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co
méricas

A monthly report
on development and
the environment in
Latin America

Chilean power-plant ruling unleashes bitter debate
Santiago, Chile

A

decision in late August by Chile’s Supreme
Court to halt the US$5 billion Castilla
coal-fired thermoelectric project planned
for northern Chile is shaking up this country’s
energy industry and causing a firestorm of
debate over the proper role of government in
environmental questions.
Castilla, proposed by Brazilian energy
giant MPX, would have been one of Chile’s largest power-generating sources, comprising six
coal-fired power plants and a diesel-fueled plant.
Sited 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Santiago close to Chile’s lucrative copper industry, the
complex would have provided 2,100 megawatts
of installed capacity. Chile’s growing business
sector worries the country’s overall installed

capacity, currently 16,970 megawatts, will not
keep pace with future demand.
The high court based its decision in large
part on the “illegal” manner in which the project was pushed forward by environmental and
health authorities. The Castilla complex was to
have been built in an area where the land-use
zoning does not allow industries categorized as
“contaminating.” Nevertheless, a local branch
of the regional health service (Seremi) reclassified the project from “polluting” to “bothersome” under orders from superiors, apparently
so it might win environmental approval.
After the ruling, Chilean Environment
Minister María Ignacia Benítez openly criticized
continued on page 9

Silver plans and Huichol tradition clash in Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico

E

very year the Huichol people make a pilgrimage from their villages in western Mexico to the sacred land of Wirikuta, crossing
the southern reaches of the high Chihuahua
desert into the arid folds of the Catorce mountains. They believe that there, on Cerro Quemado peak, the sun was born. Below, the Wirikuta
landscape is home to deities and spirits at the
heart of Huichol belief and tradition.

But the Wirikuta has drawn interest for
another reason: silver veins that have been
mined for centuries. Rising commodity prices
and new technology have rekindled interest
among mining companies, which have acquired
sprawling government concessions. The company furthest along in its plans is First Majestic
of Vancouver, which aims to invest US$110 million over 15 years to extract silver from deposits
450 meters (1,480 feet) underground.
Many in the Huichol
community, which numbers
50,000 to 70,000, oppose
such projects. They want
the Wirikuta’s 140,000 hectares (345,000 acres) declared
a protected reserve and all of
the concessions canceled.
The fight over the Wirikuta opens another front in
Latin America’s ongoing battle over the rights of indigenous communities in the
face of economic development. In this case, community opposition arises not from
the disruption of a daily way
of life, but from the disturbance of sacred geography

Huichol ceremonial site atop Cerro Quemado (Photo by Keith Dannemiller)

continued on page 10

September 2012
Vol. 14 - No. 11

Inside
Around the region

2

Oil spill on Curaçao
intensifies debate
over PDVSA plants

3

Brazil’s oil regulator
files appeal backing
Chevron, Transocean

4

Government unveils
mining bill to mixed
reviews in Colombia

5

CENTERPIECE:
Gold mining taking
devastating toll on
prized Madre de
Dios region of Peru

6

Q&A:
Business council in
Brazil is developing
emissions targets
for its 75 members

12

A
Editor & Publisher
George Hatch
Design
Marina Tubio
Subscriptions Manager
Maria Belesis
Editorial/Subscriptions Office
Fourth Street Press
3 Ellis Square
Beverly, MA 01915

Street

Fourth

Tel: (978) 232-9251
Fax: (978) 232-9351
E-mail: ecoamericas@fspress.com
Web site: www.ecoamericas.com

Press

ec y
on r cled
paper

Printed

Ecoméricas is published monthly
by Fourth Street Press, Inc. It is
available in print and electronic versions. One-year charter subscription
rate is $225, with discounts available
for organizations needing multiple
subscriptions. Back issues are $20
Copyright © 2012 by Fourth Street
Press, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited
except by permission.

ISSN 1532-835X

egio
eR n

nd th
u
o
r

Eco
EAméricas
Coverage of Latin American environmental developments and trends for
academic institutions, businesses,
NGOs and public agencies.

