Friday, October 14, 2016

The World's Best Cross-Border Investigative Team

"Globalization and development have placed extraordinary pressures on human societies, posing unprecedented threats from polluting industries, transnational crime networks, rogue states, and the actions of powerful figures in business and government. The news media, hobbled by short attention spans and lack of resources, are even less of a match for those who would harm the public interest. Broadcast networks and major newspapers have closed foreign bureaus, cut travel budgets, and disbanded investigative teams. We are losing our eyes and ears around the world precisely when we need them most. Our aim is to bring journalists from different countries together in teams - eliminating rivalry and promoting collaboration. Together, we aim to be the world’s best cross-border investigative team. 
By Sabrina Hernández
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is a global network of more than 190 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories. More than three dozen of those journalists work in Latin American countries, shedding light on matters of public interest that political and business leaders would rather not come to light. 

Founded in 1997 by the respected US journalist Chuck Lewis, ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity , focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power.  Supported by the center its computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors provide real-time resources and state-of-the-art tools and techniques to journalists around the world.”

ICIJ Image for Bahamas Secrets Coverage
The LADB News Service covered two recent investigations by the ICIJ involving the release of previously hidden documents suggesting that powerful individuals might have used tax havens in Panama and the Bahamas to avoid paying taxes to their own governments. We covered the Panama Papers case in SourceMex and NotiSur in April and May, and the Bahamas Leak case in SourceMex in September.  In both cases, the documents were released via the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung,

The ICIJ functions as a collective set of eyes around the world in a time when media, “hobbled by short attention spans and lack of resources,” is inadequately positioned to take on those cross-national industries, networks, and powerful figures who harm public well-being. Since our coverage is focused on Latin America, we take this opportunity to recognize the journalists from the region who are participating in the ICIJ as part of the "cross-border investigative team."

Hugo Alconada Mon, Argentina, editor of newspaper La Nación
Daniel Santoro, Argentina, political editor at Argentina’s largest newspaper, Clarín
Ernesto Tenembaum, Argentina, managing editor of political magazine VEINTIUNO
Horacio Verbitsky, Argentina, political columnist/editorial writer at Página 12
Rosental Calmon Alves, Brazil, journalism professor at University of Texas at Austin
Angelina Nunes, Brazil, assistant editor at O Globo newspaper
Fernando Rodrigues, Brazil, news portal UOL
Marcelo Soares, Brazil, digital reporter at Folha de S.Paulo
Claudio Tognolli, Brazil, investigative reporter for Yahoo! Brazil
Monica Gonzalez, Chile, founder and executive director of Chile’s Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER)
Francisca Skoknic, Chile, editor CIPER 
Maria Cristina Caballero, Colombia, journalist known for her coverage of organized crime, corruption, and paramilitary forces
Map: Wikimedia Commons
Ignacio Gomez, Colombia, subdirector of Noticias Uno
Carlos Eduardo Huertas, Colombia, investigations editor at Semana magazine and founder of Consejo de Radaccion
Ginna Morelo, Colombia, investigative journalist, editor for El Tiempo’s Data Unit, and a professor of journalism and general coordinator for the Consejo de Redacción
Gerardo Reyes, United States/Colombia, investigations editor for Univisión
Maria Teresa Ronderos, Colombia, founder and editor-in-chief of
Ernesto Rivera, Costa Rica, staff writer for investigative unit at La Nación
Giannina Segnini, Costa Rica and United States, Director of the Master of Science Data Concentration Program at the Journalism School at Columbia University
Arturo Torres Ramirez, Ecuador, research editor at El Comercio
Carlos Dada, El Salvador, founder and director of the news website El Faro
Julio Godoy, France/Guatemala, lives in Paris and does daily reporting mostly for German radio stations after being forced to flee Guatemala because of government pressure to silence his investigative reporting
Paola Hurtado, Guatemala, chief of the investigative reporting team at ElPeriodico
Pedro Enrique Armendares, Mexico, executive director of Centro de Periodistas de Investigación
Alfredo Corchado, Mexico, is the Mexico Bureau Chief for The Dallas Morning News
Carlos Marín, Mexico, editorial director of Milenio
Alfredo Quijano Hernández, Mexico, was the chief of the special investigations unit and news editor of the newspaper El Norte de Ciudad Juarez until his unexpected death in December, 2013
Leonarda Reyes, Mexico, Executive Director of the Center for journalism and Public Ethics
Marcela Turati Muñoz, Mexico, reporter for the magazine Proceso
Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab Wilhelm, Mexico, freelance journalist
Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Nicaragua, founder and editor of Confidencial
Mabel Rehnfeldt, Paraguay, investigative reporter and editor of ABC Digital-ABC Color
Gustavo Gorriti, Peru, leads the investigative center at the IDL-Reporteros
Angel Paez, Peru, founder of Peru’s first investigative reporting team and has been working as director at La Repúbllica
Milagros Salazar, Peru, reporter with IDL-Reporteros
Emilia Diaz-Struck, Venezuela, lead researcher for ICIJ’s cross-border investigations
Joseph Poliszuk, Venezuela, editor of the site
Carlos Subero, Venezuela, currently chief of the Editorial Committee of Telecaribe-Notiminuto

