With urban growth outpacing the capacity of municipal dumps, waste management is a major problem in Bogotá and throughout the continent. Compostable garbage buried in landfills release powerful greenhouse gases, while recyclables left in dumps keep materials out of the recycling stream, increasing the need to extract more raw material. Read more »
Unfazed by powerful political opponents and a pervasive culture of violence, Nohra Padilla organized Colombia’s marginalized waste pickers into unions and made recycling a legitimate part of urban waste management.
With urban growth outpacing the capacity of municipal dumps, waste management is a major problem in Bogotá and throughout the continent. Compostable garbage buried in landfills release powerful greenhouse gases, while recyclables left in dumps keep materials out of the recycling stream, increasing the need to extract more raw material.
The growing volume of recycling that does happen in Bogotá is carried out by a group of marginalized people known as “waste pickers.” In the face of blatant discrimination, safety and health hazards, and poor wages and working conditions, they provide a much-needed service to the city while scraping together a living for their families.
Motivation Nohra Padilla has been recycling with her family since she was 7. Her family fled violence-plagued rural Colombia and moved to Bogotá, where going through trash piles in the city gave the family of 12 children a way to survive.
When Padilla was 16, a local dump that had become a key source of scrap material—and livelihood—for informal recyclers in her community was shut down. This forced them to face the challenge of looking for recyclables in the streets. Landfills posed numerous health risks and hazards, but they were a relatively safe place for recyclers to sort through trash in peace, away from the discrimination and violence in the streets, and with a guarantee that they’d find enough recyclables to get through the day.
Given her experience picking waste on the street when her family first moved to the city, Padilla naturally progressed to a leadership position among the recyclers, who organized into cooperatives that provided a measure of safety and protection in the streets. She gradually rose through their ranks, and began to see a clear need to fight for recyclers’ basic rights to continue their work—and with it, the dignity and recognition for the service they contribute to the city.
Impact Thanks to Padilla’s leadership, the cooperatives have grown into the Association of Recyclers of Bogotá (ARB), an organization that represents the city’s 3,000 informal recyclers, and the National Association of Recyclers in Colombia (ANR), with 12,000 members strong. Together, Padilla and the recyclers are revolutionizing the waste management infrastructure in Colombia.
A landmark victory came in late 2011, when Padilla won a court ruling that now prohibits waste management contracts that don’t provide job opportunities for informal recyclers. It was a much-needed affirmation of their fundamental right to work and the government’s acknowledgment of the necessity and benefits of recycling.
Recyclers are now formally recognized stakeholders in Bogotá’s waste management planning. They go to work wearing uniforms and identification cards that acknowledge their profession. ARB operates two recycling centers, with plans to expand operations to what will be the largest recycling center run by informal recyclers in Latin America.
Padilla’s achievements come in spite of Colombia’s pervasive culture of violence and powerful economic interests who do not want recyclers to cut into their profits from landfill contracts. As her successes have grown, so have slanderous accusations and physical threats to her safety. The risks Padilla faces escalated to the point where she had to request state protection, which was denied.
In a victory that catapults Bogotá to the frontline of cities with sustainable waste management policies, the mayor issued a decree that mandates recycling in the city. It also says recyclers are to be paid for their services—a huge departure from a system where the sale of recycled material is their only source of income, a first in Bogotá—and establishes routes that allow recyclers to sort through material before waste is taken to landfills. Padilla is leading negotiations with the city’s public utilities department on a new waste management contract for recyclers, paving new frontiers for the rest of Colombia and other countries in Latin America grappling with waste management.
Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of soybeans. Every year, the industry spreads over 50 million gallons of agro-toxins—namely glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup, and endosulfan—through aerial spraying over farmland. Read more »
A mother whose infant died as a result of pesticide poisoning, Sofía Gatica is organizing local women to stop indiscriminate spraying of toxic agrochemicals in neighboring soy fields.
Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of soybeans. Every year, the industry spreads over 50 million gallons of agro-toxins—namely glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup, and endosulfan—through aerial spraying over farmland.
While Monsanto claims there is no risk to humans, a 2008 scientific study found that even at low concentrations, glyphosate causes the death of human embryonic, placental and umbilical cells. Endosulfan is a highly toxic pesticide that has been banned in 80 countries because of its threats to human health and the environment. In May 2011, it was added to the UN list of persistent organic pollutants to be eliminated worldwide.
