Tuesday, May 31, 2005

English Priest Stops Amazon Logging Giants in Their Tracks

Economic plunder has always been at the heart of the exploitation of South America, but a minority of Catholic priests have always fought against this exploitation.

Now Father Paul McAuley has helped some 70 of his parishioners in the little settlement of Mazan, on one of the Amazon's main tributaries, to seek an injunction to protect large swathes of rainforest, containing valuable tropical timber. Last week a court in Iquitos, the capital of Peruvian Amazonia, ordered a halt to the government's sale of 40-year leases of forest land for only 22p an acre.

The judgment could affect logging operations all over the region,
but the English priest, who has received celebrity endorsement for his
campaign from television cook Delia Smith, says he is concerned that
the authorities have as yet taken no steps to enforce the decision. "The
government first sold off the oil to foreign companies, then the
forests, and now they say they'll be selling off the rivers," he told The
Independent on Sunday. "The authorities are supposed to make economic,
social and environmental surveys before timber concessions are granted,
but none has been carried out."

Since April last year the government in Lima and the local authorities of the department of Loreto in Iquitos have decreed the sale of concessions over 12 million acres. Timber merchants bought 7.3 million acres. In the next round, 23 million acres were due to be put under the hammer.

Tropical timber was piled high on the quayside at Iquitos last week, ready to be shipped down the Amazon for export. "This is a very sad sight," said Fr McAuley, adding that in the first three months of this year, loggers felled more than five times as many trees as in the first three months of 2004.

Although Peru signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which includes flora and fauna, in 1975, a year before Britain did, timber is sold with no reference to the treaty, which was put in place to reduce deforestation. To evade regulations, some Peruvian woods are sent to the US through Mexico. "There's timber laundering as well as money laundering," said the priest, who served at a slum parish in Lima before moving to Iquitos.

Fr McAuley said the privatization of the rainforest was part of a scheme demanded by the World Bank and other financial institutions of the Peruvian President, Alejandro Toledo, a former World Bank employee, as a condition for loans. Though he succeeded the enormously corrupt Western-backed autocrat, Alberto Fujimori, in 2001 on a wave of popular enthusiasm, Mr Toledo has himself been tainted by reports of widespread
government corruption.

Campaigners say the logging companies' activities ruin the livelihoods of local peoples by destroying vegetation, frightening off the wild creatures they hunt and poisoning the rivers where they catch fish. Recently Peru fined Pluspetrol, an Argentine oil company, more than $1m for its pollution of the Corrientes, an Amazon tributary, and ordered it to shut 14 of its wells. The river is estimated to have received vast quantities of pollutants every day for the past 34 years from Pluspetrol and its predecessors.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Violence worstens in Uzbekistan

The killing of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan by government troops has focused the world's attention on the strategic Central Asian nation.

The violence began on Friday after a pro-democracy protest and a jailbreak involving men accused of "Islamic extremism" in the eastern city of Andijan.

Since then, President Islam Karimov's government and its human rights record have come under the spotlight, and the possibility that he will be the second Central Asian leader to be toppled this year has been raised.

The US, which has a military base in the country, and Russia argue that Karimov is a stabilising force, a bastion against the spread of Islamic extremism, and a valuable ally in the war on terror.

But Craig Murray, who was sacked in October 2004 as UK ambassador to Uzbekistan after he spoke out against rights abuses, says the Uzbek government is beyond the pale and the West should wash its hands of it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I Was Tortured

Sister Ortiz relates her experience in Guatemalan torture rooms where she was repeatedly raped and tortured by troops commanded by General Hector Gramajo, a CIA asset and graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. U.S. personnel were present while she was being tortured. “Many of our fellow Americans wear a blindfold hiding from the truth of what our government is doing. But each of you has eyes to see, ears to hear, and a voice to oppose this crime against humanity,” claims Sister Ortiz.

Watch the video.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

BRAZIL:Two-Week March by Landless Protesters

The massive march that set out on May Day has been organised by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) to protest the government's economic policies, which are an obstacle to agrarian reform, the activists say.

Goiania, the capital of the state of Gois and located 210 km from Brasilia, will be the starting point for the 12,722 marchers. All of them will be wearing badges to identify them as participants in the protest, to "prevent infiltration," noted Joao Pedro Stdile, an MST national coordinator.

The goal of the march is "to promote debate and create awareness of the need for agrarian reform," Stdile told a press conference on Thursday.

The MST leader added that land reform is currently moving forward at a "snail's pace," despite the "people's government" of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former trade union leader.

Lula, leader of the leftist Workers Party (PT) and a long-time ally of the campesino (peasant worker) movement, promised to provide land to 430,000 families during the four years of his administration, which began on Jan. 1, 2003.

The Brazilian government announced that it had settled 81,000 families on land of their own last year, but in fact the total was just 35,000, since the others were cases where families were given plots of land to replace other, substandard ones previously offered, which they had refused to accept.

Stdile said this "enigma" of a government that is sympathetic to the plight of landless campesinos, yet does not manage to provide them with land to work, is the result of three obstacles: a state structure organised to respond solely to the wealthy; the influence of agribusiness, "a modern-day version of colonial plantations"; and economic policies that concentrate wealth.

Unless there is a change to the current economic policy of high interest rates, fiscal adjustment and priority put on the export sector, "there will be no agrarian reform," which is why the target of the protest march is the economic policy adopted by previous administrations and maintained by Lula, said Stdile, who has a degree in Economics.