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Look at the 'Communitarian Nation of Moskitia'

The Miskitos, some 150,000 to 200,000 strong, share the region with several other indigenous groups, as well as English-speaking Afro-Nicaraguans and some Spanish-speaking mestizos. In general, the east is culturally opposed to the rest of the country: Creole English and indigenous languages are more widely spoken than Spanish, and Protestantism (with strong indigenous and African elements) is more widespread than Catholicism. Moskitia’s would-be leaders claim that their new country will be ethnically inclusive, but its political structures are to be based on Misktito traditions. Hector Williams, head of the movement, goes by the indigenous title of Wihta Tara, or Great Judge.  -from GeoCurrents
 By Sabrina Hernández

In the Sept. 15 issue of NotiCen we covered the land conflict in in the Río Coco Arriba sector of Nicaragua’s Región Autónoma de la Costa Caribe Norte (North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, RACCN). Here, the Miskito communities are trying to defend their lands from mestizo settlers from western Nicaragua who are pushing further and further into the region to exploit its valuable hardwoods, clear forest space for cattle ranching, and in some cases, even set up clandestine drug-trafficking outposts.

To put the conflict into perspective, it is useful to learn more about the history and evolution of the Miskito communities As a Latin American Studies graduate student, learning new things like this is, in a nut shell, why I am here. So, I did a little bit of digging and here is some of what I learned: Diverse Origins

While Spain was conquering most of the hemisphere in the 16th century, the eastern regions of both Honduras and Nicaragua remained untouched until the 17th century. Prior to contact, the region was inhabited by numerous small indigenous groups, but with the turn of the 16th century, the region saw increasing interaction with English, French, and Dutch buccaneers, traders, and settlers. In addition to English interactions, the coastal indigenous populations were receptive of African slaves who had either escaped or shipwrecked into the region. The culmination of these diverse interactions resulted in the Miskito Creole English that is spoken by some today in addition to a native Miskito language and Spanish spoken by smaller populations.

Involvement with the Contras 
In the 1980s, Miskito support was highly sought after by both the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan government. At that time, the Miskitos has formed guerrilla forces that engaged in armed struggle against the government. In an attempt to sway the Miskito, the government passed a statute that gave autonomy to the Miskito in September 1987 which was effective in quelling Miskito resistance. A series of LADB articles in 1987 document the different strategies employed by both the Nicaraguan government and US government to attain control of the Miskitos.