Thirteen years ago, Sofía Gatica gave birth to a daughter. Three days later, the baby’s kidneys failed. The working-class mother of three was determined to find out what killed her child. She began talking to her neighbors in Ituzaingó, a working-class neighborhood of 6,000 in central Argentina surrounded by soy fields, and became alarmed at the prevalence of unexplained health problems plaguing her community.
Gatica invited a group of neighbors to her home to discuss their experiences. With only a high school education and no organizing experience, Gatica co-founded the Mothers of Ituzaingó—a group of 16 mothers working together to put a stop to the indiscriminate agrochemical use that was poisoning their community.
Gatica and the group of mothers began going door to door to conduct the first epidemiological study of the area and discovered the serious effects that pesticide spraying was having on the families in Ituzaingó. Residents reported cancer rates that were 41 times the national average (doctors suspect that many other cases go unreported), as well as high rates of neurological and respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infant mortality.
With the findings confirming their worst fears, the Mothers of Ituzaingó brought together environmental groups in Argentina to launch a “Stop Spraying” campaign. They led press conferences, demonstrations and published materials to warn the public about the dangers of pesticides. Gatica also met with research institutions to request scientific studies to confirm what she had observed in Ituzaingó.
Gatica and the Mothers of Ituzaingó faced an uphill battle, having very few resources or any direct access to demand accountability from Monsanto, DuPont and other global agrochemical companies operating in Argentina. They also endured insults and threats from individuals, police officers, and local business owners in Ituzaingó. In 2007, an individual entered Gatica’s house and demanded that she give up the campaign while pointing a revolver at her.
Despite these challenges, Gatica and the mothers’ advocacy has had resounding effects. In 2008, the president of Argentina ordered the minister of health to investigate the impact of pesticide use in Ituzaingó and a resulting study conducted by the Department of Medicine at Buenos Aires University corroborated the mothers’ door-to-door research linking pesticide exposure to public health. Gatica subsequently succeeded in getting a municipal ordinance passed that prohibited aerial spraying in Ituzaingó at distances of less than 2,500 meters from residences. In an unprecedented victory, a 2010 ruling from the Supreme Court not only banned agrochemical spraying near populated areas, but it also reversed the burden of proof—instead of residents proving that spraying causes harm, the government and soy producers must now prove the chemicals are safe.
Other municipalities in Argentina have reached out to Gatica for help addressing similar problems in their neighborhoods. Recognizing the extent of the issue, Gatica is working with the Stop Spraying campaign to ban all aerial spraying in Argentina and create buffer zones so that agrochemicals are not used in close proximity to residential areas and waterways. With Argentina’s ban on endosulfan going into effect July 2013, Gatica and her colleagues are pushing for a nationwide ban on glyphosate as well.
Living under the constant threat of assassination, Francisco Pineda courageously led a citizens’ movement that stopped a gold mine from destroying El Salvador’s dwindling water resources and the livelihoods of rural communities throughout the country.Read more »
Living under the constant threat of assassination, Francisco Pineda courageously led a citizens’ movement that stopped a gold mine from destroying El Salvador’s dwindling water resources and the livelihoods of rural communities throughout the country.
Mining and Water
For small farmers and communities in rural El Salvador, water is more valuable than gold. Without country-wide water delivery infrastructure, people in these areas must rely on the bodies of water nearby to feed their crops and sustain their personal needs. However, it is estimated that 90 percent of the country’s surface water bodies are contaminated. Nearly all municipal and industrial wastewater is discharged into rivers and creeks without treatment, reducing clean water availability for rural populations. Only three percent of the country’s natural flowing rivers remain pristine. The clean water that still flows in the Rio Lempa, El Salvador’s longest river with a watershed extending to nearly half of the country, is absolutely essential to the lives and livelihoods of the region’s rural people. A total of four million people rely on this water source.
Mining represents the greatest threat to El Salvador’s water supply. The US-Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has made doing business in El Salvador easier for foreign companies, and thus exploration permits have been issued for a variety of development projects, including gold and silver mines. Gold mining is notoriously damaging to the environment. Mine operators often employ a process known as cyanide leeching, whereby cyanide, a highly toxic chemical, is mixed with water pulled from local supplies and applied to rock deposits to extract the gold within them. The toxic runoff then spreads to surrounding land and often ends up contaminating rivers, creeks and groundwater.
Francisco Pineda is a farmer with a degree in sustainable agriculture and is the founder and president of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, a community volunteer association. In the process of organizing his community against a waste dump that would have polluted local water supplies, he taught himself about water ecology and became an environmental leader in his region.
