Monday, June 29, 2009

Great piece from the Independent

The Uprising In The Amazon Is More Urgent Than Iran's - It Will Determine The Future Of The Planet

In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world

While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed - yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.

In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies - and, for today, they have won.

Here's the story of how it happened - and how we all need to pick up this fight.

Earlier this year, Peru's President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 percent of his country's swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon's trees: "There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle."

There was only one pesky flaw in Garcia's plan: the indigenous people who live in the Amazon. They are the first people of the Americas, subject to wave after wave of genocide since the arrival of the Conquistadors. They are weak. They have no guns. They barely have electricity. The government didn't bother to consult them: what are a bunch of Indians going to do anyway?

But the indigenous people have seen what has happened elsewhere in the Amazon when the oil companies arrive. Occidental Petroleum are currently facing charges in US courts of dumping an estimated nine billion barrels of toxic waste in the regions of the Amazon where they operated from 1972 to 2000. Andres Sandi Mucushua, the spiritual leader of the area known to the oil companies as Block 1AB, said in 2007: "My people are sick and dying because of Oxy. The water in our streams is not fit to drink and we can no longer eat the fish in our rivers or the animals in our forests." The company denies liability, saying they are "aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts".

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, according to an independent report, toxic waste allegedly dumped after Chevron-Texaco's drilling has been blamed by an independent scientific investigation for 1,401 deaths, mostly of children from cancer. When the BBC investigator Greg Palast put these charges to Chevron's lawyer, he replied: "And it's the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?... They have to prove it's our crude, [which] is absolutely impossible."

The people of the Amazon do not want to see their forests felled and their lands poisoned. And here, the need of the indigenous peoples to preserve their habitat has collided with your need to preserve your habitat. The rainforests inhale massive amounts of warming gases and keep them stored away from the atmosphere. Already, we are chopping them down so fast that it is causing 25 percent of man-made carbon emissions every year - more than planes, trains and automobiles combined. But it is doubly destructive to cut them down to get to fossil fuels, which then cook the planet yet more. Garcia's plan was to turn the Amazon from the planet's air con into its fireplace.

Why is he doing this? He was responding to intense pressure from the US, whose new Free Trade Pact requires this "opening up", and from the International Monetary Fund, paid for by our taxes. In Peru, it has also been alleged that the ruling party, APRA, is motivated by oil-bribes. Some of Garcia's associates have been caught on tape talking about how to sell off the Amazon to their cronies. The head of the parliamentary committee investigating the affair, Rep. Daniel Abugattas, says: "The government has been giving away our natural resources to the lowest bidders. This has not benefited Peru, but the administration's friends."

So the indigenous peoples acted in their own self-defence, and ours. Using their own bodies and weapons made from wood, they blockaded the rivers and roads to stop the oil companies getting anything in or out. They captured two valves of Peru's sole pipeline between the country's gas field and the coast, which could have led to fuel rationing. Their leaders issued a statement explaining: "We will fight together with our parents and children to take care of the forest, to save the life of the equator and the entire world."

Garcia responded by sending in the military. He declared a "state of emergency" in the Amazon, suspending almost all constitutional rights. Army helicopters opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and stun-grenades. Over a dozen protesters were killed. But the indigenous peoples did not run away. Even though they were risking their lives, they stood their ground. One of their leaders, Davi Yanomami, said simply: "The earth has no price. It cannot be bought, or sold or exchanged. It is very important that white people, black people and indigenous peoples fight together to save the life of the forest and the earth. If we don't fight together what will our future be?"

And then something extraordinary happened. The indigenous peoples won. The Peruvian Congress repealed the laws that allowed oil company drilling, by a margin of 82 votes to 12. Garcia was forced to apologize for his "serious errors and exaggerations". The protesters have celebrated and returned to their homes deep in the Amazon.

Of course, the oil companies will regroup and return - but this is an inspirational victory for the forces of sanity that will be hard to reverse.

Human beings need to make far more decisions like this: to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and to leave rainforests standing. In microcosm, this rumble in the jungle is the fight we all face now. Will we allow a small number of rich people to make a short-term profit from seizing and burning resources, at the expense of our collective ability to survive?

If this sounds like hyperbole, listen to Professor Jim Hansen, the world's leading climatologist, whose predictions have consistently turned out to be correct. He says: "Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with a sea level 75 metres higher. Coastal disasters would occur continually. The only uncertainty is the time it would take for complete ice sheet disintegration."