Independence Movement 
Located on the eastern coast of both Honduras and Nicaragua, a drive to the Miskito coast takes about 20 hours in car from Managua. Driving to El Salvador or neighboring Costa Rica would be quicker than accessing the remotely located and sparsely populated Moskito Coast. It might seem like traveling to another country, in 2009, the Miskito announced their declaration of independence from Nicaragua. The Communitarian Nation of Moskitia, who no longer recognizes the authority of the Nicaraguan government, comes replete with their own flag, national anthem, a lawyer, and an extensive list of grievances. Separatist action was spurred by a combination of dissatisfaction with President Daniel Ortega - both as the leader of the Sandinista’s in the 1980’s and as sitting president of Nicaragua - and exploitation of raw material in their jungle territory. The Nicaraguan government has given the Miskitos a degree of autonomy but has not recognized the Miskito communities as a separate nation.

Environmental and Health Concerns 
In a region that experienced upwards of 80% unemployment in 2009, lobster diving serves as an industry that offers employment and a means of survival for many Miskito along the Atlantic coast. However, commercial diving in and of itself is controversial not just because of the dangers of over hunting the lobster population, but the dangers inherent in diving itself. Hundreds of Miskito divers have died and an estimated half of the Miskito population live with injuries, including paralysis, from decompression sickness, a condition created by ascending too rapidly back to the water’s surface.

To highlight this dangerous activity, a movie, "My Village, My Lobster," was made in 2013 to bring attention to a law passed by the Nicaraguan government that will ban commercial diving, which would bring dire economic consequences for the Miskito. "The bulk of the film examines the hard lives of Miskito divers who work on commercial boats, going out for 12-day stretches into deeper waters. The boats have been heading out farther and farther, meaning divers have to plunge deeper and deeper to pick up the clawless spiny lobsters from the bottom," said an article in National Geographic.

The 'White Lobster'
According to an article in Time magazine, dated April 14, 2011, life has improved for some members of the Miskito community with the arrival of the "white lobster" on the Mosquito Coast. "White lobsters — also known as bendiciones de Dios or godsends — are packages of cocaine and other drugs pitched overboard by narco-smugglers fleeing Nicaraguan Coast Guard patrols," said the Time article.  "With that valuable cargo, several tiny outposts on the country's Mosquito Coast have morphed into international logistics hubs for transnational drug shipments headed in every direction."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Will a Woman Be Elected to Fill These Shoes? (Of UN Secretary General)

Susana Malcorra (Photo: UN)
By Sabrina Hernández

With the end of Ban Ki-moon’s term drawing near, election of the ninth secretary-general is underway. The early candidates included two women from the Latin American and Caribbean group, Susana Malcorra of Argentina and Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica. See  our coverage in the LADB News Service. Figueres has since withdrawn from the race.

Malcorra is one of four women who remain in the running for the post. The others are Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, Helen Clark of New Zealand, and Natalia Gherman of Moldova. No woman has previously served as UN secretary-general.  An important factor in the decision is an unwritten rule of “regional rotation," which would give the upper hand to the Eastern European group as it is a region that has yet to see UN leadership. Gherman and Bokova would both fill the gender and regional roles.

Christiana Figueres (Photo: UN)
So what does the UN Secretary-General do? Well, per the United Nations, the Secretary-General is “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant, and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s people, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them.”

Yikes! Add to this whopper of a job description the 1 for 7 Billion campaign (referring to one candidate to represent 7 billion people), and the magnitude and weight of this position can begin to be fully understood. Though broadly defined and open to interpretation, it is clear that whoever is elected later this year will have to stand at the forefront and work to address a hefty load of issues that will necessitate strategic leadership, managerial know-how, and efficiently and effectively navigate a plethora of priorities established by the UN’s member states.

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Photo: UN)
The 'poet' secreatary-general
A member of the Latin American and Caribbean group has previously held the leadership of the UN, with Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru serving as secretary-general from 1982 to 1991 by A trilingual poet and grandfather, many were uncertain that Pérez de Cuéllar possessed the firm hand believed necessary for the job, which is to serve an emphasis on “world hunger and disease, abuses of human rights, the scourge of war, and the ultimate threat of nuclear catastrophe,”

One of Pérez de Cuéllar's most notable contributions during his tenure was in his home region of Latin America. He personally  became involved in negotiations between the government and guerillas in El Salvador on a peace pact, which brought to an end 12 years of violent civil war in a time of chaos for the region. (Read our coverage in LADB).