EcoAméricas

Region’s shark species under
intense pressure, study finds
A study by the International
Union for Conservation of
Nature (IUCN) has found
that 16 species of sharks
and related fish that inhabit
Mexican waters are threatened with extinction in the
wild. The two most serious
cases in Mexico are the scalloped hammerhead shark and
the great hammerhead shark,
which are classified as endangered and facing a very high
risk of extinction in the wild,
according to the study by the
IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group.
The study looked at sharks
and related species such as
skates and rays, collectively
known as Chondrichthyans,
in waters from Canada as far
south as the Caribbean coasts
of Colombia and Venezuela. Its
authors found that 23 species
altogether were threatened
throughout the region, in both
Pacific and Atlantic waters.
The species that are the most
critically endangered and face
the highest risk of extinction
are the Caribbean electric ray,
which once had wide distribution in the western Atlantic;
the largetooth and smalltooth
sawfish, which both appear to
have vanished from Belize; and

the daggernose shark, which is
found mostly in South America.
Shark populations are
falling overall because of
overfishing, with sharks as
incidental catch. In Mexico,
the situation is aggravated
by the practice of capturing
sharks in breeding grounds.
Coastal development harms
the habitat for small sharks as
well as the breeding and nursery grounds for larger ones.
“Shark fishing in Mexico
isn’t regulated by the size of
the catch or the reproductive
condition of the specimen,”
says Juan Carlos Cantú, manager of programs for Defenders of Wildlife of Mexico.
In Mexican waters, the scalloped hammerhead is found
in both Atlantic and Pacific
waters. Larger hammerheads
in general have declined in
the Gulf of California and
in the waters of Central
America. Another 14 species
in Mexican waters are classified as vulnerable, which
means they face a high risk
of extinction in the wild.
These include the whale shark
and the great white shark.
Mexican law recognizes
only three shark species as
endangered and in need of
special protection: the great
white shark, the whale shark,
and the basking shark.
The report said that in the
Caribbean, landing of the
entire shark carcass is the
norm, but that off the Pacific

Corrections:
Due to an editing error, an article in our August print
edition on a Brazilian rail project (“Project to expand
Amazon railway draws opposition”—Around the Region)
incorrectly stated that Sarah Shenker of Survival International cited an estimate by the Vale mining company
that 8,000 workers would be employed in the project.
Though Vale did make that estimate, Ms. Shenker did
not cite the figure in her comments to EcoAméricas.
An article in our July print edition on an Ecuadorian smuggling case (“German arrested, again, for iguana smuggling
try”) gave the wrong date of alleged smuggler Dirk Bender’s
arrest on the Galápagos Islands. The correct date is July 8.

coast the practice of shark
finning “has been a major
problem in Costa Rica.”
Shark finning involves cutting
off the valuable fins of sharks
and throwing the carcasses
back in the water so vessels
have as much room as possible
aboard for the fins, which command high prices in Asian markets. With their holds free of
carcasses, crews that practice
finning can thus kill unusually
large quantities of sharks in
a single voyage—a contributing factor, experts say, to the
worldwide crash in shark populations. Although Central American countries have strengthened bans on finning, the study
expressed concern over the
lack of funds for enforcement.

Follow-up: Juan Carlos Cantú, Director
of Programs, Defenders of Wildlife
Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico, +(52 55)
5596-2108, jccantu@defenders.org.
To view “The Conservation Status of
North American, Central American and
Caribbean Chondrichthyans,” by the
IUCN: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/
edocs/2012-046.pdf.