Of course, fossil fools will argue that the only alternative to burning up our remaining oil and gas supplies is for us all to live like the indigenous peoples in the Amazon. But next door to Peru, you can see a very different, environmentally sane model to lift up the poor emerging - if only we will grasp it.

Ecuador is a poor country with large oil resources underneath its rainforests - but its president, Rafael Correa, is offering us the opposite of Garcia's plan. He has announced he is willing to leave his country's largest oil reserve, the Ishpingo Tmabococha Tiputini field, under the soil, if the rest of the world will match the $9.2bn in revenues it would provide.

If we don't start reaching for these alternatives, we will render this month's victory in the Amazon meaningless. The Hadley Center in Britain, one of the most sophisticated scientific centers for studying the impacts of global warming, has warned that if we carry on belching out greenhouse gases at the current rate, the humid Amazon will dry up and burn down - and soon.

Their study earlier this year explained: "The Amazonian rainforest is likely to suffer catastrophic damage even with the lowest temperature rises forecast under climate change. Up to 40 percent of the rainforest will be lost if temperature rises are restricted to 2C, which most climatologists regard as the least that can be expected by 2050. A 3C rise is likely to result in 75 percent of the forest disappearing while a 4C rise, regarded as the most likely increase this century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, will kill off 85 perfect of the forest." That would send gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere - making the world even more inhabitable.

There is something thrilling about the fight in the Amazon, yet also something shaming. These people had nothing, but they stood up to the oil companies. We have everything, yet too many of us sit limp and passive, filling up our tanks with stolen oil without a thought for tomorrow. The people of the Amazon have shown they are up for the fight to save our ecosystem. Are we?

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here or for an archive of his writings about environmental issues, click here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From the AP--looks a bit more hopeful.

Peru offers concession to Indians in land dispute

LIMA, Peru (AP) — In a conciliatory move, Peru's government promised Amazon Indians on Monday to ask Congress to revoke decrees that native groups say would make it easier to exploit their lands for oil, gas and other development.

Indigenous peoples' anger over the decrees spurred two months of blockades of roads and rivers that turned violent on June 5 when police opened fire on activists at a roadblock.

At least 24 police officers and nine civilians were killed, according to the government. Indigenous leaders said at least 30 Indians were killed and accused police of hiding bodies.

Cabinet chief Yehude Simon signed a conciliatory pact after a four-hour meeting with leaders of 390 indigenous communities Monday in the central jungle town of San Ramon, the state news agency Andina reported. It said the 12-point agreement specified the government would present Congress by Thursday with a proposal to revoke the decrees.

Environment Minister Antonio Brack, a member of the government delegation, said it also offered to end a state of emergency and curfew in Amazonas state, where the June 5 melee occurred.

He said Indian leaders promised in return to end a blockade that has cut a key road into the central Amazon.

At a news conference, Simon said President Alan Garcia's attempt to encourage what he called environmentally friendly development had been misinterpreted by the Indians. He said dialogue is now important to build "confidence that has been lost," vowing the government "will defend the Amazon from indiscriminate logging and will defend it against environmental contamination."

Although Peru's main Amazon Indian federation, AIDESEP, did not participate in Monday's talks, it will join talks with the government that are to begin immediately in Lima, Andina reported.

The government had previously spurned Indian attempts to be consulted about the fate of development in the Amazon region.

"We don't reject dialogue. On the contrary, dialogue and peace in the Amazon is what we want," Ruben Binari, a leader of the Machiguenga people in the Urubamba region, told The Associated Press.

Congress indefinitely suspended the controversial decrees last Wednesday, a day ahead of a nationwide wave of mostly peaceful anti-government protests.

The decrees, including a forestry law widely interpreted as promoting biofuel crops and logging, were among several promulgated by Garcia to comply with a free trade agreement with the United States that took effect in January.

The leader of the Amazon protests, AIDESEP President Alberto Pizango, remained in Nicaragua's embassy Monday. He sought refuge there after sedition and rebellion charges were filed against him. Nicaragua granted him political asylum but he has not received safe passage out of Peru.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This is what the Peruvian gov't has released regarding the violence. I can't believe they are still only saying that 9 indigenous protestors died.

The Embassy of Peru would like to state that our Government very much regrets the loss of lives of both the policemen and indigenous protesters, and hopes for the prompt recovery of all those injured.

For the past two months and even when violence erupted, Peruvian authorities had been working in good faith to identify and solve through peaceful dialogue some claims raised by indigenous peoples who were concerned about the impact that legislation recently enacted on the exploitation of oil, gas and other resources might have on certain lands.