 Because of his achievements, some have called Pérez de Cuéllar the "greatest:" secretary-general who has served in the post. However, the recognition was not enough to convince the people of Peru to vote him in as president in South American country's 1994 election

In Pérez de Cuéllar we see a model for what it means to be an effective and esteemed secretary-general. In trying to get a solid grip on this expansive and often vague job description, the next secretary-general should not forget the lessons of those who held the seat before but also bring a fresh perspective and ideas to the table. Four of the nine remaining candidates are women, potentially bringing a new perspective to the job.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ni Una Menos Fights Violence against Women Throughout Latin America.

By Sabrina Hernández

Ni Una Menos, a civic movement calling attention to the high incidence of sexual violence and femicide, has gained traction in Peru, a country that ranks second in Latin America for the number of incidents of sexual violence with 10 femicides a month  Ni Una Menos organized a massive march on Aug, 13 to bring attention to the issue. (See Aug. 26 edition of NotiSur)

 An estimated 50,000 people showed up and footage of the demonstration in Lima can be seen here:

In Peru, several controversial rulings by judges in domestic violence cases served as the impetus for this call to action and effort to bring the matter of violence against women to the center of the national debate.

Impunity and violence against women is an issue that I tracked very closely during my years in California. I was still back home in the San Francisco Bay area, when a judge handed down an an appallingly paltry sentence to a Stanford University swimmer convicted of rape this past summer.

No matter what country, this is an issue that merits attention, and Ni Una Menos has managed to raise consciousness about the problem not only in Peru, but also throughout Latin America.  Here are synopses of how the organization and local activists have worked to address gender violence in various countries in the region.

Argentina  On June 3, 2015, a Ni Una Menos protest was held in the streets of Córdoba to demand an end to femicides and other types of violence against women. Thousandsof people took to the streets to demand an end to gender-related killings and relative impunity for the perpetrators of gender-related violence. This was only one of several protets in Argentina that year. According to The Huffington Postmore than 300,000 in Buenos Aires alone marched for Ni Una Menos, joining protestors in other cities. By some estimates, Argentina averages one femicide per 30 hours,  up from an estimated one death per 40 hours in 2008. But these are just estimates. One of the demands of protestors is that the government collect and release accurate statistics on femicide. Another focus of the protest is aimed at prevention; protestors interviewed made mention of the importance of educating men how to treat women.

Mexico  In July of 2015, Mexico held its own march against femicide and the violent killing of women and girls. The country, beleaguered by gender related violence, sees six women killed each day, which places it among the world’s worst countries for violence against women. The culmination of these coordinated protests has led the government to issue “gender alerts.” This alert, the government’s recognition of a serious and systemic problem, will signify that “urgent action” is necessary to prevent the killing of women and to work towards the resolution of the countless open and languishing investigations. As of July, 2016, the federal government has activated a gender alert in 33 municipalities in the states of Mexico, Morelos, and Michoacan. While women see the gender alerts as a step forward, they believe much more needs to be done in Mexico. On a Sunday in late April, of this year tens of thousands of women in 27 states marched through the streets of major Mexican cities to demand an end to domestic violence, harassment of women, and femicides. Organizers dubbed the campaign Primavera Violeta (Violet Spring), an effort to bring attention to the many ways in which women are accosted in Mexico. Read more in SourceMex, May 11, 2016

Bolivia  Activists have led protests to redress a staggeringly high incidence of gender related violence perpetuated by a patriarchal culture that views women as property of men. Bolivian government has taken a considerable action compared to other countries plagued with gender violence.  In 2013, Bolivia passed Law 348 which was designed to guarantee women a life free of violence and prevent partner violence and punish abusers. Recently formed within the Bolivian police is the Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra La Violencia (FELCV) whose job is to prevent, investigate and combat violence against women and girls. While Bolivia is leading the way with good laws and legal framework, cultural mentalities lag behind and many women find that lack of services and societal pressure to remain quiet makes the process of reporting incidents to be stressful and life-threatening, according to the daily newspaper El Comercio.

