The lack of transparency behind Indonesia's New Capital project and how the false rethoric of "Sponge City" is used to hide violations against the Balik People

JATAM East Kalimantan denounces the recent move of the Indonesian Minister of Public Works and Public Housing, Basuki Hadimoeljono, to appeal against the decision of a State Administrative Court in Jakarta that the government should make public a number of documents that it had kept secret.

Palm oil in Brazil: in Brazil: Sign the petition to return the lands to indigenous and quilombola communities

Oil palm plantations are spreading like wildfire across the eastern Brazilian Amazon. But local communities are standing up to the palm oil industry’s brutality and sweeping land grabs, demanding the return of their ancestral lands and calling on the authorities to protect them from encroachment and violence. Read and sign the petition here.

 

The Vale do Acará region of the state of Pará is the center of Brazil’s expanding palm oil industry. Rainforest Rescue visited the region in the east of the Amazon, spoke to the people there and agreed to help.

Oil palm plantations are closing in on the ancestral lands of the Indigenous Tembé and Turiwara and the Quilombola, descendants of enslaved people from Africa. Communities complain of land grabbing, forced evictions and the constant threat of massive violence.

The largest plantation owners are Agropalma and Brazil Biofuels (BBF). They alone control 2,400 square kilometers of land – an area one and a half times the size of London.

Many of the parcels in the rainforest are ancestral lands stolen from local Indigenous and Quilombola communities. While courts have annulled the land titles for hundreds of square kilometers of land illegally claimed by Agropalma, the land has not yet been returned.

Local communities continue to be harassed, persecuted, and massively restricted in their freedom of movement and way of life. Violence, humiliation, racism, death threats and criminalization are commonplace. The communities deplore a situation in which people have been seriously injured and killed.

Private security guards, local police and criminal gangs are said to be responsible for the suffering of the local people. The companies involved deny all allegations and continue to claim the area.

The Tembé and Quilombola peoples have drawn attention to the structural violence they face and are demanding the return of their ancestral lands. They ask for international support, continued attention and solidarity.

Please, read and sign here the petition and tell the Brazilian state to fulfill its constitutional obligations, recognize land rights and ensure the rule of law and the security of the people.

Source: Rainforest Rescue.

Fires and agribusiness: deforestation drivers in the Bolivian Amazon

Eleven percent of the Amazon is in Bolivia. Broadly defined, the Amazonian region of this country comprises the states of Beni and Pando, as well as the northern parts of Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba.

Deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon has been increasing significantly in recent years, mainly due to the expansion of agribusiness, infrastructure projects, mining, large-scale forest fires, and the creation of government policies that expedite the extractivist agenda.

On December 2, 2018, the National Coordinating Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Peasant Territories and Protected Areas (CONTIOCAP, by its Spanish acronym) was created by the determination of 12 peoples and organizations to resist extractivism. In a context that is increasingly adverse due to extractive policies being promoted in the country, CONTIOCAP's main objective is to join indigenous and peasant communities who have been defending their rights.

In its few years of existence, CONTIOCAP has positioned itself in the public eye as a benchmark for dignity and as a contributor to public debate; its actions have included analyzing the current situation, denouncing the growing violations of human and indigenous peoples' rights, and offering alternative proposals to extractivism.

In late 2023, WRM spoke with Ruth Alipaz, a native indigenous leader from the Uchupiamona Nation in the Bolivian Amazon, and member of CONTIOCAP, to reflect on the situation in this territory and the powerful resistance that Indigenous Peoples have been waging.

The business of burning

An estimated three million hectares of forest in Bolivia were lost to forest fires in 2023. The fires have been aggravated by the drought that the country is going through: in 2023, there was a 17% reduction in rainfall compared to previous years. But this situation is not coincidental. Agribusiness companies, for the most part, are behind these fires. This constitutes a direct attack on territories and protected areas, which largely overlap with indigenous territories.