In 2002, Canadian mining giant Pacific Rim began the exploration phase for a gold and silver mine in Cabañas. Growing concern over the environmental consequences for the region’s forests and the Rio Lempa was largely ignored by the government. That changed in 2004 when Pineda discovered that the creek supplying irrigation to his crops had completely stopped flowing. Pineda walked along the water’s edge and found Pacific Rim’s pumps siphoning the creek to its exploration area upstream. Recognizing the potentially devastating situation, he and his neighbors immediately approached local government officials with their concerns about the water supply, but were told that the mine was moving forward regardless of local protest. Officials claimed that the opportunities for development and employment outweighed potential problems, but upon closer inspection, Pineda and his colleagues realized that the local population was not qualified for the highly technical jobs Pacific Rim would create. They then set in motion a people’s movement that would succeed in halting the mine, but would have deadly consequences for many involved.
Pineda and his colleagues visited communities facing similar struggles against mining operations in Honduras, where they saw the effects of chemical poisoning on the people and became aware of the potential violence they would face in their fight against Pacific Rim. Pineda and his colleagues returned to El Salvador and immediately began educating the people of Cabañas by going door-to-door and organizing community meetings. Since 2004, the movement has grown to include 26 communities and more than 450 members. Pineda helped establish the National Anti-Mining Board and with his coalition organized a series of local and national demonstrations to bring more attention to the issue.
As the movement gained momentum, supporters of the Cabañas mine suspected to have ties to Pacific Rim retaliated with threats and deadly attacks. In 2009, three of Pineda’s colleagues were assassinated. One close colleague was killed while under police protection. A month later, a group of assassins set out to kill another member of the environmental committee, but when they did not find him in his house they murdered his pregnant wife instead. Another anti-mining activist was kidnapped and his tortured body was found in a well.
Today, Pineda lives with 24-hour police protection. He has vowed to continue his struggle no matter the consequences.
Due in large part to Pineda’s leadership, the Salvadoran government has not granted Pacific Rim the necessary extraction permit to move forward with their project and the company has reduced its active exploration area by 50 percent. The movement succeeded in creating a loud enough public outcry to sway the current government, despite the financial incentives and development funds offered by Pacific Rim.
Yet this victory may only be temporary.
Pacific Rim has initiated a $100 million lawsuit under CAFTA claiming that El Salvador is in violation of the agreement for halting the company’s plans. This lawsuit calls into question the sovereignty of individual nations that are party to agreements like CAFTA and their rights to decide for themselves how to administer development projects. Further complicating matters, Pacific Rim is based in Canada, a country not included in CAFTA. Pacific Rim circumvented this technicality by suing El Salvador through an American subsidiary. The court date is not yet set, but it is expected that the case will move forward in 2011.
"My work is as an environmentalist; this is the principle for my life. When I began to understand the impact of the mining exploration, I couldn’t stay quiet." - Francisco Pineda
Drawing international attention to the inhumane and environmentally-catastrophic shark finning industry, Randall Arauz led the campaign to halt the practice in Costa Rica, making his country the international model for shark protection.
Sharks in Decline The eastern Pacific Ocean has historically been home to significant populations of sharks, with more than 18 different species identified in Costa Rica’s waters alone. However, many species of sharks are now critically endangered. Over the last 50 years, global shark populations have declined by 90% as a result of overfishing, which has been exacerbated during the last decades by the growing demand for shark fins, specifically to be used as the key ingredient in shark fin soup. In China and in Chinese restaurants around the world, shark fin soup is a delicacy that was once considered a luxury consumed only on special occasions. Today, as China’s economy booms and the growing middle class increases demand for the soup, shark finning has decimated the once-thriving stocks. As many as 100 million sharks are slaughtered annually to feed global demand. This unprecedented change in shark populations significantly threatens the sensitive balance required for healthy marine ecosystems, thus endangering the fisheries and economic livelihoods of fishing communities around the world.
The practice of shark finning has been widely criticized as wasteful by conservationists and brutal by animal rights activists. International fishing fleets targeting sharks specifically for their fins tow miles of hook-covered lines, catching thousands of sharks and other marine life in what is known as long-line fishing. The sharks are then hoisted aboard, where workers slice the fins from live animals before tossing the fin-less bodies back into the ocean to die. Because shark fins command $70 per kilo while shark meat yields only about $.50 per kilo, it has not made economic sense for ships to fill valuable hold space with a commodity worth so little. A single expedition can yield millions of dollars in profits when only fins are kept and shipped to market.