Colombia  A new law on femicide was implemented on July 6, 2015. In Colombia, an average of one woman is killed every two days and protesters who gathered on Sept. 16, 2015r attribute that high number, in part, to Colombia’s macho culture and a lack of awareness among women about their rights. Experts now argue that the prosecutor’s office needs to change the way cases of femicide are identified and investigated in order for this new law to begin to chip away at the problem, according to Colombia Informa.

Brazil  With the Rio Olympics in full swing, protestors gathered to condemn the rampant sexual violence that plagues the country. In few other countries can the systemic and institutionalized nature of the problem be as outwardly visible. A high profile rape case involving the Party of Social Christians leader, Marcus Feliciano, serves to illustrate the true depth and extent of the problem in Brazil,  Ani Hao wrote in the online news site Broadly. This protest, in large part motivated by the sexual assault of four women in the Olympic Village, marks a year of intense activism against gender related violence and femicide. Brazil has been tail spinning into political, economic, and social crisis and June 1, 2016, marked the largest feminist mobilization in Brazil’s history in light of a gruesome sexual assault of an adolescent girl by at least 30 men, most of whom, have not been punished. In March 2015, Brazil finally codified a law against femicide, thanks in part to intense feminist activism.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Honduran Narco Corrido

Narcocorridos have been a popular means  to immortalize drug trafficking organizations and their leaders in Mexico. This genre also known as durangense, norteña, or grupera originated in small towns in northern states, and its lyrics often glorify the drug trade and drug traffickers. One of the most popular subjects of this popular form of ballad has been  Joaquín  "El Chapo"  Guzmán Loera, who has become a legendary figure because of his two bold escapes from Mexican prisons. Guzmán Loera escaped from the Puente Grande Penitentiary in 2001, was recaptured in 2014, escaped again in 2015 and taken back into custody in 2016.

These types of ballads were also popular during the height of Colombian control of the drug trade, as evidenced by this narco corrido about Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellín Cartel, who was killed in an exchange of gunfire with the Colombian military in 1993. This corrido glorifies Escobar.

Not to be outdone, a corrido also was created to celebrate the Honduran drug trafficking gang Los Cachiros. We published an article about the rise and fall of Los Cachiros in this week's edition of NotiCen.

Here are some excerpts:
Los Cachiros” did not take long to jump from stealing cattle to becoming one of Honduras top narco families­––an immensely wealthy crime élite that, among other major-scale activities, supplied drugs to none other than Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and his Sinaloa cartel.

The Honduran group, headed by four members of the Rivera Maradiaga family––top leader Javier Eriberto (“Don Javier”), brothers Devis Leonel and Santos Isidro, and sister Maira Lizeth––grew during just over a decade, roughly between 2003-2015, into an organization that controlled most of the US-bound drug conveyances by air.  

The group's downfall began in n September of 2013, when the US Department of the Treasury singled them out as a dangerous drug-trafficking organization operating mainly in the departments of Atlántida, Colón, and Gracias a Dios, on the northern Caribbean coast of Honduras, the latter bordering Nicaragua. This narcocorrido pays tribute to Los Cachiros.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Earthquakes: A Continous Threat in Western South America

More than one-quarter of the world's “Great” magnitude 8 or larger earthquakes have occurred in western South America, including the 1960 magnitude 9.5 Chile megathrust earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded. An array of earthquakes are generated by Nazca-South American plate boundary and intra-plate tectonic processes. This animation explores three major mechanisms for earthquakes due to the interaction of the plates:    Incorporated Research Institutes for Seismology (IRIS)
The western countries of South America sit on the Nazca Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Over the last half-century, this geological feature has caused major headaches from Colombia to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Over the last 10 years, LADB has covered some of the earthquakes in the region, including recovery efforts and political implications. Here are some of the headlines. We included analysis from the Incorporated Research Institutes for Seismology (IRIS).