In order to expand the agricultural frontier, agribusiness entrepreneurs make indiscriminate use of chaqueo—the burning of certain areas to later use for agriculture—and in so doing, overstep the agricultural frontier. This is possible because the government does not have any serious mechanism to control these large agricultural corporations. In turn, these companies often benefit from the profits they produce on community lands, because the inhabitants are forced to rent the lands; they do not have sufficient resources to exploit the land for their own and their community's benefit. These entrepreneurs who illegally cross the agricultural frontier are sanctioned with the ridiculous fine of $0.20 per hectare burned—which essentially means that there is an invitation to burn more than what is allowed and make huge profits doing so (1).

Ruth Alipaz explains to us how companies discovered the business of burning so that the forest loses value. “Setting fire to the forest is a cruel and low-cost way to deforest primary forests. It allows for a change of land use which then enables the establishment of monoculture plantations, for example,” she says.

Ruth tells us that “every year Bolivians breathe the smoke and ashes of our future, because they are stripping us of our livelihoods and our dignity. And this is not only happening to Indigenous Peoples. Our territory is what gives us our dignity; in our territory we are known and recognized because we are someone. We have dignity when we contribute our dreams to realize a project for our autonomy, making use of our culture and ancestral knowledge.”

In addition to the fires, deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon has been increasing at an accelerated pace.

Deforestation and agribusiness

In 2022, the deforestation rate in the Bolivian Amazon was the second highest in the Amazon region—after Brazil—and the third highest globally in terms of hectares deforested. An estimated 270,000 hectares were cleared that year. According to Fundación Tierra, a Bolivian organization, in the five-year period from 2016-2021, deforestation increased by 73% compared to the period from 2010-2015. There are still no official figures from 2023, but specialists agree that the trend points to a continued increase in deforestation (2).

This massive increase in deforestation rates is largely the result of the expansion of industrial agribusiness to produce soybean and beef for export. According to Fundación Tierra, “the driver of this change is the expansion of the soybean model, whose driving force, in turn, is the consolidation of land ownership rights for large and medium-sized corporate properties. The forests have been cleared to make more land available for soybean, so much so that the soy sector is growing at a faster rate than other commercial sectors (corn, sorghum, wheat, sugar cane, rice). The titling of large forest areas as private property, and the mass issuing of land clearing permits, have laid the groundwork to swiftly put large fields into cultivation. The expansion of industrial agriculture is followed by livestock farming for export.” There are nearly 1.5 million hectares of soybean alone in Bolivia, being among the largest exporters in the world.

To provide an example: The department of Beni, which is located in the heart of the Amazon and is home to 18 of Bolivia's 36 Indigenous Peoples, is not exempt from these pressures. On the contrary, the governments that have been in office since 2016 have pushed to update the Land Use Plan (PLUS, by its Spanish acronym), and in 2019, there was a review and update of the PLUS for Beni. According to an academic study, this plan was carried out “under the premise of expanding the agricultural frontier and lifting the department out of poverty” (3). However, numerous indigenous organizations harshly criticized the process for not taking them into account or consulting them. They denounce that only the opinions of the business sectors were considered, particularly those of cattle ranchers, who have economic interests in expanding the agricultural-livestock frontier (4).

The new Plan PLUS Beni is, at the end of the day, a tool to enable the destruction of the Amazon, without considering the ways of life of the numerous Indigenous Peoples who have traditionally inhabited, and therefore conserved, these territories.

Oil palm for “biofuels”

Another underlying cause of the fires, according to reports by activists and local organizations, is the promotion of crops to produce so-called 'biofuels.' Under the pretext of creating jobs and reducing fossil fuel dependence, the Bolivian government recently launched a series of measures to promote the planting and expansion of three new crops: oil palm, jathropa palm and macororó. These three new crops, which until now have not been widespread in Bolivia, are now added to the existing hectares of soybean, sugarcane, etc.

Oil palm is a crop that until recently was unknown in Bolivia. Through the so-called “Program to promote the cultivation of oil-rich plant species,” the government has already established more than 18 nurseries that have the capacity to produce 48,000 seedlings. The program is focused on the Amazon region, since palm trees require high humidity to grow. The goal of the program is to have 60,000 hectares planted within five years (5).

