Search www.satyamag.com
Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.
All contents are copyrighted.
Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.

back issues

 

January 1999
Around Latin America

 


Peru

International pressure has forced U.S. oil giant Mobil Corporation to stop prospecting in a part of the Peruvian Amazon known as Block 77, and home to three groups of indigenous peoples. According to Jonathan Mazower, campaigns coordinator for Survival for Tribal Peoples, which organized a series of vigils and protests against the prospecting, “This victory shows that international campaigns can and do succeed. We are delighted that Mobil have finally done the right thing and withdrawn. Hopefully now the uncontacted Indians will be left to live on their own land in peace,” he said. Mobil claimed that the decision to withdraw from the area was based solely on economic reasons.

Venezuela

Fighting mining companies and government officials who want to exploit some of the richest gold deposits in Latin America, about 400 Pemon Indians in El Dorado, Venezuela have blocked traffic of construction workers destroying the forest to create a 470-mile high-voltage electricity line. Despite threats of imprisonment from authorities, the Pemon and other indigenous peoples continue to protest the $110 million line, which aims to provide hydroelectric power to communities in northern Brazil and eastern Venezuela. The Pemon claim the construction of the line will severely damage their home—the pristine nine million-acre Imataca rain forest reserve they share with jaguars, pumas, red howler monkeys, bearded bluebells and the world’s largest eagle.

While 30 percent of Venezuela’s land is protected, in May 1997, under pressure to create jobs and to alleviate its foreign debt, President Rafael Caldera signed Decree 1850, which opened 40 percent of the Holland-sized Reserve to multinational mining and logging companies. These companies are eager to exploit gold and timber reserves in the forest, which was the destination of 16th-century English pirate and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Also threatened is the Canaima National Park, in the Oronoco River basin, one of 100 U.N.-designated World Heritage Sites.

Government sources contend that opening the Reserve will create jobs in one of the poorest parts of the country, as well as regulate the activity of numerous miners and prospectors which has already caused substantial damage to the area’s ecosystem. The Pemon are not alone in their protest. Over 20 Venezuelan environmental organizations have protested the Decree, and it has been investigated by the Venezuelan Supreme Court. José Luis Gonzalez, coordinator of Pemon resistance, is clear: “The forest is our home, our laboratory, our hospital, our university,” he says. “It is the source of the knowledge we need to survive. Our fight against the Decree is a fight in defense of life.”

For more information, please contact: COAMA, P.O. Box 7490, Boulder, CO 80306-7490. Tel.: 303/444-0306, Fax: 303/449-9794. <www.globalresponse.org>. Also you can contact José Luis Gonzalez of the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State at: <fieb@telcel.net.ve>. In the U.S. contact Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch at: asoltani@igc.org. Information for this report also came also from the Amazon Coalition at: amazoncoal@igc.org

Ecuador

The Achuar

The Achuar people of the Southern Ecuadorian Amazon are engaged in a similar fight as those in Peru [see above]. This time it is U.S.-based ARCO which was recently allowed by the government to explore for oil. While the 4,300-strong Achuar hold communal title to nearly two million acres of intact old growth rain forest, the government owns the stuff underneath the surface; but the lack of roads has up to now stopped mining and logging interests penetrating the area. The Achuar are demanding that both ARCO and the Ecuadorian government respect their land rights. According to Shannon Wright, Amazon Oil Campaign Director of the Rainforest Action Network, “Oil companies need to invest in renewable sources of energy that give the world a clear alternative to environmentally and culturally destructive fossil fuels. The Achuar are in the front line, but ending new oil exploration is a critical issue for everyone on this planet.”

Mangroves Saved?

Greenpeace has received a promise from the Ecuadorian government to ban clearcutting of mangrove stands by the country’s shrimp farming industry and prosecute illegal mangrove destruction. While destruction of mangrove stands—which are crucial to conserving water purity and fish stocks and stopping soil erosion—has been illegal since 1994, prosecutions have been limited. Greenpeace is working to make sure that the new government continues the pledge made by the former Environment Minister.

Brazil

Dry Rain

Since 1992, the rate of destruction of the Amazonian rain forests has increased. Indeed, Brazil released data a year ago which showed that between 1995 and 1997 an area twice the size of Belgium had been deforested. Deforestation usually occurs through fires set by loggers and ranchers to clear land. However, unusually low levels of rainfall in the region last year have meant that the amount of fire-vulnerable forest grew to a third of the entire forests of Amazonia. The numerous small fires not set by loggers or ranchers but caused by drought are still very destructive. Moreover, burning the standing forest can release 10 to 80 percent of forest biomass into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide—a major component of global warming.