This legislation guarantees 12 million hectares for the benefit of 400,000 Peruvian Amazonian ethnic people and protects 15 million hectares that had been granted the status of ecological sanctuaries and natural parks.

Unfortunately, some people who took upon themselves to lead the indigenous people were interested in upsetting democracy and affecting the Peruvian population as a whole. Hence, they misled the indigenous people into organising violent protests, disrupting water and energy supplies and blockading roads and pipelines.

Ultimately, they also took hostages among policemen sent to prevent further disruption of public services, tortured them and killed 22 of them after they had surrendered to the mob.

In addition, nine indigenous protesters died, 24 policemen and 155 people were left injured and 72 were placed under remand to be charged before Peruvian courts.

Once the violence subdued, individuals who misled the indigenous people escaped to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, among them Alberto Pizango who chaired an organisation called AIDESEP which has been receiving donations whose use in benefit of the indigenous population is yet to be explained.

Nevertheless, other indigenous leaders who are clearly more representative of their people have expressed their willingness to resume working with the authorities to clarify their claims and to solve them peacefully as well as to contribute to enquiries to determine the responsibility of those who enticed violent actions. Among the actions being taken in the aftermath of the protests is the Constitutional Court of Peru will assess provisions in the legislation that the indigenous people consider as affecting their interests and amend them if that is the case.

Charge d’Affaires,
Embassy of Peru.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

From Amnesty International

Peru: Fear for safety of demonstrators in custody

Posted: 10 June 2009

Amnesty International has expressed concern for the safety of the scores of demonstrators from Indigenous communities in the Amazon who have been detained after they were forcibly dispersed in the town of Bagua last weekend.

Clashes between the police and the protestors resulted in at least nine Indigenous people and 24 police officers being killed and at least 200 injured, including 31 police officers. The number of protestors killed is feared to be higher.

Amnesty International has received reports of excessive use of force by police, as well as cases of police officers being abducted and killed by members of Indigenous communities.

According to the Office of the Ombudsperson, 79 people are in police and army custody. However, it is not clear how they are being treated, what they have been charged with, and whether they have access to medical care or legal assistance.

So far, the government has given no details of those injured or detained.

Amnesty International's Peru Researcher, Nuria Garcia said:

'We are seeking assurance from the authorities in Peru to ensure the safety of the protestors who are being detained.

'In particular we're calling on the authorities to ensure that all the detainees who were injured during last weekend's protests are receiving access to medical care and they must also publish a full list of all those being detained, including the places of their detention.'

According to local sources, some of the protestors who have been injured are not receiving adequate medical care, as local health centres are not well equipped.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This Democracy Now clip is the most comprehensive coverage that I've seen of what is going on in the Amazon

AAAARgh, I don't even know how to write about this right now. People are dying and the situation is getting worse. I knew it was bad in the beginning, but I had no idea the lengths that Garcia will go to to get what he wants (money, he wants money--that's what he wants). This is the worst violence seen in Peru since The Shining Path in the 1990's. It's been reported that Peruvian police threw tear gas and shot at still-sleeping protesters who were blocking the road.

I'm glad that Pizago is safe in Nicaragua right now (he had a judge order his arrest for sedition and inciting violence) and that the rest of the world is hearing about the deaths of so many (including Peruvian police officers) and this awareness is getting out, despite its vast costs. I am so impressed that the indigenous movement has been able to educate and organize itself into a unified movement despite some serious opposition and that they are going to keep going to no matter what to protect their land.

It's scary to think what more could happen but it also shows the extent of their love for their land and how many avenues that are taking to achieve it. AIDESEP (who we interviewed for "Spirit Songs") is one of the best organized indigenous movements in South America. I love it when Alberto Pizango names specific United Nations doctrine to defend his position that the indigenous people need to be advised when their land is being given away.

Is that really so much to ask? Would Garcia really want to start this kind of violence in Peru again, after so many years of peaceful growth?

It's also scary because Ollanta, the super nationalistic, pro-military, friend of Chavez guy who lost against Garcia in 2006 has immediately stepped up to defend the indigenous movement. He's running for president again in 2011 and I would not like to see him gain this sudden popularity for being with the people--I think he'd be a pretty scary president too.

I'll keep updating as I learn more--in the meantime, please keep this situation in your thoughts and start talking about it to the people in your life. As international awareness that grows, it will become harder and harder for Garcia to do exactly what he wants as the jungle and its people suffer his consequences.