According to statements made in the national media by Javier Mamani Quispe, coordinator of this program, “The program will not lead to deforestation, but rather will rehabilitate degraded soils.” However, the experience with this crop in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America not only shows that industrial palm plantations are a cause of deforestation and contamination of soils and water sources, but that they also cause numerous impacts for the people who live in and around the territories occupied by these monocultures.

Will the thousands of hectares of burned primary forests be declared degraded lands, and therefore viable to be used for palm plantations?

The expansion of oil palm is tied to the violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and peasant communities, as well as to the impacts on their livelihoods and cultures. Numerous land rights conflicts have been documented. With the expansion of this industry, women and girls—including women who work on the plantations—suffer the most profound injustices and inequalities, and they face continuous forms of oppression (6).

Mega-dams and infrastructure

Along with extractivism, the construction of infrastructure needed to process and transport the produced goods also advances; this includes mega-dams to produce energy.

For example, in the Beni River basin, which crosses the Madidi National Park—one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet—and the Pilón lajas Reserve, the government has been trying to promote the Chepete and Bala mega-dams for years. It is estimated that 75 percent of the energy produced by the Bala dam would be exported to Brazil. Both reservoirs would flood thousands of square kilometers, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 hectares would be deforested. Six groups of Indigenous Peoples live on the lands that would be submerged: the Mosetenes, Chimanes, Esse-ejjas, Lecos, Tacanas and Uchupiamonas—the nation to which Ruth belongs (7).

Construction of the dams has been paralyzed so far, but harassment and pressure continue. Furthermore, to build dams it is necessary to create roads, which would open up the territory to logging and mining companies, among other destructive activities. Ruth explains: "It is a fact that this whole avalanche of extractive activities and of regulations that facilitate and encourage them—in addition to large energy and transport infrastructure, industrial complexes of dubious technical and economic viability (such as the San Buenaventura sugar mill) and the encroachment of settlers and land speculators—together constitute of a real crusade of colonization and plundering of the northern Amazon, where the big losers are communities and Indigenous Peoples."

The indigenous view on deforestation and their resistance struggles

However, during the conversation Ruth remarked how Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia have historically played a central role in the defense of the territories, and still stand firm in their struggle.

As a result of the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia—from the Amazon, the Chaco, the Valleys and the Altiplano—the New Political Constitution of the State was created in 2009 (CPE by its Spanish acronym). It recognizes Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Territories, Indigenous Peasant Justice, and mainly the Autonomy and Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples in their territories by pre-existing right, based on ILO Convention 169, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Laws 3.760 and 3.897 in Bolivia.

However, Ruth explained that other laws and decrees have been systematically issued which contravene the provisions of the Constitution, the Magna Carta and other laws such as the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth. In Ruth's analysis, it is these lower-ranking regulations that are imposed as government policy, “legalizing illegal and unconstitutional activities to support an extractive, capitalist economic policy, wherein large national and transnational capital and businessmen successfully get regulations made to fit their interests.”

Thus, for example, from 2013-2019, a set of regulations known as the "incendiary rules" were passed; these rules directly or indirectly increase the amount of hectares that people are allowed to deforest and burn—thereby making the legal mechanisms in force in the country more flexible. Similarly, the Mining and Metallurgy Law 535 from the same period allows mining within Protected Areas, without the need to comply with regulations such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It also allows mining within Indigenous Territories and exempts mining companies from carrying out Free Prior and Informed Consultation with Indigenous Peoples (FPIC), with the argument that miners have rights established prior to that law.

In recent years, government policies have favored big economic powers, Ruth says. "These policies violate the integrity of Mother Earth, taking away her virtues and her capacity to give, generate and regenerate life. They are cutting her veins—which are the rivers—for gold mining that uses mercury and for mega-dams. They are stripping her skin through unrelenting deforestation—including with fire—for agribusiness and ranching. They are poisoning her oxygen-producing organs—such as her soils and forests—with agrochemicals, in order to grow soybean or African palm. They are poking and dynamiting her vital veins—which are springs and underground and surface water sources—to look for oil. They are mutilating her exuberant mountains and riverbanks, which were created to appreciate beauty and abundant life. This abundance of life is languishing today, because mining companies—which hide behind 'community mining cooperatives' or 'small mining' activities to avoid paying taxes or a paltry 2.5 percent royalty—are connected to Chinese, Brazilian and Colombian transnational companies and large national companies.