The potential for huge short-term profits has led many governments throughout the world to relax existing fisheries laws or simply turn a blind eye to shark finning. In 2004, Costa Rica was the world’s third largest exporter of shark products, including 8,000 tons of fins. Vessels from Taiwan, China, Indonesia and elsewhere travel to shark-rich waters, pay duties to local governments to land on their docks, and then bring their catches to market in Hong Kong, where the majority of the trade in shark fins takes place.
Steps Toward Permanent Protection Arauz, a conservationist who founded the Association for the Restoration of Sea Turtles (PRETOMA) in 1997, has emerged as one of the world’s leading voices working to ban shark finning. As a turtle biologist and conservationist, he worked with the shrimp industry in Costa Rica to reduce the sea turtle casualties associated with trawling. After some success in introducing new trawling technology to the industry, he learned that long-line fishing boats were also to blame for sea turtle deaths. When Arauz’s friend got a job as a cook on a long-line shark fishing boat, Arauz sent along a video camera so that he could learn more about exactly how the fishing technique worked. The footage he received completely shocked him. He had not previously been aware of shark finning, and seeing the brutal practice in full color sparked his subsequent commitment to stop shark finning in Costa Rica.
In 2003, Arauz exposed a Taiwanese ship illegally landing 30 tons of shark fins, amounting to the deaths of 30,000 sharks, late at night at a private dock in Puntarenas, using a secretly filmed videotape. He released the footage to the media, and the resulting shock and outrage from the Costa Rican public and international community galvanized support for Arauz’s ensuing campaign to enforce the country’s existing laws against shark finning. He mobilized the support of 80,000 citizens and 35 deputies of the Legislative Assembly to sign a petition calling on Costa Rica’s president to halt the practice and close private docks to the landing of international ships, as dictated by existing customs legislation. The petition and media attention garnered by the public outcry led to a decision by the customs department in November 2004 to halt all landings of fishery products by international vessels on privately-owned docks until they complied with the law. Unfortunately, the closure lasted only a few weeks.
Following this interim move, a new national fisheries law went into effect in February 2005 that specifically prohibits shark finning and mandates all sharks to be landed with their fins attached. The new law also calls for fines and jail terms for those caught landing shark fins at Costa Rican ports.
However, the industry soon identified loopholes in the legislation that enabled them to continue shark finning. The law still allowed for the landing of whole sharks with their fins “attached,” so fleets began tying large fins to tiny sharks to get around the finning ban. In August 2006, Arauz succeeded in closing this loophole.
Arauz also filed suit against the Fisheries Institute and the Customs and Public Transportation Ministries at the Constitutional Court, Costa Rica’s highest court, for failing to abide by current customs law. In 2006, the court ruled in PRETOMA’s favor.
Throughout his campaign in Costa Rica, Arauz has worked closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Congress to urge the UN to ban shark finning and to stop all long-line fishing in the eastern Pacific’s international waters. He viewed a complete ban as a clear deterrent for shark finning vessels and as a means for reducing the negative impact on the other marine life unintentionally caught by the lines. In 2007, the UN General Assembly approved language calling on nations to mandate that all shark fins be landed attached to the body of the shark, marking a major shift in policy and a huge victory for Arauz and other activists working to protect sharks globally.
Since the UN recommendation was issued, Arauz has represented Costa Rica at several UN meetings and has called for a complete ban on shark finning. In 2007, he participated in a UN Convention of Migratory Species meeting as an official Costa Rican delegate and was instrumental in the election of Costa Rica as a member of a five-country commission tasked with drafting language for international cooperation for the protection of sharks.
"Shark finning is not only cruel, it is irresponsible and unsustainable fishing at its highest degree. In spite of this, it has been close to impossible to attain any international binding management and conservation measures to curtail this practice." - Randall Arauz
WanzeEduards and Hugo Jabini, members of a Maroon community originally established by freed African slaves in the 1700s, successfully organized their communities against logging on their traditional lands, ultimately leading to a landmark ruling for indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the Americas to control resource exploitation in their territories. Read more »
WanzeEduards and Hugo Jabini, members of a Maroon community originally established by freed African slaves in the 1700s, successfully organized their communities against logging on their traditional lands, ultimately leading to a landmark ruling for indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the Americas to control resource exploitation in their territories.