◊◊◊
Conviction upheld in highprofile illegal logging case
In a controversial case that
stretches back more than
seven years, Chile’s Supreme
Court in September upheld
the conviction of prominent
right-wing Chilean politician Nelson Schwerter for his
role in the illegal cutting and
exporting of the alerce tree.
The alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides), a threatened species,
is designated as a national
monument in Chile and is
prohibited for trade under the
Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species
(Cites). One of the world’s oldest living trees, the alerce is
capable of surviving more than
3,600 years. It can grow 45
meters (150 feet) high and 4.5
meters (15 feet) in diameter,
and is often compared to the
continued on page 11

2

September 2012

September 2012

Curaçao, an island nation of 142,000 just
56 kilometers (35 miles) north of Venezuela,
derives 8% to 9% of its gross domestic product (GDP) from the Bullenbaai facility and the
neighboring Isla refinery, which were leased to
PDVSA in 1985 after the departure of Shell.
But the spill has sharpened a debate on
Curaçao about whether PDVSA should continue operating oil facilities on the island given
the risks to tourism and Curaçao’s hopes to
embrace renewable energy. Economic activity involving resorts, hotels, diving companies
and other tourism business accounts for nearly
20% of the island’s GDP. And the government
of Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte has set a goal
for the island to meet 35% to 70% of its electricity needs with renewable power by 2016.
Critics are focusing mainly on the refinery,
which produces 220,000 barrels of gasoline a
day for shipment to the United States and South
America. They say a poor maintenance record,
decaying equipment and the plant’s high sulfur
output cause significant air pollution, contributing to serious respiratory ailments and premature deaths while producing a thick haze on
most days of the year. They also assert that con-

Lessor’s remorse?

hen a gas leak set off an explosion Aug.
25 at the Amuay oil refinery in western Venezuela, killing 42 people and
sending toxic black clouds of smoke billowing
into the air, national attention turned to the
poor safety record of Petróleos de Venezuela
(PDVSA), the state-owned oil company.
But few people inside Venezuela were
aware that precisely a week before, on Aug. 17,
an oil spill at a PDVSA-operated transshipment
facility on Curaçao unleashed one of the worst
environmental disasters in that island nation’s
history. That accident, in which thousands of
barrels of oil were released from the Bullenbaai
facility, polluted the Jan Kok nature preserve,
a 666-hectare (1,645-acre) refuge for shorebirds and sea turtles just 4.3 kilometers (2.6
miles) away. It coated beaches, fouled mangrove swamps and glazed crabs, lizards and flamingos in petroleum tar. Experts say it is too
early to forecast the long-term impact of the
spill, the cause of which has not been officially
confirmed. But they note that given the importance of the mangrove swamps as nurseries for
marine life, the damage could be severe.
“The mangroves are all clogged with oil
and expected to die,” says Mark Vermeij, deputy director of Carmabi, a non-governmental
organization on Curaçao that promotes marine
research, park management and environmental
education. “This spill could have a real impact
on juvenile fish and lobsters in the area.”

W

Mexico City, Mexico

—Steven Ambrus

The project is being promoted by Foundation GreenTown Curaçao, a nonprofit backed
by developers, environmentalists and others.
The new city, its advocates say, would generate
10,000 jobs and end annual Isla refinery carbon dioxide emissions of 3 million tons, which
make Curaçao per capita the second highest carbon-dioxide emitter in the world after
Qatar. “We have 6,000 people living downwind
of the refinery who are continually exposed to
foul smells, soot and ash and who suffer from
respiratory problems,” says Edgar Leito, Shell’s
former environmental chief on Curaçao and
now head of the Movement for a Solution for
Isla (MSI), a nonprofit here. “We could generate a clean environment and a lot more jobs by
closing the refinery and building GreenTown.”
PDVSA has experienced a rash of accidents over the last 13 years in Venezuela and
abroad due to what critics describe as a pattern
of dwindling investment in maintenance and
the firing of qualified personnel for their suspected disloyalty to the government of President Hugo Chávez. Those accidents include a
nearly fivefold increase in the number of leaks
from underwater pipelines in Venezuela’s Lake
Maracaibo between 1999 and 2010; a fire at a
PDVSA fuel terminal on the Caribbean island of
Bonaire in 2010; and the rupture of a pipeline
in Monagas state earlier this year that cut off
the city of Maturín’s drinking water supply.
“We know all about the problems PDVSA
has had under Chávez, and we know it can’t
be trusted to make the necessary investments
in environmental protection in the facilities on
Curaçao,” says Peter van Leeuwen, president of
the Clean Environment on Curaçao Foundation
(Smoc), a nonprofit that focuses on pollution
issues related to the refinery. “But we blame
the government. It has failed to do the inspections it has the right and obligation to do.”

