Friday, March 29, 2013

Ecuador to Sell a Third of its Amazon Rainforest to Chinese Firms, Despite Protests of Indigenous Groups

Indigenous rights groups in Ecuador have sounded alarm bells over the Ecuadorean government’s plans to auction off over three million hectares of rainforest to Chinese oil companies, despite opposition from local tribes living in the vast area. As Business Insider notes, the land in question amounts to more than a third of Ecuador’s 8.1 million hectares of Amazonian rainforest.

Jonathan Kaiman, a Beijing correspondent for The Guardian, reports that Ecuadorean politicians discussed bidding contracts with Chinese oil firms on Monday at a meeting in Beijing, after previous meetings in Quito, Houston and Paris saw demonstrations by indigenous groups.  Seven indigenous groups living in the affected areas oppose oil exploration, and last fall this coalition released a statement in which they denounced the bidding process as a violation of their collective rights.

But the Ecuadorean government claims it is already working with local communities, and has met their demands to exclude some land from the bidding process. From The Guardian:

In an interview, Ecuador's secretary of hydrocarbons, Andrés Donoso Fabara, accused indigenous leaders of misrepresenting their communities to achieve political goals. "These guys with a political agenda, they are not thinking about development or about fighting against poverty," he said.

Fabara said the government had decided not to open certain blocks of land to bidding because it lacked support from local communities. "We are entitled by law, if we wanted, to go in by force and do some activities even if they are against them," he said. "But that's not our policy."

Interestingly, it could be argued that the bidding process is unlawful on the Chinese side as well. According to the U.S.-based Amazon Watch, oil exploration in the area violates recent guidelines announced by the Chinese Ministries of Commerce and Environmental Protection, which mandate that Chinese companies must "promote harmonious development of local economy, environment and community."

News Briefs
  • El Espectador reports that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have released a statement saying they will reject any peace deal that calls for rebel leaders to be jailed, in response to an to an alleged government proposal that the group surrender and FARC commanders spend “a few years” in prison. This could prove a sticking point for negotiations, because while the Colombian Congress has already passed legislation which places limits on criminal prosecution of FARC members, a total amnesty is likely impossible and some guerrillas -- including leaders -- will have to stand trial.
  • Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo reported yesterday that David Axelrod, former chief strategist for U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, will be advising Brazilian senator and Social Democracy Party (PSDB) member Aecio Neves in his campaign in next year’s presidential election.
  • The Brazilian government has announced that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 26 percent in the last six months.
  • After tendering his resignation last week, Michel Forst, the United Nations' Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, sent an open letter to Haiti’s press in which he harshly criticized the country’s lack of progress on human rights issues. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter, which reportedly accused the Haitian government of arbitrary detentions, interfering with the court system and threatening journalists.
  • Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, whose criticism of the U.S. embargo on Cuba has been in the news of late, expressed a more nuanced opinion on the policy in a recent interview with Television Martí. When asked last week if she was in favor of lifting the embargo “without conditions,” she responded: “I think that it is clear that there should be conditions [for lifting the embargo], and that above all there should be a long process of debate before doing so.”
  • While former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s return to Chile and subsequent announcement of her candidacy for president this week was positively received in the country, there are already signs that she will face opposition if elected for a new term in office. Matias Sotelo, a former activist in the student movement, made headlines in Chile for approaching Bachelet in the Santiago airport and criticizing her last administration. According to El Mostrador, Sotelo said “The people will not forgive or forget, and the students won’t either,” and “remember your betrayal in 2006,” referencing a hunger strike by Mapuche indigenous activists that year.
  • As Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election draws closer, both the opposition and the Chavista camp appear to have taken to instilling the race with religious significance. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles characterized the election as a “spiritual battle” earlier this week, and the government funded VIVE TV recently aired this rather crudely-animated cartoon depicting Hugo Chavez meeting Simon Bolivar and other leftist Latin American heroes in heaven.
  • Mexico’s peace movement, headed by poet and activist Javier Sicilia, celebrated its second anniversary yesterday, also the second anniversary of the murder of Sicilia’s son by members of a drug gang. La Cronica de Hoy reports that he commemorated the anniversary by announcing that the movement would seek to have the recently-constructed Pillar of Light (Estela de Luz) in Mexico City converted into a memorial for the victims of Mexico’s drug war.
  • The government of Argentina has been given until midnight Friday to clarify how it will comply with the terms of a ruling ordering the payment of $1.4 billion to creditors who lost money after the country’s 2002 default. On February 27 the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Argentina to come up with a proposal for paying the creditors, but as the AP notes, the government has maintained that the investors should get the same treatment as other creditors, who accepted a deal in which their bonds were exchanged for others of lesser value. Many fear that Argentine defiance of the Court’s ruling could lead to another default, which would be detrimental to the economy.
  • Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, whose 1971 book “A Theology of Liberation” popularized liberation theology across Latin America and brought members of the Catholic Church closer to the social movements of the era, has endorsed Pope Francis’ vision of a "Church of the poor." Writing for the website of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where he teaches theology, Gutierrez commended the pope for apparently recognizing that the “the authentic power of the Church lies in serving the poor.” Praising Pope Francis is an interesting move for Gutierrez, as the pope himself is a staunch critic of liberation theology.

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