September 21, 2007: Peru: Recovery Fund Set Up After 8.0 Magnitude Earthquake Pounds Region South Of Capital, Kills Over 500 
A severe 8.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the coastal area of southern Peru on Aug. 15, killing at least 540 people and leaving about 80,000 Peruvians homeless. The cities of Pisco and Ica were badly hit, along with the surrounding regions along a 130-km stretch of the Pacific coast. Casualty numbers could have been massive if Lima where a huge portion of the country's population lives had been more directly shaken.
Iris Analysis

March  12, 2010:  Massive Earthquake Strikes Just Ahead Of Presidential Handoff
As Chile digs out from the massive Feb. 27 earthquake, the largest to hit the South American country in a half century, political divisions exacerbated by the recent elections continue to lurk just below the surface. The seemingly interminable quake, which lasted more than two horrifying minutes, struck in the wee hours of Saturday morning and affected a huge swath of the country from north of Santiago to as far south as Puerto Montt in the Lakes Region. For the millions of Chileans shaken awake by the monster magnitude 8.8 event, it was in all senses a living nightmare.
Iris Analysis

March 26, 2010:  Sebastián Piñera Takes Helm Of Quake-rattled Nation 
Two decades of leadership by the center-left Concertacion coalition came to an official end March 11, when Sebastian Pinera, a conservative billionaire businessman and onetime senator, donned Chile's presidential sash for the first time in what turned out to be literally an earth-shaking event. Just minutes before the start of the ceremony, held in the Congress building in Valparaiso, a series of powerful tremors rippled through central Chile, putting a natural exclamation point on a transfer of power already loaded with historic significance. Not only did Pinera's inauguration swing the country to the right for the first time since the end of the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), it also came less than two weeks after Chile suffered its worst natural disaster in half a century: a magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck Feb. 27.
December 10, 2010:  Chile President and Opposition Trade Barbs while Earthquake Victims Wait for Solutions 
Nine months after one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history jolted central Chile, the disaster has returned to the national forefront as fodder in a mudslinging match between the country’s increasingly popular President Sebastián Piñera and a weakened opposition eager to find a chink in the first-year leader’s political armor. The massive magnitude 8.8 quake and subsequent tsunami struck Feb. 27, less than two weeks before Piñera took office. The back-to-back disasters killed 521 people and caused an estimated US$30 billion in damages, destroying homes, bridges, and other structures throughout Chile’s central regions.

January 2, 2011 Magnitude 7.1 Earthquake in Central Chile  (IRIS)

September 30, 2012 Magnitude 7.3 Colombia (IRIS)

October 9, 2015: Chile Slammed but Not Leveled by Third Major Earthquake in Five Years 
As cleanup efforts continue following last month’s major earthquake off the coast of Illapel, in the Coquimbo Region of northcentral Chile, more than a few observers are marveling at how relatively well the country fared—all things considered. The disaster that unfolded on the evening of Sept. 16, just ahead of Chile’s annual Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day) celebrations, was both horrifying and tragic. The powerful quake ruined thousands of dwellings, prompted a mass evacuation along the country’s lengthy coastline—parts of which were inundated by tsunami waves—and killed 15, according to the Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública's Oficina Nacional de Emergencia (ONEMI). It also triggered a barrage of aftershocks (more than 800 to date), rattling already frayed nerves not only in Norte Chico, as the hardest-hit area is known, but in the populous Metropolitan (Santiago) and Valparaíso Regions, as well.
Iris Analysis

November 24, 2015 Iris Reports Earthquakes Along Brazil-Peru Border
May 20, 2016:  Ecuador Accused of Boosting Taxes to Cover Costs of Earthquake Damage 
 Ecuador has a pro-forma 2016 budget of approximately US$25 billion and a fiscal shortfall of some $US8 billion, caused mainly by a dependence on oil exports that have suffered falling prices in the last two years. Now, the government has decided to deal with the economic crisis by creating new and unexpected taxes, arguing that more funds are needed to face the damage caused by the April 16 earthquake on its northern coast... Following the earthquake, Ecuadorans showed their solidarity in many ways: various public and private entities, especially municipalities, managed to collect major quantities of food, clothing, water, and even money. They organized to take the supplies to the earthquake areas, but they came up against government officials who decided the government would take charge of distribution.
Iris Analysis