Logging vs. tradition Suriname, located within the larger Amazon Basin, has opened up its immense tropical forests to extractive industries, all of which operate without local consent or oversight. It is the only country in the Americas that does not recognize indigenous or tribal peoples’ rights to own and control their traditional territories. Indigenous and tribal peoples who live in Suriname’s tropical forests comprise approximately 20 percent of Suriname’s population of 450,000. The tribal peoples are Maroons, the descendants of African slaves who won their freedom and established autonomous communities in the rainforest between the late 17th and mid-19th centuries. The Saramaka are a specific group of Maroons that live in 9,000 square-kilometers of rainforest. In 1963, they lost almost 50 percent of their traditional territory to a hydroelectric dam built to power an Alcoa bauxite factory. Many Saramaka were displaced and remain in resettlement camps to this day. Others established new villages on the Upper Suriname River. In the late 1990s, the Surinamese government allowed logging companies to set up speculation projects and camps in the region, against Saramaka wishes. Further, extensive flooding caused by faulty creek bridging rendered a large area useless for traditional agricultural and other activities, thus depriving the Saramaka of an additional 10 percent of their territory. OppositionWanzeEduards, 52, father of seven, is a traditional Saramaka leader who holds three offices: Captain, the head of his village of PikinSlee; Head Captain, the highest official for 36 communities on a section of the Upper Suriname River; and fiscali, one of four members of the Gaama’s Council, the paramount official body in Saramaka society. Hugo Jabini, 44, the son of a female village leader and grandson of the former leader of Tutubuka village, is a Saramakan from Laduani village on the Upper Suriname River. Raised in Saramaka territory, he is presently studying law at the University of Suriname. Eduards and Jabini first responded to complaints about the logging companies in late 1996 when villagers discovered that loggers had destroyed their subsistence farms in the forest. The Saramaka were told by the government of Suriname that they would be imprisoned if they tried to stop the loggers from working. Eduards and Jabini organized meetings with the communities most directly affected. Once they determined that the threat affected all Saramaka, including almost 70 villages on the Upper Suriname River comprising about 25,000 people, these meetings expanded to include all Saramaka communities. With the leadership of Eduards and Jabini, the communities established the Association of Saramaka Authorities (ASA) in order to better defend their lands and promote their rights. Jabini and Eduards led efforts to have Saramaka persons trained to make accurate maps to document their traditional territory and to demonstrate the impact of the logging concessions. After some 60 meetings in the various communities, the consensus was that the Saramaka could not obtain justice in Suriname and that they should seek the protection of the Inter-American human rights system. ASA filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in October 2000. During and following the filing of the petition, Jabini and Eduards collected information that showed the impact on the Saramaka from logging and the threat of “irreparable harm” if the IACHR failed to act. They also continued to organize meetings in Saramaka territory to ensure that as many people as possible were aware of the developments with their case and were part of the decision-making process. In 2002 and again in 2004, the IACHR requested that Suriname suspend all logging concessions, mine exploration and other natural resource development activity on lands used and occupied by the Saramaka until the substantive claims raised in the case were investigated. It also requested that the Surinamese government take appropriate measures to protect the physical integrity of the Saramaka people. These interim measures, which were based on the evidence that Jabini and Eduards collected, were instrumental in halting these development projects. When the Suriname government failed to completely suspend the projects and comply with the other recommendations of the IACHR, the IACHR took the claim to the Inter-American Court, a legally binding body of which Suriname is a member. The judgment of the Court in Saramaka People v. Suriname not only provides the basis for the legal recognition and protection of Saramaka territory, with respect to land rights and prior informed consent, but also creates a legal framework for the rights of all indigenous and tribal peoples in Suriname. Pursuant to the Court’s orders, this includes “their rights to manage, distribute, and effectively control such territory, in accordance with their customary laws and traditional collective land tenure system.” In January 2008, the Suriname government publicly declared that it would fully implement the judgment of the Court. A New Precedent for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples The Saramaka ruling is also significant at an international level. In the ruling, which applies across the hemisphere, the Court held that resource exploitation concessions may only be granted in indigenous or tribal territories subject to four conditions: indigenous and tribal peoples’ effective participation must be secure; there must be reasonable benefit-sharing; there must be a prior environmental and social impact assessment; and states have a duty to implement adequate safeguards and mechanisms in order to ensure that these activities do not significantly affect the traditional lands and natural resources of indigenous and tribal peoples. Eduards and Jabini guaranteed territorial rights not just for the Saramaka, but all of the Maroons and indigenous people of Suriname. In addition, because the case was settled by the binding Inter-American Court, Eduards and Jabini changed international jurisprudence so that free, prior and informed consent will be required for major development projects throughout the Americas. They saved not only their communities’ 9,000 square-kilometers of forest, but strengthened the possibility of saving countless more.