Too Late?

Scientists at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Edinburgh, Scotland are forecasting that it may already be too late to save the rain forest. In 50 years time, they say, temperatures in the Amazon may be as much as seven degrees higher. Along with a decrease in rainfall of up to 50 centimeters a year, this will destroy the forest and turn it into grassland or even desert. Part of the problem is that the Amazonian rain forest will turn from being an absorber into an emitter of carbon dioxide and accelerate the process of its own destruction. This doomsday scenario, which would lead to an astonishing 50 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than currently emitted, sees a very rapid end to the rain forest beginning in the 2040s, releasing about two billion tons of carbon every year into the atmosphere.
This report was edited from The Independent newspaper. See <www.independent.co.uk/stories/A0311806.html>

Ban on Mahogany

It is now six months since the Brazilian government extended for two years its ban on mahogany logging in most of the Amazon. Since then new rules on sustainable logging of the virola tree have strengthened the ban. Logging the valuable hard wood has been blamed for much environmental destruction in the rain forest. Currently, loggers can log 2.3 million cubic feet of mahogany, less than half the amount they could nine years ago.

Chile

Washington State-based forestry company Trillium S.A. has drastically reduced its staff and will not harvest 398 square miles of old-growth forest in Tierra del Fuego. Environmental activists from Greenpeace and 200 environmental groups from Chile and Argentina joined with Chilean courts to overturn or add additional requirements to the mandates from the government to allow logging in the forest. Eventually, Trillium gave up on the $200 million project, and is turning to the Patagonian forests in neighboring Argentina. For more information, contact Leavenworth Audubon Adopt-a-Forest, P.O. Box 154, Peshastin, WA 98847. Tel.: 509-548-7640.

Colombia

In the early 1970s a group of Colombian scientists, artisans, peasants, former street kids, and Guahibo Indians built a village called Gaviotas in the extremely inhospitable savanna east of the Andean mountains. Gaviotas was to be an experiment: to see if human beings could create a self-sustaining community in an inhospitable climate—a desolate savanna far removed from any town and subject to punishing heat and mosquito infestation. The founder, Paulo Lugari, was concerned that rising human populations around the world would soon force human beings to live in areas such as these. If they could do it here, went his reasoning, they could do it anywhere.

For the last three decades, as journalist Alan Weisman documents in his book Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, Gaviotas has been working a quiet miracle. From the outset, Lugari encouraged the community to think of ways to solve the harsh challenges presented to them by their environment. The Gaviotans invented windmills to collect energy, solar collectors that worked in the rain, pumps that provided clean water, even a hospital which has since become one of South America’s most celebrated all-herbal pharmacies. The Gaviotans refused to patent their numerous inventions and their systems are being used widely throughout villages in Colombia. The Gaviotans planted a tropical pine tree from Honduras, which thrived in the barren furnace of the llanos. Not only has this tree provided the community with a valuable resin which has been exported widely, but it provides shelter for the re-emerging rain forest that is springing up in its cooling shadow. Populations of deer, anteater, and capybara are growing. As Lugari notes, “Everywhere else they’re tearing down the rain forests. We’re showing how to put them back.” Writes Weisman, “Despite sustained efforts to mobilize all human wisdom and will in defense of nature and sanity, we have yet to quench the flames that consume our forests, or to dampen the greed that stokes our excesses. Yet a place like Gaviotas bears witness to our ability to get it right, even under seemingly insurmountable circumstances.”

Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World
is published by Chelsea Green Publishers, price $22.95. You can read more about the book on www.chelseagreen.com/Gaviotas

Resources

Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and Their Environment, 1511 K Street NW, Suite 627, Washington, DC 20005. Tel: 202-637-9718, fax: 202-637-9719, www.amazoncoalition.org

Rainforest Information Centre, P.O. Box 368, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia. Tel.: 011-61-2-66-218505. Email: rainfaus @mullum.com.au

Rainforest Action Network. 221 Pine Street, Suite 500 San Francisco, CA 94104. Tel: 415-398-4404, fax: 415-398-2732. Email:rainforest@ran.org www.ran.org

Gaia Forest Conservation Archives: http://forests.org/


 


© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.