For many years, international and Brazilian mining companies have sought access to the mineral wealth lying beneath indigenous lands. Finally, the government of Jair Bolsonaro seems determined to give them that opportunity. On March 4, while Brazilians were distracted by Carnival celebrations, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, Admiral Bento Albuquerque, announced plans to permit mining on indigenous reserves—without the consent of the inhabitants. Speaking at the annual convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), a major event in the mining world that attracts tens of thousands of attendees, Albuquerque said that Brazil’s indigenous people would be given a voice but not a veto in the matter. The opening of indigenous ancestral territories to mining, he predicted, would "bring benefits to these communities and to the country."
Peru's central government is pouring troops into the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in an all-out effort against thousands of illegal gold-miners operating in remote areas. Under "Operation Mercury"—named for the mercury poisoning caused to local waters by the mining—three High-Mobility Temporary Mixed Bases, manned by military and National Police personnel, are to be established in the area of La Pampa, within the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Cabinet officials were flown into the remote area March 5 to inaugurate the first base, dubbed "Alpha." On hand were Defense Minister José Huerta, Interior Minister Carlos Morán and Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz. Each base is to have 100 soldiers, 50 police agents and a public prosecutor. In the first phase of the operation, launched last month, authoritiies "rescued" 51 people from the mining camps, detained 80, and confiscated millions of dollars in prperty.
Lizardo Cauper, president of Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, has issued an urgent call for authorities to open dialogue with indigenous communities in the northern region of Loreto rather than militarizing the area in response to mounting social conflicts and attacks on the North Peruvian Pipeline. Noting that the aging pipeline is in chronic disrepair, with repeated spills contaminating the rainforest waterways, Cauper said: "We have made a call that, in place of militarization, they put in place a new pipeline. But it is not enough to have a new pipeline, but to respond to the demands of the people who are living around these oil activities." On Feb. 7, just a week after Cauper's comments, Loreto regional authorities called upon Lima to declare a state of emergency in response to paralysis of the pipeline, which delivers crude from rainforest oilfields over the Andes to the coast.
The White House is accusing Peru of violating its commitment to protect the Amazon rainforest from deforestation, threatening to hold Lima in violation of the 2007 US-Peru Free Trade Agreement (formally the Peru Trade Promotion Agreement or PTPA). On Jan. 4, Robert Lighthizer, President Trump's top trade negotiator, announced that he is seeking formal consultations with Lima to address concerns about its recent move to curtail the authority of Peru's auditor for timber exports, the Organism for the Supervision of Forestry Resources (OSINFOR), which was established as a provision of the trade agreement. "By taking this unprecedented step, the Trump administration is making clear that it takes monitoring and enforcement of US trade agreements seriously, including obligations to strengthen forest sector governance," Lighthizer said in a statement.
On his first day in office Jan. 2, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (Medida Provisório 870) taking away responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, and handing it over to the Agriculture Ministry. In the same decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over regularization of quilombos (lands titled to runaway slave descendants) from the agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the Agriculture Ministry. The measure greatly weakens FUNAI, taking away its most important function. In practice, key areas of indigenous and quilombo policy will now be in the hands of agribusiness advocates—a long-time demand of the Bancada Ruralista (agribusiness bloc) in Congress.
Brazil's far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on a plan to privatize vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he seeks to expand hydro-power and other energy mega-projects the region. Since his election in an Oct. 28 run-off vote, Bolsonaro's team has announced that his administration will merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment into a new "super ministry" to oversee the plan. Brazil now has some 720 indigenous reserves, ranging in size from a single hectare to nearly ten million hectares. Bolsonaro has said he wants to put all of those lands—13% of Brazil's territory—on the auction block. "Minorities have to adapt to the majority, or simply disappear," he said on the campaign trail, adding that under his administration, "not one square centimeter" of Brazil will be reserved for the country's indigenous peoples.
Speaking at the fifth International Andino-Amazonian Forum for Rural Development in Cobija, Bolivia, a member of the delegation from Ecuador accused the Quito government of masking the despoliation of indigenous territories in populist phrases. Mónica Chuji, a community leader from the Ecuadoran rainforest, accused former president Rafael Correa of invoking the indigenous concept of Sumaj Causay or Vivir Bien (Good Living) in his new constitution only to "folklore-ize it [folklorizaron] so it ends up being a cliché without content." She said there is a "divorce between the discourse and the reality" as Ecuador's Amazon is opened to "mega-corporations that destroy our territories with the protection of successive governments." She also charged the government with persecution of indigenous leaders who resist. "In Ecuador, there are now more than 500 leaders, men and women, subject to different legal processes—some sentenced, other facing trial, and many fugitives in the face of persecution and prosecution of social protest." (Agencia de Noticias Fides, Bolivia, Oct. 17)
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador has issued a long-awaited ruling in favor of those affected by the transnational oil company Chevron, which operated through its subsidiary Texaco in Ecuador between 1964 and 1990. The court rejected the protection action that the company filed in 2013. In the 151-page ruling, the court denied Chevron's claim of violation of constitutional rights. Chevron will now have to pay $9.5 billion for the repair and remediation of social and environmental damage that, according to audits and expert reports, were a result of oil company operations in the Amazonian provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana. The court found that Texaco deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste on indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest.