The proliferation of pits and ponds created in recent years by miners dredging for small deposits of alluvial gold in Peru's Amazon has dramatically altered the landscape and increased the risk of mercury exposure for indigenous communities and wildlife, a new study shows. The study, published in Science Advances Nov. 27, found a 670% increase in the extent of ponds across the landscape in heavily mined watersheds since 1985. These formerly forested landscapes are now increasingly dotted by these small lakes, which provide low-oxygen conditions in which submerged mercury—a toxic leftover from the mining process—can be converted by microbial activity into an even more toxic form of the element, called methylmercury, at net rates 5-to-7 times greater than in rivers. The miners use mercury, a potent neurotoxin, to separate ore from soil and sediments, often without adequate safety precautions to protect themselves or the environment. Some of the mercury used by the miners is burned off into the air or spilled into nearby rivers, creating far-reaching environmental and human health risks. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is now believed to be the largest global source of anthropogenic mercury emissions.
Brazil's carbon emissions surged last year due to rising deforestation in the Amazon, jeopardizing the country's commitments under the Paris climate accord, an environmental group warns in a new study. Brazil spewed a total of 2.17 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2019, an increase of 9.6% over 2018, according to the Brazilian Climate Observatory. That coincided with the first year in office for President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic who has presided over a sharp increase in forest-clearing and wildfires in the Amazon.
In Bolivia's eastern lowlands, known as Oriente, the regionally powerful right-wing social networks have responded rapidly to the victory of socialist candidate Luis Arce in the weekend's presidential elections. Hundreds filled the streets of the region's principal city, Santa Cruz, on Oct. 21, and some 5,000 the previous day, waving Bolivian flags, honking car horns and chanting "¡Anulación, Anulación, Anulación!" However, the protesters' accusation that Arce won through "fraud" was explicitly rejected by Manuel González, head of the OAS mission in Bolivia. He said in a statement: "The people voted freely and the result was clear and overwhelming, which gives great legitimacy to the incoming government, the Bolivian institutions, and the electoral process."
Peru's National Coordinator for Human Rights (CNDDHH) and Oxfam Peru have issued a report finding that there have been hundreds of oil spills linked to the NorPeruano Pipeline over the past 20 years. Entitled "La Sombra del Petróleo" ("The Shadow of Oil"), the report counted 474 oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon between 2000 and 2019, impacting at least 41 indigenous communities. These spills occurred along the NorPeruano Pipeline and in several associated oil blocs. The report also determined that 65% of these spills were caused by the corrosion of the pipeline and operational failures. "After every spill, it was said that the responsibility was with the indigenous communities, but there was no evidence that this was the case," said Miguel Lévano, coordinator of a CNDDHH subcommittee on oil spills. "It did not make sense, since they are the people being affected."
Four months after COVID-19 was first suspected of spreading to indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, said at a press conference that the WHO is "deeply concerned" by the pandemic's impact on native populations. He singled out the recently contacted Nahua people in Peru, six of whom have caught the virus. Poverty, malnutrition, and the prevalence of communicable diseases put indigenous people at greater risk from coronavirus.
A revered leader of Peru's Awajún indigenous people, Santiago Manuin Valera, 63, died July 1 of COVID-19 at a hospital in the coastal city of Chiclayo. He was first taken from his remote community of Santa María de Nieva in Amazonas region to a hospital in the closest city, Bagua; then transferred over the mountains to Chiclayo as his condition worsened. His daughter, Luz Angélica Manuin, warned of a dire situation in the Awajún communities and across the Peruvian Amazon, with COVID-19 taking a grave toll. "There are many dead," she said. "We keep vigil over them and we bury them. The government has forgotten us."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) formally agreed June 22 to hear a complaint filed by 64 indigenous communities in Bolivia's eastern rainforest, accusing the Bolivian state of violating their territorial rights under the administration of ousted president Evo Morales. "The proposal and actions by the Bolivian government to build the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway, whose central section (section II) crosses the heart of the Isiboro-Sécure National Park & Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), have generated multiple violations of the rights of indigenous peoples by the Plurinational State of Bolivia," according to a statement by the advocacy group EarthRights International. The complaint charges that the Bolivian state undertook to build the highway through the territory without consulting or obtaining the consent of indigenous inhabitants. It also alleges that the government illegally used force to break up the cross-country "VIII Indigenous March" that was called to protest the road construction in 2011. (Agencia de Noticias Fides)
Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The nationwide death toll in Brazil has soared above 11,000 amid growing anger at President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissive response. The situation is particularly bad in the Amazon gateway city of Manaus, where the number of fatalities is feared to be many times the official 500 to 600. Peru and Ecuador also have large outbreaks and significant Amazonian indigenous populations.