Eye on the Amazon

Strength in the Face of Adversity: 2017 Victories to Give Us Hope for 2018

2017 was a tough year in so many ways, from corruption scandals to massive hurricanes to regressive legislation. But plenty of good things have happened, too – things that remind us of the perseverance, strength, and resilience of those who struggle every day for a better world. So we want to close the year reminding our community of readers of some of those victories from the Amazon and to share with you the inspiration and hope they give us for 2018.

These victories were all steps forward for the movement for climate justice, to stop Amazon destruction, and to advance indigenous solutions. We believe that we will win!

People Power Defeats Brazilian Government Plan to Permit Mining in Massive Amazonian Reserve

In September a tremendous national and international public outcry from all walks of society – including artists and activists, indigenous communities, and legal experts – forced President Temer to roll back a decree he had issued to allow mining in a large, pristine area of the Amazon rainforest. In the context of the Temer government's brazen assault on the Amazon and the rights of indigenous and traditional communities, this reversal was an important victory because it suspended what amounted to a rush order to auction off the region's invaluable forests.

Legal Victory for the Achuar as Court Recognizes their Right to Self-Determination and Collective Territory

In late December a Peruvian court issued a precedent-setting ruling in favor of the Achuar people of the Pastaza in the northern Peruvian Amazon, recognizing their right to self-determination and collective territory. The court ordered the government to proceed with the collective titling of Achuar ancestral territory and recognized the Achuar federation FENAP as a legal person with all the corresponding legal rights.

The case resulted from a suit brought by FENAP, the Federation of the Achuar Nation of Peru, demanding the full recognition of its rights as an indigenous nation, including a collective land title beyond the piecemeal community-by-community process that currently exists and the annulment of Block 64, an oil concession that overlaps a majority of Achuar territory.

Ecuador Announces End to New Oil and Mining Concessions in Big Victory for Indigenous Rights

After nearly 10,000 indigenous people marched for two weeks and over 200 miles from the Amazon rainforest to Ecuador's capital, Quito, they secured a meeting in mid December with President Moreno. As marchers rallied outside the Presidential Palace, indigenous leaders met with the president and demanded that the Ecuadorian government respect their rights, their territories, and their cultures. And they won! After the meeting, Moreno administration officials announced an end to all new oil and mining concessions without prior consultation of the local communities. This was a major victory for Ecuador's indigenous movement and for the global effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground!

Brazil's Supreme Court Rejects Attempts to Limit Indigenous Land Rights

In a major victory for indigenous peoples, in August Brazil's Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of indigenous land rights in two separate lawsuits, setting an important legal precedent.

In reaching its decision, the Court rejected elements of a contentious legal argument known as "marco temporal" which had been used by the government of President Temer and conservative rural elites in attempts to block the titling of indigenous ancestral territories. The rulings not only uphold Brazil's constitutional recognition of indigenous land rights – a crucial victory for Brazil's indigenous peoples – they also provide an important check on the Temer administration's attempts to serve a retrograde and rapacious agribusiness elite with conspicuous disregard for human rights and environmental stability.

License Revoked for Belo Sun Gold Mine, Averting Environmental Damage and Rights Violations

A Brazilian Federal Court dealt a blow to the Toronto-based mining company Belo Sun in early December when it cancelled the installation license for its proposed "Volta Grande" gold mine planned along the Xingu River in the Amazonian state of Pará, adjacent to the notorious Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.

In the unanimous ruling, the Court cited Belo Sun's failure to uphold the right of local indigenous communities to prior consultation on the project's complex social and environmental impacts, as stipulated by Brazilian law. It also ordered the company to carry out an "Indigenous Component Study" to measure the project's specific impacts on indigenous communities and territories, stating that a new licensing process will not be considered until Belo Sun has taken all of these measures.

Ecuadorians Successfully Convince Canadian Courts to Continue Case Against Chevron

Despite Chevron’s attempts to evade justice at every turn, this year saw important victories for the Ecuadorians seeking justice for the damage caused by Chevron in the Amazon. Among other legal advances, a Canadian appeals court unanimously ruled that the case could continue after rejecting Chevron’s attempt to hit the Ecuadorians with a million dollar cost order to continue the case.

Citing the case as a "public interest litigation" the Ontatrio appellate court wrote: "There can be no doubt that the environmental devastation to the appellants' lands has severely hampered their ability to earn a livelihood." A hearing to review the Ecuadorian’s appeal will be held in April 2018 and Chevron will have to defend itself based on the overwhelming evidence in Ecuador – a situation in which it has never won a legal decision. Chevron will also have to defend its fabricated ghostwriting and bribery claims against forensic evidence that disproves the allegation and explain why it paid its star witness close to $2 million to testify (and why he later admitted that he lied on the stand to extract a bigger payout from the oil giant).

Solar Power Lights Up Amazon Communities Fighting Dirty Energy

Indigenous communities of the Munduruku, Sápara, and U'wa nations who are on the front lines of the Amazon rainforest's most emblematic rights and resources struggles now have solar energy generation capacity and communications hubs thanks to partnerships between Amazon Watch and Empowered By Light (EBL) and the Give Power Foundation.

Supporting communities to break free of fossil fuels and obtain clean energy is one of the most inspiring projects we have worked on. The solar and communications equipment we helped install is critical to the indigenous communities ability to fight dirty energy projects, preserve their culture and territory, and protect our global climate.

The U'wa Return to Ancestral Territory After Years of Displacement

In July, ten U'wa families packed up their belongings and returned to the hamlet known as Río Negro in the municipality of La Salina, from where they had been displaced years before. The region had been a salt mining site – hence the name – and conflict over control of the salt mines led to the U'wa's displacement from that part of their ancestral territory. These original ten families are smoothing the path for additional families to join them. If all goes according to plan, in the next six months another 50 or so families will resettle in the area. In returning to the area, the families are reclaiming a part of U'wa ancestral territory that they hope to incorporate into a new reservation, the Guanuwa Rauri-U'wa.

We will work hard to build upon these victories in 2018. Please support our work!

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