“Save the rainforest to provide our children with a better life.” - WanzeEduards “Our ancestors fought for and won their freedom from slavery and established autonomous communities. We fight for and won our right for legal recognition, controlling and managing our territory.” - S. Hugo Jabini
Fighting for justice after what has been called one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters in history, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo are leading an unprecedented community-driven legal battle against a global oil giant. According to the plaintiffs, beginning in 1964 and through 1990, Texaco dumped nearly 17 million gallons of crude oil and 20 billion gallons of drilling wastewater directly into the Ecuadorian Amazon. Allegedly suffering from the health effects of the pollution, the region's inhabitants are demanding a complete cleanup in potentially the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed in the world. Yanza co-founded the Amazon Defense Front to organize 30,000 inhabitants of the northern Ecuadorian Amazon in a class-action lawsuit against Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001. The lead lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, a resident of one of the affected communities, has become the public voice of the plaintiffs. Unprecedented Petroleum Pollution The Ecuadorian Amazon contains five percent of all the world's plant and animal species and is one of the most biodiverse places in the Amazon and on Earth. As the region’s primary oil investor in the 1970s and 1980s, Texaco built much of Ecuador's oil infrastructure but chose not to re-inject back into the ground the wastewater and sludge brought up by the drilling process, called formation waters. Instead, according to the plaintiffs, billions of gallons were dumped into the region’s waterways, or left in more than 1,000 unlined, open pits scattered throughout the area. By the company's own estimates, it spilled nearly 17 million gallons of oil into soils and waterways, and another 20 billion gallons of formation waters. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled just over 10 million gallons of oil. In 1992, Texaco left Ecuador, leaving behind what experts and inhabitants call a monumental environmental disaster. To this day, the region's 30,000 inhabitants primarily drink water that has been deemed contaminated by experts involved in the case. According to the plaintiffs, many of the waste pits continue to pollute the rivers, streams and groundwater. In some areas, all water sources are contaminated and few fish survive in the rivers. The plaintiffs claim that prolonged exposure to toxic substances has led to a serious health crisis, and caused people living in such proximity to pollution to suffer dramatically increased incidences of skin disease, respiratory ailments, reproductive disorders and a cancer rate seven times higher than the rest of the country’s population. They also claim that the regional devastation includes more than two million acres of deforestation. Chevron, however, claims the region’s environmental and health problems are not a result of the pollution left behind by Texaco, and that they are no longer responsible. Leading the Community to Seek Justice In 1993, Yanza, working with a team of US-based lawyers, filed a class-action lawsuit against Texaco. Plaintiffs included a coalition of residents brought together by Yanza's organization, including 80 villages and five different indigenous peoples. The initial case against Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) was filed in 1993 in a New York district court, near Texaco’s headquarters. In 1996, a superior court judge dismissed the case, but the plaintiffs filed an appeal and won a reversal of the decision. In 2002, the US Court of Appeals agreed with Chevron's request to send the case to Ecuador. However, the court warned Chevron that US courts would intervene if the company tried to avoid a judgment imposed by the Ecuadorian courts. In May 2003, the 30,000 plaintiffs, led by Fajardo's legal team, filed a lawsuit in Ecuador's northern Amazon, demanding that Chevron pay for a complete cleanup, including removal of all formation waters, debris and equipment; remediation of all contaminated water bodies and lands; recuperation of fauna, flora and aqueous life; and monitoring and improvement of the health of the inhabitants. Chevron does not deny dumping formation waters or oil in the region, but says the resulting contamination has not harmed the inhabitants and it is not responsible for any cleanup. In March 2007, the plaintiffs, with the abundant evidence collected from 45 field inspections, had already proven the existence of extensive contamination, and that further delay was not necessary. The judge issued an order to begin an assessment of the damages, which was carried out by an independent expert, culminating in a report released in April 2008 citing $8.3 - $16 billion in damages. Fajardo and Yanza have been touring the country relentlessly, making the trial an issue of national dignity and sovereignty in anticipation of a final decision in 2008. Long Term Impact The impact of Yanza and Fajardo's efforts on Ecuador's oil industry is already far-reaching. They have publicized the long-term effects on the environment and people, leading the government of Ecuador to pass stronger environmental protection laws. Texaco and Chevron’s legacy in Ecuador is now part of the national collective consciousness. Fajardo and Yanza recently hosted the president of Ecuador on a tour of Texaco's former operations, leading to a pledge by the government to relocate several contaminated communities. Their work entails significant risk, as well. Yanza, Fajardo, their families and a number of their colleagues have become targets of death threats, harassment and intimidation. In December 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States issued precautionary measures for Yanza and Fajardo in an effort to protect their lives. Fajardo's brother was killed just months after he joined the legal team; no investigation has taken place and no one has been arrested for the homicide. Fajardo has been forced to vary his daily routine, often sleeping in a different place each night.
