Southern Cone

Italy hands down sentences in ‘Operation Condor’

An appeals court in Rome sentenced 24 to life in prison, including former senior officials of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The officials were found to have been involved in Operation Condor, under which opponents of military rule were hunted down across South America’s borders in the 1970s and early ’80s. The exact number killed is not known. The case focused on the disappearance of 43 people, including 23 Italian citizens. Prosecutors applied the “universal jurisdiction” precedent from the 1998 arrest in London of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. They also referenced the 2016 conviction of leaders of Argentina’s military dictatorship, which confirmed the existence of Operation Condor for the first time. (Image via Deep Dives)

The Amazon

Amazon destruction jumps under Bolsonaro

Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest rose more than 88% in June compared with the same month a year ago—the second consecutive month of rising forest loss under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. According to data from the Brazilian Space Agency, deforestation totaled 920 square kilometers. An analysis by BBC finds: “An area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch [soccer field] is now being cleared every single minute.” This accelerated destruction is directly rooted in Bolsonaro administration policies, that have undermined the work of IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, effectively gutting enforcement. Fines for illegal forest clearing and seizures of illegal timber have plummeted to record lows since he took office. (Photo via Mongabay)

The Amazon

Brazil high court ruling sparks indigenous protest

At their annual protest encampment in Brasilia, some 4,500 indigenous people from across Brazil marching on the Supreme Court building to oppose a recent ruling that could negatively impact demarcation of indigenous territory. The case concerned Provisional Measure 870, signed by President Jair Bolsonaro on his first day in office, shifting responsibility for indigenous reserve demarcations from FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Agriculture Ministry. MP 870 was challenged as unconstitutional, but Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso rejected that challenge—although he did agree that if the Agriculture Ministry failed to carry through with demarcation in future, further legal action could go forward at that time. During the three-day encampment, indigenous groups also protested Bolsonaro’s plan to open indigenous reserves to mining and agribusiness. The Free Land Encampment has been held in Brasilia every year since 2017. (Photo: Mongabay)

The Amazon

Peru: butcher of Bagua goes out by his own hand

The ongoing political crisis in Peru reached a grisly climax with the suicide of ex-president Alan García as he was being arrested over his suspected involvement in corruption surrounding troubled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. García’s last presidency was most significantly marked by Peru’s entrance into the Free Trade Agreement with Washington, and harsh repression against the indigenous protest wave that this set off. This repression was notoriously punctuated by the Bagua massacre of June 2009, when National Police troops attacked an indigenous roadblock—known as the “Amazon’s Tiananmen Square Massacre.” The grievances that animated the 2009 protests are still very much alive—and sparking renewed militant action by indigenous Amazonians. (Photo: La Mula)

The Amazon

Violence escalates in Brazilian Amazon

In the last two weeks, Brazilian Amazonia has seen an alarming increase in targeted killings, with three massacres and at least nine deaths. The Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission defines a massacre as the killing of three or more people. The most recent killings took place when military police attacked a landless peasants’ camp near the hamlet of Vila de Mocotó in Pará state. Days earlier, four were killed when hooded gunmen evicted a squatter camp at Seringal São Domingos, near the intersection of the borders of Acre, Amazonas and Rondônia states. Days before that, Dilma Ferreira Silva, a social leader with the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), her husband, and a friend, were killed by hooded motorcyclists in Baião municipality, Pará state.  (Photo via Earth Island Journal)

The Amazon

Land-rights defender assassinated in Brazil

A social leader seeking restitution for local peasants displaced by a hydroelectric mega-project in the Brazilian Amazon was slain by unknown assailants in an attack on her home. Dilma Ferreira Silva, 47, was a leader of the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams, MAB), founded after construction of the massive Tucuruí hydro project on the Río Tocantins. Built during Brazil’s military dictatorship, the project resulted in the forced displacement of some 30,000 local residents. She was slain along with her husband and a family friend when men arrived on motorcycles at their home in the settlement of Salvador Allende, Baião municipality, Pará state. The three were overpowered, tied up, and stabbed to death.

The Amazon

Brazil to open indigenous reserves to mining

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. 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." (Photo: Mongabay)

The Andes

Who is behind Venezuela aid caravan?

The US scored a propaganda coup against besieged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro last week, sending planeloads of "humanitarian aid" to Colombia, where it was dispatched in a "caravan" toward the border. The aid was welcomed by the US-backed pretender to the presidency, Juan Guaidó, but rejected by Maduro, who thundered that Venezuelans are "not beggars." Maduro was put in the no-win situation of either having to turn away aid at a time of deprivation or accept assistance sent by a government that does not recognize him but recognizes his opposition. He opted for the prior, mobilizing troops to the border and blocking the three lanes of the international bridge between the two countries with a fuel tanker and shipping containers. The caravan is currently stalled at Cúcuta, the nearest city on the Colombia side. While the affair has occasioned much media bloviation either against Maduro for blocking the caravan or against Trump for politicizing aid, there has been an alarming paucity of information about who actually organized the caravan… (Photo: El Tiempo)

The Andes

Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis

Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, suddenly develops a touching concern with democracy in Venezuela, grasping at the opportunity for long-sought regime change. Predictably overlooked in the world media's Manichean view of the crisis are voices of Venezuela's dissident left that takes a neither/nor position opposed to both the regime and the right-wing leadership of the opposition. Also unheard are voices of indigenous dissent and resistance. In an episode that received little coverage, December saw protests in the remote Orinoco Basin after a leader of the Pemón indigenous people was killed in a confrontation with elite Military Counterintelligence troops. The military operation was ostensibly aimed at clearing the region of illegal mining—while the Pemón themselves had been protesting the mining. The indigenous leaders view the militarization of the region as intended to make way for corporate exploitation under the Orinoco Mineral Arc plan. (Photo: EcoPolitica Venezuela)

The Amazon

Bolsonaro starts term with assault on indigenous

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro issued a measure 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 (Afro-Brazilian collective lands) 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 lobby) in Congress. Bolsonaro is openly calling for abolition of Brazil's large indigenous reserves, a move with grave implications for the Amazon rainforest and global climate. (Photo: Kayapo women in Brazilian Amazon, via FUNAI)

The Amazon

Brazil: Bolsonaro threatens genocide —openly

Brazil's far-right 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, 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 has some 720 indigenous reserves, ranging from a single hectare to nearly ten million hectares. Bolsonaro says 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. (Photo: Kayapo women in Brazilian Amazon, via FUNAI)

Planet Watch

Climate change report draws UN call for action

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd issued an urgent call for accelerated action to combat climate change. The statement comes after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts of global warming of 2°C—the increase permitted under the Paris Accord. Boyd said that climate change is "one of the greatest threats to human rights" and will have devastating effects on the "rights to life, health, food, housing, and water, as well as the right to a healthy environment." In order to meet human rights obligations, Boyd called on counties to exceed their Paris Agreement obligations. If the temperature increase is allowed to increase to 2.0°C, it would result in "human rights violations upon millions of people." (Photo via Jurist)