Alternative vision

tinued operation of the facility clashes with the
government’s sustainable-energy goals, which
call for the use of wind and solar energy.
A growing number of residents of the former Dutch island favor forcing PDVSA or another party interested in buying Bullenbaai to
boost investment in the transshipment center
to make it safe. They also support closing the
Isla refinery altogether when its lease expires in
2019. The refinery would then be replaced by a
carbon-neutral community called GreenTown,
which would consist of a marina, an entertainment center, cruise- and container-ship terminals, an economic free port, and Curaçao’s first
recycling center—all run on renewable power.

On Curaçao, spill adds to tension with PDVSA

EcoAméricas

m.vermeij@carmabi.org

Deputy Director of Carmabi
Willemstad, Curaçao
Tel: + (59 99) 521-3601

Mark Vermeij

smoccuracao@gmail.com
www.smoccuracao.org

President
Foundation Clean Environment
On Curaçao (SMOC)
Willemstad, Curaçao
Tel: +(59 99) 521-3601

Peter van Leeuwen

leito@gachitu.com

Head of Movement for a
Solution for Isla (MSI)
Willemstad, Curaçao
Tel: +(59 99) 738-4806

Edgar Leito

jacinta.constancia@
curacao-gov.cw

Minister of Public Health,
Environment and Nature
Willemstad, Curaçao

Jacinta Constancia

andres.casimiri@
greentowncuracao.com

President
Foundation GreenTown
Curaçao
Willemstad, Curaçao
Tel: + (59 99) 518-0411

Andrés Casimiri

Contacts

3

EcoAméricas

Agency moves to close book on Chevron spill
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A
Contacts
Ricardo Baitelo
Energy Campaigner
Greenpeace Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil
Tel: +(55 11) 3035-1155

ricardo.baitelo@greenpeace.org
Richard Charter
Senior Fellow
California Office
The Ocean Foundation
Bodega Bay, California
Tel: (707) 875-2345

waterway@monitor.net
Adriano Pires

Director
Brazilian Infrastructure
Center (CBIE)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: +(55 21) 2524-3511

adriano@cbie.com.br
Fábio Scliar

Director
Environmental Division
in Rio de Janeiro state
Brazilian Federal Police
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: +(55 21) 2203-4465

fscliar@ig.com.br
David Zee

Professor of Oceanography
State University of
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: +(55 21) 2334-0532

davidzee@terra.com.br

4

t first glance, the two announcements
this month by Brazilian oil-industry regulators in connection with Chevron’s offshore oil spill last year appear contradictory.
On one hand, the National Oil Agency
(ANP) fined Chevron R$35.16 million ($17.4
million) for the spill, in which 3,700 barrels
of crude escaped from the ocean floor in the
Frade field off southeastern Brazil. Yet the agency also filed a court appeal aimed at allowing
Chevron to resume production, and drill-rig
operator Transocean to continue exploration.
In fact, the ANP likely had complementary
goals in mind. The first was to close the book
on the Chevron spill, for which the oil giant
already has been fined R$60 million ($29.7 million) by Ibama, the enforcement arm of Brazil’s
Environment Ministry. The second, by way of
the court appeal, was to assert regulatory control of the oil sector and prevent oil-production
disruption at a time when the country’s oil output has been dropping.

tion issued July 31 by a federal appeals court
in Rio de Janeiro state. The injunction bars
both Chevron and Transocean from engaging
in oil drilling, production, and transport activities in light of the November and March offshore leaks. It requires any such activities that
are underway to cease within 31 days of the
order’s publication date—a period that ends
Oct. 4. While Chevron has suspended its oil
exploration and production activities, Transocean has continued exploration drilling for its
other clients here.
The ANP’s apparent eagerness to allow
Chevron to resume production and head off a
forced suspension of Transocean’s activities led
it this month to take an unusual step. It filed
an appeal with the Superior Justice Tribunal,
Brazil’s highest appeals court aside from the
Supreme Court, to overturn the injunction
issued against Chevron and Transocean by the
federal appeals court in Rio de Janeiro state.

