It’s cause to celebrate: The indigenous peoples of Peru scored a long-overdue human rights victory earlier this month.
On September 6th, 2011, Peruvian President Humala traveled to Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon region, to sign the Consultation with Indigenous Peoples Law, that requires government to consult with indigenous peoples before companies can begin projects like digging mines, drilling for oil or building dams. Indigenous peoples must also be consulted before Congress can approve any proposed law that could affect their rights.
Many people think of Brazil as a land full of resources and promise. However, environmentalists face a terrifying reality. While they are only trying to preserve and protect the beauty and nature of the nation’s land, they are frequently subject to blatant threats and attacks.
Since May 24, 2011, the described menace turned not into one, but four cold-blooded killings in the northern states of Pará and Rondônia. Although the killings were anything but unannounced, the authorities shamefully failed to protect these brave citizens.
Environmental activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva were ambushed and shot dead at a bridge in Nova Ipixuna, Pará. According to reports from local NGOs, one of the gunmen cut off José Cláudio’s ear to keep as proof of the killing. The killings took place at a reserve where three hundred families earn their living from harvesting Brazilian nuts and cultivating tropical fruits. As a respected community leader, José Cláudio had denounced incursions into the reserve by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. His bravery was soon met by threats and right before his death, he said he was living with the threat of “a bullet in the head at any moment”.
Segundo Alberto Pizango Chota, president of the Peruvian national indigenous federation AIDESEP, has been arrested immediately upon his return to Lima today after several months in exile in Nicaragua. He is facing charges in Peru which seem to be politically motivated and unsubstantiated, and he may not be given a fair trial. Peruvian indigenous and human rights organizations are already mobilizing to pressure the Peruvian government to dismiss all unsubstantiated charges and ensure that he receives a fair trial.
Pizango was granted asylum by the Nicaraguan authorities, after the Peruvian authorities accused him of being responsible for violence which led to the deaths of 33 people in Bagua, Amazonas department, northern Peru, on June 5, 2009. However, at the time of the violence, Alberto Pizango was in Lima, hundreds of kilometers away, and he had made it clear that he was not calling for violence, but rather asking the government to annul a series of laws which were being passed without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people, as a first step to initiating a dialogue as equals. Nearly a year later, Alberto Pizango still hopes to find a way to improve relations between the Peruvian government and the country’s indigenous movement. It seemed like the right time to return to Peru and to his position as leader of AIDESEP.
Yet, the decision to arrest Pizango today appears to be another demonstration of the continued disregard by the Peruvian authorities of their duty to respect, promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon region.
Amnesty International believes that the charges against Alberto Pizango seem to be based purely on the government’s interpretation of events, which is not based on genuine evidence. Consequently, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that Alberto Pizango will not face a fair trial now that he has been arrested upon his return to Peru. Take action now!
International pressure on the Peruvian authorities has brought some progress for Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon. An Amnesty International delegation will visit the country to assess the situation.
Since the violent incidents which took place in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon, on 5-6 June, the authorities have taken some steps to establish a dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and open investigations into the events which led to the death of at least 14 police officers and 10 demonstrators. However, concerns remain about allegations of excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment of detainees and insufficient legal assistance.
An Amnesty International delegation will visit Peru between 12 and 25 July in order to evaluate recent developments and the current situation. After the mission, new information and strategies for action will be circulated.
Peru’s Congress temporarily suspended two Amazon investment laws – dubbed the “Law of the Jungle” – that triggered violent clashes that left at least 30 protesters and 24 people police officers dead last weekend. The controversial laws made oil drilling, mining and logging – including on indigenous land – much more accessible for corporations.
Indigenous protesters say that the laws, being passed in part to comply with a trade agreement with the U.S., weaken their rights to land they have inhabited for hundreds of years. One of the laws removed more than 170,000 square miles of Peruvian jungle from the government’s list of protected lands.
According to local sources, some of the protesters who have been injured are not receiving adequate medical care since local health centers are not well equipped. And at least 79 demonstrators, including several minors, have been taken into police and army custody. It is unclear how they are being treated, what they have been charged with, and whether they have access to medical care or legal assistance. Amnesty International is demanding protection for protestors.
The thousands of communities living among Texaco’s decades-old toxic waste pits in the Amazon will be so relieved! It turns out that despite decades of scientific research, long-term exposure to crude oil and drilling waste-waters causes no harm! In fact, you could use a little as facial moisturizer if you wanted.
Oh, I wish I was kidding. Even for a company like Chevron, so entrenched in its own lies and cover ups, this is a new low.
I have to be honest, it has taken me a few days to regain my bearings after watching a Chevron executive explain to the American public on the CBS news program 60 Minutes that exposure to crude oil contamination and toxic wastewaters is no worse than the “naturally occurring” oils used in cosmetics. Not that it was the first time I have heard Chevron try to make such erroneous claims, but this was truly absurd. If only it weren’t so tragic.
A couple of years ago I visited the Amazon villages that are the subject of the landmark case against Chevron – one oil-polluted village after another – meeting people who struggle everyday to find clean drinking water, and take care of ill family members whose health has been compromised by vast pollution of their lands. In the Northern Oriente region of the country, communities have been rallying together across indigenous villages and campesino towns, to defend their way of life and seek justice. These people deserve their day in court, and Chevron needs to stop obstructing the judicial process with blatantly dishonest propaganda.
Here are a few of the big lies Chevron told to 60 Minutes:
The health impacts of oil used in cosmetics is equivalent to the health impacts of decades of exposure to the toxins left in the water and soil after Texaco dumped more than 19 billion gallons of toxic wastewaters and spilled 16.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Amazon forest.
In the thousands of soil and water samples they have taken in the Amazon there has been no detection of any type of toxin that is not naturally occurring in the environment…and that is dangerous to human health or the environment (this directly contradicts laboratory reports Chevron submitted as evidence in the trial, available as public records).
The judicial system in Ecuador cannot be trusted (the trial is currently taking place in Ecuador at Chevron’s request after the company asked that it be transferred out of U.S. federal court, where it was filed in 1993).
The case is frivolous (a court appointed expert estimates the damages at $27 billion – making it the largest environmental lawsuit in history).
Chevron can’t be sued because of a 1990s agreement Texaco struck with the Ecuadorian government to clean up some of the contaminated sites – sites that had been abandoned for years (the agreement with the Government did not cover claims of individual litigants).
Chevron has invested a lot of money and time to cover their tracks, and it appears that they will not back down anytime soon. In the meantime, these Amazon communities are being slowly poisoned. But what Chevron doesn’t seem to realize is that these communities have nothing left to lose, and they will never give up. Just a few years ago few people in this country even knew about Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador. I hope that with increased media attention here in the U.S., they will find even deeper reserves of courage to keep up this fight and demand justice.