Photo: Amazon Watch / YouTube
As 2016 comes to an end, I have reflected on the many events that took place during Amazon Watch’s 20th anniversary year: our victories and challenges, as well as the difficulties we will face in 2017 and beyond. While the political climate has dramatically changed in 2016, we remain ever-committed to advancing our work in defense of the Amazon, in support of indigenous peoples rights and territories, and in growing the global movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build a just transition to renewables.
For 20 years, Amazon Watch has stood side-by-side with indigenous peoples at the forefront of the Amazon’s most emblematic battles for rights and natural resources, from Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon to the Xingu River Basin in Brazil. By partnering with indigenous peoples and a diverse array of organizations and social movements to demand respect for rights and government and corporate accountability, we have stopped or delayed industrial development projects and shone the spotlight on those that violate the Amazon – the most vast and biodiverse tropical rainforest in the world – and its peoples. Thank you for standing with us over the years!
In 2016, we celebrated many victories and supported many momentous events and international delegations with our partners, including:
- Brazil’s cancellation of the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, a disastrous project which would have flooded Munduruku territories and two million hectares of primary rainforest.
- The U’wa people’s resurgence in defense of their sacred territory in Colombia, including the mobilization at Mount Zizuma and the occupation and closure of the Gibraltar gas well that we hope will lead to a permanent cancellation.
- An indigenous women’s delegation to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress to promote “No Go Zones” for industrial extraction on sacred natural sites including Sarayaku’s Living Forests and the U’wa’s Mount Zizuma via Motion 26. IUCN members overwhelmingly voted to support Motion 26, Motion 48 (to protect primary forests), and to give indigenous peoples official status at the IUCN.
- The International Women’s Day March in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where over 500 women from seven indigenous nationalities marched in defense of the Amazon, Mother Earth, and climate justice.
- Sarayaku’s return to Costa Rica for a hearing at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to uphold their historic 2012 verdict in defense of their rights.
- The Sarayaku to Standing Rock delegation in September to show global solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and all who protect water and Mother Earth for our future generations.
- An agreement for cleanup and reparations reached between indigenous communities and the Peruvian government Numerous after a series of devastating oil spills in the northern Peruvian Amazon.
In addition, after a year of research, we released From Well to Wheel, a report that exposes the social, environmental and climate costs of Amazon crude, the majority of which ends up in gas tanks in the U.S. In releasing the report, we launched our End Amazon Crude Campaign to dissuade companies from using Amazon crude in their transportation fleets and instead shift to renewable energy sources.
We also embarked upon an exciting new partnership with Empowered by Light to develop solar-powered community energy and communications systems for our indigenous partners.
Despite these positive developments, 2016 was also filled with major threats and setbacks for the Amazon, indigenous rights, human rights, women’s rights, democracy and our global climate, including:
- The advance of oil projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon:
- The recent Peruvian government decision to grant a Chilean company to drill for oil in Block 64, where the Achuar have vowed to resist in defense of their ancestral territory.
- No consultation and forced displacement of indigenous and local communities due to industrial development projects including the Belo Monte mega-dam in Brazil, palm oil and cacao plantations in the Peruvian Amazon, and mega-mining projects in Shuar territory the Ecuadorian Amazon.
- Rollback on rights and democracy in Brazil with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and incursion of agribusiness lobby to Congress. Brazil has since seen a spike in deforestation and violence against indigenous people and land protectors.
- Increased attacks against indigenous, environmental and human rights defenders throughout the region and most recently the threat to close Acción Ecológica in Ecuador for supporting the Shuar people in their opposition to a Chinese copper mine.
To top it all off, the President-elect of the United States of America and his cabinet appointees are threatening so much of what we hold dear. They threaten all of our basic rights and security, democracy, justice, our environment and our climate. They are climate deniers and corporate criminals. As Leonardo DiCaprio so eloquently said before the release of his new documentary Before the Flood, “If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts or in science, and therefore, in my humble opinion [you] should not be able to hold public office.” We agree and we will do everything in our power to defend our rights and peacefully resist any rollback or attack on science, our communities, and Mother Earth.
In 2017, we recommit to stand with our indigenous and frontline community allies from the Amazon to Standing Rock who are defending water, biodiversity and sacred places for our future generations. It is indigenous people who are protecting 80% of the biodiversity on our planet, so we will continue to stand with them and join them in their calls to protect sacred natural areas and keep them free from industrial extraction. We will work with them to forge alliances calling for the permanent protection of the Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon and the Tapajós River Basin, we will build the global movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and promote a just transition to 100% renewable energy, and we will advance our new campaign to End Amazon Crude by rewarding those companies who make the change and exposing those who do not. We cannot afford to let the threats of politicians and corporations paralyze us. We must continue and recommit to defending our rights and Mother Earth!