"In this battle I have understood that working for a clean environment today is working towards peace for humanity tomorrow - facing the future. That is what I intend to do." - Pablo Fajardo
"I will continue fighting for rights and justice until the last days of my life." - Luis Yanza
A Voice for the Voiceless
In the remote Peruvian Amazon, the struggle between economic gains and indigenous sovereignty threatens both sensitive rain forest ecosystems and the rights of indigenous peoples. Read more »
A Voice for the Voiceless In the remote Peruvian Amazon, the struggle between economic gains and indigenous sovereignty threatens both sensitive rain forest ecosystems and the rights of indigenous peoples. Throughout this remote region, small isolated indigenous communities have chosen to remain completely cut-off from the outside world, living in the same way their ancestors have for thousands of years. As illegal loggers press into the area, harvesting rare old-growth mahogany for the US market, contact with the groups is becoming more frequent. This contact often ends in tragedy, with destructive epidemics, violent clashes, and the loss of long-practiced indigenous culture. Julio Cusurichi, a Shipibo indigenous leader of the Peruvian Amazon, led the effort that in 2002 resulted in the creation of a territorial reserve for these isolated peoples spanning 7,688-square-kilometers (larger than the state of Delaware), in one of the most untouched areas of the Amazon. He has been instrumental in bringing international attention to the existence of the indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation and stopping intrusion into their now legally recognized territory. Currently serving as an advisor with Federation of Natives of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD), Cusurichi has faced violent threats on his life and false public attacks on his character from the illegal logging and mining entities opposed to his work. Despite these challenges, he has pressed on. Remote Areas, Endangered Cultures The Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon holds some of the most remote areas in the world. In spite of this, the indigenous communities who live there have confronted numerous threats from mining, logging, oil drilling and the ever expanding influx of outside settlers. In the most inaccessible area near the border with Brazil, a number of indigenous groups choose to live deep in the forest without contact with the outside world. They are called “indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation,” and are commonly referred to as the “uncontacted.” They do not use rivers for transport, walking between the headwaters of the rivers and fishing along the river beaches. Their population is estimated between a few hundred and a few thousand individuals. They are extremely vulnerable to outside contact, especially if exposed to new diseases. As recently as the 1990s there were greater numbers of indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation in the region. However, after workers exploring for oil established contact, entire groups died out, primarily from diseases new to them such as influenza. Oil exploration is not the only threat to the isolated indigenous peoples. In 1997, Brazil banned bigleaf mahogany logging in compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Although it ratified CITES in 1975, Peru neglected to comply, leading to a dramatic increase in mahogany logging in Madre de Dios as the pressure increased from the Brazilian prohibition. To reach new stands of valuable mahogany trees, loggers built roads in once pristine areas. Peru is now the world’s leading exporter of bigleaf mahogany, with most of the supply harvested illegally. Today there is little mahogany left in Madre de Dios, found in abundance only in the most remote areas, notably areas where the indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation live. Although they remain isolated, contact does occur, usually with loggers. The contacts are often brief and violent, ending in bloodshed as the indigenous groups defend their lands with bows and arrows, and the loggers defend themselves with firearms. Results at Both Ends of the Supply Chain Recognizing the importance of protecting both the environment and the rights of the indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, Cusurichi works to curb illegal logging in the rainforests themselves, working with both the Peruvian government and engaging courts internationally. After winning the fight to create the reserve, Cusurichi pushed for additional ways to protect the indigenous peoples, documenting illegal logging and at times calling in the police and military to enforce the law. He helped the government establish monitoring posts along the main rivers to curb the entrance of illegal loggers into the region and to document the number of mahogany logs leaving. When the government abandoned the posts, together with FENAMAD he trained local indigenous villagers to take over and worked out a deal for the government to pay them. Together with other villages in the area they organized a monitoring network to protect the reserve. To ensure that the area stays protected, Cusurichi, together with FENAMAD, the Peruvian organization Racimos de Ungurahui and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has engaged in an ongoing legal and political struggle, including filing a lawsuit in New York against the US Departments of Homeland Security, Interior and Agriculture, and three US timber importers. The lawsuit charges that by importing bigleaf mahogany from Peru, the US is violating the US Endangered Species Act and CITES. The case is currently being heard and if successful, could cut off the main market for this illegal product and thus end the threat of illegal logging in the reserve, and thereby permit the protection of this species, the conservation of one of the most pristine forests of the Amazon, and the life, culture and knowledge of the Amazonian indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.