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fracking a Big Concern in the Amazon

As global oil prices remain in the dumps and Brazil’s state-owned petroleum company Petrobras reels from a corruption scandal, an October auction of exploratory oil blocks yielded little interest from major multinational corporations...Greenpeace Brasil called the auction a "double disaster." In a note on its Web site, the environmental advocacy group said, "In addition to being a clear incentive for dirty and polluting energy sources, the onshore exploratory blocks are located in ten large hydrological basins." The nongovernmental organization (NGO) also noted that the auction considered blocks of shale gas in the Amazon, which require the use of a process known as hydrologic fracturing, or fracking, that has been at the center of controversy about natural-gas extraction in the US.-from NotiSur, Nov. 6, 2015
Hydraulic fracking fracking or simply “fracking” is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.  

The process is becoming an increasingly popular method to extract natural gas in the US and Europe, drawing strong opposition from environmentalists in both continents. Opponents have raised concerns about the huge amounts of water used in the process and the potential for contamination of groundwater with carcinogens. Fracking has also been known to cause earth tremors.

The Brazilian government has also developed an ambitious plan to use fracking to extract natural gas in a vast area of over 122,000 square kilometers across 12 states, including including protected areas and lands directly adjacent to indigenous domains in the Amazon.

"Effects from drilling and extracting oil and gas in the Amazon are characterized as being not only disastrous for ecosystems and biodiversity where drilling takes place, but also for the populations living in surrounding areas, as is the case with many indigenous and traditional peoples," said Amazon Watch. Fracking activities have been linked to devastating environmental, social and economic effects such as water contamination, air pollution, destruction of terrestrial and aquatic fauna, soil infertility, and also to health problems such as increased risk of cancer, neurological and heart problems and birth defects.

Greenpeace Brasil has come out against fracking, but the strongest opposition is heard from the activist group Coalizão Não Fracking Brasil - COESUS (The Brazilian No Fracking Coalition) has organized to fight against the corporate takeover of indigenous lands and precious bioregions. This coalition formed mainly by indigenous leaders and environmental activists, in a strange twist of political resistance, actually represents a shared-interest with those interested in protecting the traditional oil industry, such as the leaders and investors of Petrobras.
In an act of defiance targeting the Brazilian Oil and Gas Agency (ANP), Brazilian indigenous leaders and activists interrupted a major auction of new fracking concessions set to spread across the Amazon rainforest. Holding up signs calling for "No Brazil Fracking" (Não Fracking Brasil), activists seized the spotlight to demand indigenous rights and divestment from dirty energy, briefly halting the 13th round of bidding for fracking exploration rights at the ANP on October 7th in Rio de Janeiro. Amazon Watch
Fracking has had another effect on the Brazilian energy market. The increased availability of shale gas has reduced prices. A boom in fracking mostly in Brazil’s northern Amazonian provinces is literally sucking up a large portion of foreign interest in Brazil’s energy resources.

Fracking in the Amazon might represents a serious threat for Brazil’s oil interests, and contributes to a trend of dropping oil values worldwide, as well as new sites for foreign investment in places like Iraq and Western Africa. US investors, as well as other foreign prospectors, are far more interested in Amazonian fracking than Brazilian oil right now, and that may also have something to do with the fiscal policies that make it much more difficult, expensive and risky to invest in oil.

The greatest obstacle for fracking projects in the Amazon is the inability of the government to draw up land deals that do not violate agreements between the state and indigenous groups.  Because of this, we may be seeing the start of a new era in which national governments are forced to backtrack on land deals they made decades, even centuries ago. States have backtracked on agreements with indigenous peoples for generations. What is different in contemporary times is is the strength of the opposition voices, particularly voices that speak for the wellbeing and sustainability of the earth.

 Jake Sandler contributed to this post