gather in New York to give speeches about promoting world peace, creating jobs, reducing hunger and poverty and combating climate change, Sheyla Juruna, an indigenous woman leader from the Xingu Basin of the Brazilian Amazon, is there to tell the world how the highly controversial Belo Monte Dam is affecting the Amazon rainforest and indigenous communities like her own.
This week Sheyla also sent a letter to the president of Brazil, Dilma Roussef. In it she demands that her government, "immediately suspend the construction of Belo Monte and open dialogue with indigenous peoples before it is to late." She goes on to explain that, "We are witnessing increasing violence, prostitution, agrarian conflicts, deforestation, and death threats for indigenous leaders in the Altamira region. The government needs to hear from affected populations and solve these problems or they will generate increasing conflicts throughout the region."
Sheyla traveled from the heart of the Amazon to the U.S. to meet with as many people as possible to share the truth and reality about what's happening in Altamira, the city that will be partially flooded if the Belo Monte Dam is built.
September 22, 2011 | Gregor MacLennan
On September 6, 2011 Peru's president Ollantay Humala signed into law landmark legislation that requires the government to consult with indigenous peoples before developing new legislation or creating concessions for infrastructure, energy and mining projects that affect the lives, territories and rights of indigenous peoples.
Aggressive new legislation designed to weaken indigenous rights and facilitate resource extraction was passed by the previous Garcia government without consultation and provoked protests by thousands of indigenous peoples across the Amazon in 2008 and 2009, ending in a deadly clampdown by police in Bagua. The expansion of energy, infrastructure and mining projects in indigenous territories without their consent is at the root of many of the 141 ongoing social conflicts between communities, government and companies in Peru. Humala's government hopes that the new law will help mitigate these ongoing conflicts that threaten to delay some of the $50 billion companies plan to spend on natural resource projects in Peru over the next decade. However, for many indigenous peoples the problem is not just the lack of consultation, but a model of development based on natural resource extraction that contaminates the environment and undermines their way of life.
The law establishes that the aim of consultation is to reach agreement or consent between the State and the indigenous peoples (article 3). It also establishes that the contents of the law must be interpreted in line with the obligations established in Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), ratified by Peru in 1994. However should an agreement not be reached between the government and indigenous peoples the law gives the government final say (article 15), which runs in counter to governments' obligation to obtain free, prior and informed consent before adopting legislative or administrative measures that affect indigenous peoples (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 19). In a "complimentary provision" the law also exonerates existing projects and legislation from the need to consultation, despite Peru signing ILO 169 into law in 1995.
Huge Victory for Ecuadorians Fighting for Justice from Chevron as Oil Giant's Legal Strategy Derails
September 20, 2011 | Han Shan
Yesterday, a three-judge panel from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a stunning blow to Chevron's abusive and deceitful efforts to evade accountability for its oil disaster in Ecuador.
The appeals court threw out U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan's injunction that purported to prohibit the Ecuadorian plaintiffs from enforcing the $18 billion judgment against Chevron delivered by an Ecuadorian court in February. It also indefinitely stayed a trial that Judge Kaplan had scheduled for November over a preposterous countersuit filed in his court against the Ecuadorians and their attorneys, at which Chevron hoped to have the Ecuadorian verdict against the company declared unenforceable. The preliminary order from the 2nd Circuit came just one business day after a hearing before the panel on Friday, Sept. 16th, and said that a full ruling looking at the various issues will come "in due course."
As legal reporter Alison Frankel writes in her On the Case column:
Monday's stunning two-page order from the panel gave the Ecuadorean plaintiffs their first victory in two years of battling in New York's federal courts. But it was a huge win.
The appeals court order constitutes a harsh rebuke to Judge Kaplan's over-reach in the case, making him Chevron's most valuable legal asset in the company's dirty fight to avoid responsibility for its pollution in Ecuador. The appeals panel didn't remove Judge Kaplan, as requested by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, but as Marco Simons, legal director for EarthRights International writes on his blog:
"... the appeals court declined to remove Judge Kaplan, who the Ecuadorians believe is biased against them, from the case. But it's possible that, after the court issues its opinion, there won't be any case left for Kaplan to preside over."
The ruling also dealt a humiliating rebuke to the strategy driven by outside law firm Gibson Dunn, and Crutcher and lead counsel Randy Mastro, who was literally laughed out of court at the hearing which led to the order.
After attending hearing after hearing at which Mastro made sweeping fraud and conspiracy allegations against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers supported by the flimsiest of fantasy, theory, and conjecture, it was truly a breath of fresh air for this author to watch the Gibson Dunn lawyer wither at questions from the appellate panel based in logic, common sense, and the rule of law.
Precedent and Practicality
August 19, 2011 | Kevin Koenig
Time is ticking for Yasuni in Ecuador, one of the most bio-diverse forests on the planet. Ecuador's historic proposal to keep its largest crude oil reserve beneath the iconic Yasuni National Park permanently in the ground in exchange for half of its forgone revenues has inspired a range of opinion that runs the gamut from fierce skeptic to devout believer. Only a small percentage of the funds have been raised, and President Rafael Correa has set December 2011 as the final deadline to meet the financial goal before enacting a "Plan B" to begin drilling.
The initiative was launched in June 2007 by Correa, seeking some $3.5 billion (or $350 million per year over ten years) to forgo development of the Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini (ITT) oil fields under the park (and half of the estimated $7 billion revenue) if the international community matches its financial sacrifice through a variety of mechanisms, including debt cancellation, bilateral aid, and direct financial commitments.
Yasuni National Park is a United Nations Biosphere Reserve that boasts record levels of species diversity, much of which is endemic. It is also home to some of the planet's last indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. According to the proposal, keeping the oil in the ground would also keep some 407 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.