Protests rock Brazil as Lula takes cabinet post
In Brazil's biggest protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, thousands have poured into the streets in cities cities across the country to denounce President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, as chief of staff. Days of nationwide demonstrations reached a climax as Lula was sworn in on March 17. In Brasilia, riot police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters who massed outside the presidential palace, chanting "Dilma out!" Demonstrators say Rousseff transparently appointed Lula in order to give him immunity as he comes under investigation in a corruption scandal at the state oil company Petrobras.
Brazil: 'zero deforestation' push
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."
Brazil to sue mining giants for dam failure
Brazil's Minster of Natural Environment said Nov. 27 that the country's government plans to sue BHP Billiton Ltd., Vale SA, and Samarco Mineração SA for $5.24 billion for damages caused by a dam collapse at an iron ore site the two co-own. The iron ore site, Samarco Mineração SA, is a joint mining venture between the two companies. BHP Billiton Ltd. is the largest mining company, and Vale SA is the biggest ore miner in the world. The dam contained and released 60 million cubic meters of mine waste and mud that killed at least 13 people, left approximately 11 people missing, and devastated an entire village when it collapsed earlier this month. Brazilian Minister Izabella Teixeira announced that the government would seek to create a fund to compensate victims and to pay for the environmental recovery of the effected areas. The fund would be created gradually as a percentage of the companies' profits. The Special Rapporteurs sent by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that the "steps taken by the Brazilian government, Vale and BHP Billiton to prevent harm were clearly insufficient" and that "this disaster serves as yet another tragic example of the failure of businesses to adequately conduct human rights due diligence to prevent human rights abuses."
Mining company to pay in Brazil disaster
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."
Peru declares 'Yellowstone of the Amazon'
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.
Brazil: indigenous activists disrupt fracking auction
Indigenous leaders and activists interrupted an auction of oil and gas exploration blocs overseen by the Brazilian Agency of Oil and Gas in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 7, seizing the stage to discuss climate change, indigenous rights and divestment. The intervention by indigenous leaders in face-paint and traditional head-dresses was followed by a delegation of unionized oil workers who also spoke against the auction. The auction was described as a failure by local media, with only 37 of the 266 blocs sold. Many of fracking blocs extend deep into the Amazon rainforest, including the territories of remote and vulnerable indigenous peoples. The most critical blocs for isolated indigenous peoples are in the Juruá Valley and Serra do Divisor of Amazonas state, and the Javari Valley of Acre. Registered bidders included BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. (EcoWatch, Oct. 9; Brasil ao Minuto, Oct. 7; The Ecologist, Oct. 6)
Brazil: party official sentenced in Petrobras scandal
A Brazilian court on Sept. 21 sentenced former treasurer of the country's governing Worker's Party Joao Vaccari Neto to 15 years and four months in prison for charges stemming from his connection to the Petrobras corruption scandal. Vaccari was found guilty of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy, having accepted at least $1 million in bribes from the oil company, which is partially owned by the Brazilian state. Former Petrobras director of services Renato Duque was sentenced to 20 years and eight months after being convicted of making 24 payments totaling 4.2 million reals to the Worker's Party from 2008-2010 at Vaccari's request. Investigating federal judge Sergio Moro found that the money laundering had an impact on the democratic process. Both Vaccari and Duque have denied the charges.
Brazil: Guarani leader slain by gunmen
A Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous leader was shot dead Aug. 29 at Douradina municipality in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state, one week after his community occupied part of their ancestral lands. Community leaders had warned of an imminent attack, after their encampment was surrounded by gunmen in 30 vehicles. Semião Vilhalva of the Nanderu Marangatu community was killed when the gunmen, hired by local ranchers, finally stormed the encampment—reportedly in the presence of government agents. The encampment was re-established after the attack, but suffered a second assault on Sept. 3. "They came in and began to shoot everywhere," said one Guarani leader.
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