Brazilian mining company Samarco has agreed to pay at least $260 million in compensation for the Nov. 11 collapse of two dams it used to hold waste water from iron ore, which caused an avalanche of mud to inundate nearby villages in Minas Gerais state. Eleven people were killed and 12 are missing, presumed dead. The village of Bento Rodrigues was totally destroyed, with more than 500 people left homeless. Residents are being temporarily housed in hotels in the city of Mariana. Some 250,000 local residents are also left without drinking water. The mud is still being tested for potential toxins from the mine. In imposing the fine, Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA called the disaster "the worst mining accident in Brazil's history." Operations at the facility remain suspended, with Samarca admitting that two more dams at the site are "at risk of collapsing."
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in early November announced a March 23, 2016 deadline for a peace accord with the FARC rebels, and broached a bilerateral ceasefire that he said could take effect next month and should be monitored by the United Nations. The FARC is currently maintaining a unilateral ceasefire while the military has drastically reduced its offensives against the guerillas. But FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" expressed skepticism about the deadline, instead calling in his Twitter account on Santos to concentrate on an actual end to hostilities. The exchange came as the peace talks, being held in Havana, approached their third anniversary. (Colombia Reports, Nov. 16; El Tiempo, Nov. 13; El Tiempo, Nov. 11; El Tiempo, Nov. 8)
Following a three-year campaign, Greenpeace Brazil activists formally presented a petition signed by 1.4 million Brazilians to the country's congress, calling for legislation establishing a "zero deforestation" polcy. "We submit this bill to Congress and now it's time for them to reflect on the will of the people. There is enough space for development without cutting down more of our forests." The annual rate of Amazon forest loss in Brazil has slowed by 75% since the early 2000s, but roughly 5,000 square kilometers (1.2 million acres) of rainforest is still destroyed every year. Some lawmakers have signed on to the proposal. "I signed the petition in 2012 and I admit that I was anxious to see it completed," Sen. João Capiberibe said in a statement. "This is certainly an important step toward the objective of zero deforestation in Brazil and then beginning a new project for developing the country, one that is not based on environmental destruction."
Peru's government on Nov. 8 officially designated as a national park the Sierra del Divisor area of the Amazon rainforest, along the Brazilian border and straddling the regions of Ucayali and Loreto. President Ollanta Humala symbolically signed the decree from the indigenous community of Nuevo Saposoa in Ucayali after taking a helicopter flight around the sierra's iconic "Cone Mountain" that rises dramatically from the jungle plain. "We want to preserve this geographic area as an important part of the lungs that allow us to purify the air of the world and, moreover, to save it from illegal activities such as illegal logging, drug trafficking and other activities that deforest our jungles," Humala said.
Peru's government on Nov. 6 issued a decree calling for an investigation into the forced sterilization of poor and peasant women under the regime of now-imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. "Never again in Peru can we implement a policy of fighting poverty by violating the reproductive rights of poor families," President Ollanta Humala said in a televsised address announcing the move. Justice Ministry Decree 006-2015 orders formation of a National Registry of Forced Sterilization Victims and establishment of a "legal framework to implement" restitution, including legal assistance, psychological treatment and healthcare. Some 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilized as part of the mid-1990s program, although it is unclear how many of these were coercive. Government health workers went door-to-door to coax, cajole and bully women into submitting to sterilization, according to accounts from poor rural communities. Many survivors say they were threatened with a fine or prison if they refused to be sterilized. Advocates who have been pressing for an official investigation view the campaign as one of Peru's biggest human rights scandals. (Jezebel, Nov. 9; Peru This Week, Nov. 6; Reuters, June 7)
Residents in the northern Argentine town of Famatina celebrated a major victory Nov. 4 after the governor-elect (and current vice-governor) of La Rioja province, Sergio Casas, announced that the Midais mining company's planned gold project in the area would be cancelled. This decision comes weeks after a peaceful protest against the project was met with police repression. Residents fear the project would contaminate the waters of the local Río Blanco. This is the fourth time that Famatina residents have thwarted mining efforts in the province of La Rioja, having successfully defeated advances by major international companies Barrick Gold, Osisko, and Shandong Gold over the past 10 years. Vice-Governor Casas cautiously commented: "The company will go despite its activities not having caused contamination, but we look for a necessary consensus among residents." (Argentina Independent, Nov. 4)
Indigenous Chol Maya villagers from Nueva Esperanza hamlet, Tila municipality, blocked a main road through the highlands of Mexico's Chiapas state Nov. 9 to demand justice four months after the murder and disappearance of a community leader. Followers of indigenous organization Laklumal Ixim-Norte Selva said Toni Reynaldo Gutiérrez López was detained by municipal police and paramilitary gunmen in late July—to be found days later dead and with signs of torture on a local ranch. There have been no arrests in the case. Laklumal Ixim in a statement named as responsible a local political boss, Limber Gregorio Gutiérrez Gómez, who they said is a leader of the right-wing paramilitary group Paz y Justicia.
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Kabul on Nov. 11 with coffins carrying the bodies of seven ethnic Hazara, demanding justice after their beheadings. Afghan security forces fired warning shots into the air as the protest funeral approached the presidential palace, injuring seven. Today they kill us, tomorrow they kill you," protesters chanted. Others carried banners bearing photos of the victims and shouted "Death to the Taliban!" Some also shouted "Death to Ashraf Ghani!" and "Death to Abdullah Abdullah!"—Afghanistan's president and chief executive, respectively. The seven Hazara civilians—including two women and a nine-year-old girl—had been abducted by presumed Taliban militants a month ago in Ghazni province. The decapitated bodies were found in neighboring Zabul province. (See map.)