Ruth also explains that these policies are subjecting Indigenous Peoples to extreme poverty. "Not having water means extreme poverty. Nothing is possible without water," she warns. "Then the process of extinction of the Amazon will occur through exodus, because those of us who have ancestrally inhabited, cared for, protected and defended the Amazon will leave to look for what we no longer have in our spaces. Or we will undergo a process of transformation and become the destroyers of our own territories, because they will force us to become miners or palm growers in order to survive. And so, once stripped of all our dignity, of our identities, of our principles and values, of our spirituality and veneration of sacred Mother Earth, of our rivers and mountains—the forests and territories will be left without their protectors: the Indigenous Peoples."

But, fortunately, within this cruel panorama for the future of the Amazon and its peoples, Ruth shares her vision of hope, with Indigenous Peoples in ongoing struggle.

New generations are also beginning to rethink the future they want. From Ruth's perspective, as soon as more young people begin to understand that it is not the right of those living today to deprive the youth of what is rightfully theirs in the very near future, hope will grow.

TO FIGHT FOR TERRITORY IS TO FIGHT FOR LIFE!

AND TO LIVE WITH SELF-DETERMINATION IS AN INALIENABLE RIGHT OF OUR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES!

 

This article is based on an interview with Ruth Alipaz Cuqui, leader of the Uchupiamona Nation from the Bolivian Amazon, and member of the National Coordinating Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Peasant Territories and Protected Areas (CONTIOCAP); and the following sources of information:


(1) Izquierda Diario, Incendios forestales: los intereses agroindustriales ante la mirada tibia del gobierno, November 2023
(2) Fundación Tierra, Deforestación 2016-2021. El pragmatismo irresponsable de la “Agenda Patriótica 2025,” June 2022
(3) Rojas Calizaya, J; Anzaldo García, A., El nuevo PLUS del Beni excluye a los actores y sus diversas visiones de desarrollo y atenta contra la Amazonía boliviana, Cipca, 2020
(4) Cejis, Análisis socioambiental del Plan de Uso de Suelo (PLUS) 2019 del departamento del Beni, 2020
(5) RTP Bolivia, Video: Engineer Javier Mamani Quispe, General Coordinator to foment production, January 2023
(6) See the "Palm Oil" section on WRM's website
(7) WRM Bulletin, “Without water there is no life”: The rivers of the Bolivian Amazon, September 2022

Yasuní: The significance of a victory

On August 20, 2023, the Ecuadorian people went to the polls for early elections to choose a president and representatives to the National Assembly. Additionally, there were two popular referenda on the ballot: in Quito, a referendum to stop mining in the Andean Chocó region; and nationally, a referendum to leave oil underground in the ITT block within the Yasuní National Park. Almost 60 percent of voters in Ecuador said Yes to leaving oil in Yasuní. This meant that within one year of this decision, the oil wells would have to be shut down, the infrastructure removed, and a process of repairing the affected area begun.

The Yasuní National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas of the world and home to Indigenous Peoples, including the Tagaeri and Taromenane Peoples who are in voluntary isolation. There is also oil underground in Yasuní, and three oil blocks within its territory: Block 16, which is in decline, and which changed hands from REPSOL to the Ecuadorian state company; Block 31, which has very little crude; and ITT, or Block 43, which the state company, PetroEcuador, has been operating. In 2016, extraction began from its fields, which had proven reserves of almost 900 million barrels of oil. This oil is very heavy. To extract it requires a lot of energy, and the process generates high amounts of toxic waste waters and other contaminants.

Due to this reality, and to the struggle of many organizations and collectives, the Yasuní victory was, without a doubt, very moving and long-awaited. But like any success, it brings challenges.

In Block 43 in Yasuní, also known as Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT), an oil enclave has been built which must now be dismantled and removed from the site. But what does its removal involve? How can a sacrificed territory be recovered? What are the actions that will bring justice, in light of the abuses committed against nature and the peoples in Yasuní?