Ocean-floor blowout

ANP’s appeal to a higher tribunal came
after the lower-ranking appeals court on Aug.
28 rejected a petition by Chevron and Transocean to withdraw the injunction. On Sept. 12,
the chief justice of the Superior Justice Tribunal rejected the ANP’s petition, but the ANP
says it will request a definitive ruling from the
entire 15-member body.
Environmentalists and scientists criticize
the ANP for lodging appeals in support of
Chevron and Transocean’s position.
“With oil production declining and likely
to slide further if Chevron can’t resume production and if Transocean has to suspend drilling, the ANP intervened on their behalf in the
courts to help boost oil output,” says Ricardo
Baitelo, energy campaign coordinator of Greenpeace Brazil. “But in doing so, the agency
wasn’t acting as a conscientious regulator concerned with the environmental repercussions
of letting two companies that had been technically incompetent and negligent to continue to
work here less than a year after a blowout they
caused fractured the ocean floor and resulted
in a major spill.”
David Zee, a professor of oceanography
at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, and
a specialist in coastal environmental impact
assessments, agrees: “The ANP, by defending
Chevron and Transocean in the courts, showed
confusion about its role as a regulator. It should
not be fighting their court battles, but developing more rigorous rules to make oil exploration
and production safer, something it has been lax
about doing.”

Last year’s spill occurred in connection
with exploratory drilling by Chevron and
Transocean. Chevron admitted soon after
crude was detected seeping from the sea floor
that it had underestimated the pressure in an
oil reservoir it was tapping and thus had not
fed heavy enough mud into the borehole.
An ANP report, issued this July, said this
miscalculation resulted in an underground
blowout that fractured the ocean bottom, causing oil to leak from seven fissures, each roughly 250 meters (820 feet) long, near a Chevron
exploratory well. The report blamed Chevron
in its capacity as concession holder, and exculpated Transocean, its rig operator.
Though Chevron continued oil production in the Frade field after November’s exploratory-drilling accident, it voluntarily suspended
offshore production in March while determining the source of new seepage it detected in
a half-mile-long sea floor fissure not far from
the site of last year’s spill. But at a July 19 press
conference, ANP president Magda Chambriard
announced that “Chevron has asked the ANP if
it could resume production in the Frade field,
and I don’t anticipate any reason for us not to
allow the company to do so.”
And on Sept. 14, she told reporters that
any court ruling suspending Transocean’s drilling activities here would adversely affect oil
production. That’s because Transocean currently operates seven offshore drilling wells for
the state oil company Petrobras, and one well
apiece for Italy’s ENI, BP, and the Texas-based
Vanco Oil & Gas.
Chambriard was taking aim at an injunc-

ANP persisting

—Michael Kepp
September 2012

EcoAméricas

Government mining bill unveiled in Colombia
Mexico City, Mexico

A

mid the greatest mining boom in this
country’s history, Colombia’s government
is advancing a controversial new mining
bill that officials say will bring order and higher
environmental standards to the chaotic minerals sector. But environmentalists say the legislation, now being presented to indigenous and
Afro-Colombian communities for their comment, favors large multinational mining companies over artisanal miners and will do little
to guarantee sustainable production.
“This is a law made for the big mining
companies,” says Manuel Rodríguez, a former
environment minister.
The bill, to be sent to Congress in the
next few months, would reform a system in
which mining titles often were awarded online
without evaluation of the petitioner’s technical or environmental expertise. It will restrict
most mining concessions to some 22 million
hectares (54 million acres) of strategic mining
reserves, where the government will set environmental and social standards. And it will ban
mining in national parks, high-mountain moorlands—called páramos—and wetlands.

