July 4 will mark two weeks that the construction site of the planned Belo Monte dam in Brazil's Pará state has been under occupation by some 200 members of the Xikrin, Arara, Juruna, Parakana and other indigenous peoples, many armed with spears. Brazilian government officials and representatives of the utility Norte Energia are slated to meet with protestors on July 9, but occupiers pledge to stay on the site at least until then. According to a statement from the tribes, 17 indigenous villages from 13 ethnic groups are now represented at the occupation, which has slowed work at the site. The occupiers demand "that construction of the Belo Monte dam be stopped until Norte Energia and the government can adequately mitigate the disastrous impacts of the dam on local indigenous communities."
At the People's Summit being held on the sidelines of the Rio +20 UN environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, leaders of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB) denounced President Evo Morales for violating the rights of indigenous peoples in Bolivia's eastern lowlands. Announced CIDOB vice president Nelly Romero: "We have unmasked the double standard that [Morales] has in his discourse on the international level, making believe that he is a defender of indigenous peoples, of the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mother Earth, of the natural resources and the forest." Celso Padilla, president of the Continental Council of the Guaraní People, noted the death of two indigenous leaders in a traffic accident on the cross-country march now underway to oppose construction of a highway through the TIPNIS indigenous reserve. "This wouldn't have happened if the president had not been infatuated with building the highway through the TIPNIS; the only one responsible is him." (Erbol, June 20)
With the Ninth Indigenous March, called to protest construction of a road through the Isiboro Sécure National Park Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), now resting at Caranavi, in the Yungas region of La Paz department, a new blow to the movement was registered June 8 as leaders loyal to President Evo Morales affected a change of leadership in the main organization behind the march, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB). After an "extraordinary assembly" in Santa Cruz, 10 regional CIDOB leaders announced that they had voted to "disown" the organization's president, Adolfo Chávez, for "violating" internal norms. They said a Grand National Assembly of Indigenous Peoples (GANPI) would be held in 30 days to chose a replacement for Chávez, the main leader supporting the Ninth March.
The Transportation and Communications Commission of Peru's Congress on June 7 approved Law 1035-2011, introduced by the fujimorista bloc, that would declare the "public necessity and national interest" of a new highway between Puerto Esperanza, Purús province, Ucayali department, and Iñapari, Tahuamanu province, Madre de Dios department—cutting through Alto Purús National Park, and territory believed to shelter isolated or "uncontacted" indigenous bands. Peru's Amazonian indigenous alliance AIDESEP and its Madre de Dios regional affiliate FENAMAD protested that the region's native inhabitants had not been consulted on the measure, and charged that the road would impact the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve for isolated peoples. The law now goes to the full Congress for debate. But Verónika Mendoza, leader of the Commission on Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, insisted that her commission should have to sign off on the bill before it goes to the floor as well. (InfoRegión, June 11; La Republica, June 10; AIDESEP, June 7)
UK-based indigenous rights advocacy group Survival International warns that Peru's government has drawn up "secret plans" for a natural gas exploration bloc in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti Territorial Reserve, in what it calls a "flagrant violation" of laws that protect "uncontacted" Amazon tribes within such reserves. The existence of the bloc was first revealed in the April 5 edition of the Lima weekly Caretas, in an article about the Camisea gas project in the lowland rainforest of Cuzco region. While the text of the article didn't mention the new bloc, an accompanying map shows a "Fitzcarrald Bloc" lying immediately to the east of the Camisea consortium's Bloc 88. The map doesn't show the reserve, but Bloc 88 already superimposes the western edge of the reserve—to the protests of environmentalists and indigenous advocates. Survival writes that if confirmed, the Fitzcarrald Bloc "will cut the Nahua-Nanti Reserve in half, and put uncontacted tribes' lives in immediate danger."
Peru's Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE), which exploded into the news last month when Shining Path guerillas briefly took 36 pipeline construction workers hostage, is the scene of a contest between the local Asháninka indigenous people and economic interests seeking to develop a hydro-electric mega-project in the area, to export power to neighboring Brazil. The proposed 2,200-megawatt Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam would flood much of the basin of the Río Ene, as the Apurímac is known after it enters the Amazonian lowlands. The project would mean relocation of 15 Asháninka communities, numbering some 10,000 inhabitants, and it is conceived as but the first of six dams in the area that together would generate more than 6,500 megawatts under a 2010 agreement signed with Brazil. All told, the five-dam project would displace thousands more people. Brazilian companies Electrobras, Odebrecht, Engevix, Camargo Correa, and the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) are driving the push for the mega-project.
A month after the jungle hostage crisis in Peru—when 36 pipeline construction workers were briefly abducted by Shining Path rebels—facts are starting to emerge about the murky affair, and the revelations have prompted the resignation of two cabinet ministers. Defense Minister Alberto Otarola and Interior Minister Daniel Lozada stepped down May 10, when President Ollanta Humala was on a tour of South Korea and Japan. Both were harshly criticized in the deaths of 10 soldiers and police officers over the last month in the conflicted Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE). The toll just over the past month is already higher than that suffered by the security forces in all of 2011, when nine police officers and soldiers were killed in the VRAE.
Plans by Anglo-French oil and gas company Perenco to exploit oil deposits slated to transform Peru's economy have been slammed as a "1970s-era" project and forecast to cause huge unnecessary environmental damage to the Amazon. "The proposed 200 km long pipeline will have a 25 metre cleared right-of-way, big enough for a superhighway. There’ll be a permanent road along the entire length," says Bill Powers, chief engineer at US consultancy E-Tech International, speaking after the April 4 publication of a report he authored on oil industry best practices. "Perenco is following a 1970s-era project design format that is totally inappropriate for the Peruvian Amazon," says Powers, an expert on Peru. "The company is not proposing to use current technology to reduce impact."