As background information, it is worth remembering that on August 22, 2013, various collectives that came together and named themselves Yasunidos presented a request for a popular referendum to the National Electoral Council of Ecuador. The referendum asked the following question: "Do you agree that the Ecuadorian government should keep the crude oil in ITT, known as Block 43, underground indefinitely?" This popular referendum sought to protect the life and territory of the Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous peoples and the other communities within Yasuní National Park.

Ten years later, on August 20, 2023, and after overcoming all kinds of obstruction on the part of the State, the Yasuní referendum took place. Simultaneously, a regional referendum held in the district of Quito sought to ban mining activities in another mega-diverse area of the country, the Andean Chocó. In this public referendum, almost 69 percent of Quito residents voted Yes to life over mining.

Lessons Learned

There was broad debate on the public referendum. The choice between maintaining extractivism or stopping it became central during the electoral process. Despite the fact that most of the presidential candidates openly opposed keeping the oil in the ground, and the major media outlets showed a clear bias toward convincing people to vote against it, there was a positive response to the referendum—which received the support of 59 percent of the national electorate. None of the candidates received as much support.

According to the Constitutional Court ruling 6-22-CP/23, the Yes vote in the Yasuní referendum means that the State is obligated to carry out a gradual and orderly withdrawal of all activities related to oil extraction, and within a timeframe of no more than one year after the official results were made public. Furthermore, the State cannot take any action to initiate new contractual relationships to continue exploiting Block 43.

The Yasuní referendum leaves us with several lessons:

- Battles are long, hard, and at different scales. But it is possible to build ecological and social awareness. And we can prevail against the backwards forces that impose a cult of capitalism and extractivism—the spearhead of accumulation and dispossession.

- The way we fight for the future is by caring for life and nature, which is neither alien nor distant. Nature is the forest and its people, rivers and communities, the diverse beings and relationships in our territories. Nature is not an adversary; it is an ally. Current and projected disasters are not natural; they are created by global and local actions and inactions.

- These transitions—which are now inevitable—must involve not only curbing the expansion of extractive frontiers, but also recovering and restoring sacrificed territories. This is not just a battle for the future. It is a battle to rebuild what has been damaged, and to recover nature's regenerative capacity, the self-determination of peoples over their territories, and autonomy in the resolution of problems and conflicts.

There have been several attempts to violate the popular mandate, as well as assertions about the impossibility of applying it. The former Minister of Energy from Guillermo Lasso's administration said that "never in the history of the world has such an important oil field that produces almost 60,000 barrels a day been shut down." However, Petroecuador has already presented a timeline for closure, and it plans to start the shutdown on August 31, 2024. This gives us time to prepare for this process and to monitor it in the territory.
 
2024 will be a year of a lot of activity in Yasuní. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has a pending visit related to the case of Peoples in Voluntary Isolation, before it can issue its sentence on the lack of state protection. The peoples living in Yasuní are calling out the state's lack of compliance with economic, social and cultural rights, and its dependence on the oil industry.

There is also pressure from powerful groups with ties to the oil industry that are reluctant to lose a source of income. Figures related to the costs of decommissioning the block are tossed around—without any explanation—and many people are talking about new cases of corruption. There is no information on what the industry recognizes as the "assets and liabilities" that will have to be withdrawn.

2024 will be a year of much reflection; and there will also be proposals coming from defenders of life and nature, surely with the collaboration and help of nature herself. These are moments to rethink how to build utopia, and how to rebuild autonomy and sovereignty. This is a time to bring justice to areas affected by oil activity, with the solidarity of the whole country. And most of all, it is a time to reconsider, from the ground up, the true costs and impacts of these oil operations—from exploitation, to withdrawal, to holistic reparation.

When we talk about oil operations, we know that there is a series of studies and procedures that companies have to present in order to obtain their license. One of these studies is the abandonment plan; what we didn't know until now was that "abandonment" does not mean merely bringing down platforms or abandoning wells.

A true repair of the Yasuní-ITT should involve removing everything, so that it looks like it used to—before these activities that never should have happened. This infrastructure must be dismantled and removed, the ecosystems must be rehabilitated, and the autonomy of peoples and nature must be restored, repaired and recovered.

Esperanza Martínez
Acción Ecológica