“It is my responsibility to defend the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those in voluntary isolation who have no voice, and are the most vulnerable people on the planet. I need to inform the politicians who are making decisions that affect the indigenous peoples, nationally and internationally, and propose viable alternatives.”
Creating a Mosaic of Protected Lands in the Amazon In a lawless, remote, northern region of the Brazilian Amazon, where land grabbing and illegal logging are destroying communities and the environment, Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva leads a grassroots coalition to protect the tropical forest and the people who live there. Working with local organizations, Feitosa revealed massive illegal logging and human rights abuses. Their work prompted the government to protect a mosaic of tropical rainforest areas that, together with existing indigenous lands, make up the world’s largest area of protected tropical forest, bigger than the state of Minnesota. The 240,000-square-kilometer area includes the Verde para Sempre Extractive Reserve, the Riozinho do Anfrizio Extractive Reserve, the Serra do Pardo National Park, and the Middle Lands Ecological Station. Working in a Deadly Environment Feitosa, 35, has spent more than 10 years fighting for human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable development in the Xingu and Middle Lands of Pará, some of the most remote areas of the Amazon. He works with the Pastoral Lands Commission, the social justice arm of the National Conference of Bishops (of Brazil), and is one of the elected leaders of the Movement for the Development of the Transamazon and the Xingu (MTDX), several of whose leaders were assassinated in recent years. In February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked in Pará alongside Feitosa, was murdered. Feitosa has documented illegal logging activity, and in one high-profile action, tipped off government officials who raided the logging sites, seized 6,000 illegally felled mahogany trees, and sold them at auction to raise $1.5 million to create a fund supporting sustainable development and conservation efforts. Feitosa also helped organize a protest in which community members linked their boats to barricade the mouth of a major river, blocking barges carrying illegal logs. They were able to seize about 2,000 logs. Seeking Environmental Justice in Remote Regions Feitosa’s work is carried out in an extremely remote area that is a two-day boat ride from the nearest significant town. The northern state of Pará encompasses more than one-quarter of the country’s Amazon and boasts extensive unspoiled forested regions and freshwater river beaches. It also is home to many traditional and indigenous communities that live in almost total isolation from the outside world. But starting in the 1970s, the government began to build roads through the Amazon to Pará, bringing in thousands of settlers. Pará now is one of the deep Amazon’s most lawless and environmentally threatened regions. Land grabbing, uncontrolled deforestation, illegal logging, and fires are rapidly destroying and degrading its forests. Logging has affected Pará more than any other region of the Amazon, resulting in the loss of one-fifth of the state’s tropical forest cover. Together, Pará’s deforested areas are about equal in size to the state of Colorado. The Brazilian government has begun to pave the last 1,174 kilometers of road connecting Pará to the rest of Brazil. Without controls or protection, this road will open one of the final intact swaths of the Amazon to expanded cattle ranching and soy production, easier access for loggers and a greater influx of settlers who will set more fires to clear forest for their crops. In the Amazon, deforested areas receive less rainfall, and the plants and trees retain less moisture. As the area dries, the entire region becomes more susceptible to widespread forest fires like those in 1998 that engulfed much of the Amazon, and to droughts like the one in 2005 that left many Amazon tributaries completely dry, fish dying in the sun and many communities stranded and hungry.
“Here in the Amazon we have the greatest corridor of protected areas in the world. This is important to guarantee the lives of the human populations that depend on the forest to survive and to give continuity to the forest and its resources. The municipal, state and federal governments of Brazil should now assume their clear role in protecting these forests.”