Presidential vow
The bill also will force some 300,000 illegal miners—representing 73% of the total number of mining operations nationwide—to legalize their operations in exchange for financial
assistance, training and lower taxes. “We will
not let illegal mining destroy the environment,”
President Juan Manuel Santos said recently.
Illegal miners, who are especially active in
the gold sector, now account for at least 40% of
the 55.9 metric tons of gold produced in 2011,
according to the Mines and Energy Ministry.
They frequently collaborate with illegal guerilla and paramilitary armies or pay extortion
money to them. Many use heavy machinery
to tear down the forest canopy and dredges to
suck up sediment from riverbeds. Their unregulated use of mercury, a neurotoxin, to separate out the gold from mined material threatens many communities with long-term health
impacts as the mercury finds its way into air,
soil and water, the government says.
But critics say the government is attempting to shut down small scale miners in order to
make way for larger, more destructive mining
operations run by multinationals. Moreover,
they say the bill fails to distinguish between
artisanal miners capable of extracting minerals in a sustainable way and those who use
more harmful methods. “The new bill puts
all artisanal miners in the same sack,” says
Tatiana Rodríguez, a mining expert at Censat
Agua Viva—Friends of the Earth Colombia, a
Bogotá-based environmental group. “It fails to
September 2012

discriminate between operations using bulldozers, dredges and large amounts of mercury,
and traditional miners in indigenous and AfroColombian communities who have been mining sustainably for generations and for whom
a mining title is as alien as a title for yucca or
plantains.”
The new bill comes as dozens of foreign
companies, encouraged by pro-mining policies,
fan out across the country for gold, coal, copper, and silver. Investment in the mining sector
totaled US$2.6 billion last year and is expected
to rise steeply this year, the government says.
Meanwhile mining has extended to virtually
every region of the country, with concessions
covering some 4% of the national territory. The
government says it will attract mining firms
conscious of broader responsibilities. Mining
“will be organized, sustainable and respectful
of the environment,” National Mining Agency
President Beatriz Uribe Botero said in June.

Public unease
But while many of the companies venturing into Colombia include global giants with
established environmental protocols such as
BHP Billiton, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo
American, this has not curbed suspicion that
their operations will cause widespread deforestation and water pollution. On Aug. 1, two of
Colombia’s largest unions brought thousands of
people into the streets in 21 cities of Colombia
to protest large-scale mining projects.
Critics say the new mining bill is unlikely
to ease the pressure for such protests. They
assert the strategic mining reserves are organized more on mining than environmental
principles. Moreover, while the bill rules out
mining in sensitive areas such as national parks
and wetlands, it will allow mining companies
to continue with concessions already granted
in those areas. And it will allow mining in environmental reserves that are accorded lower
status under the national system of protected
areas, such as municipal parks, private reserves
and forestry reserves, they say.
“This bill makes clear where mining
concessions can be granted, but at the cost of
granting them in strategic ecosystems where
they should never have been permitted,” says
Juan Pablo Ruiz, environmental representative
in the government’s National Planning Council.
In 2011, Colombia’s Constitutional Court
overturned an earlier attempt to reform the
mining code, ruling Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities hadn’t been properly consulted. The future of the new mining reform
bill is anyone’s guess.

Contacts
Ximena Aulestia
Head of Press
Ministry of the Environment
and Sustainable Development
Bogotá, Colombia
Tel: +(571) 332-3400

xaulestia@minambiente.gov.co
Manuel Rodríguez
Professor of
Environmental Policy
Los Andes University
Bogotá, Colombia
Tel: +(571) 339-4949

mcrod@cable.net.co
Tatiana Rodríguez

Mining Expert
Censat Agua Viva—Friends
of the Earth Colombia
Bogotá, Colombia
Tel: +(571) 244-2465

mineria@censat.org
Juan Pablo Ruiz

Environmental Representative
National Planning Council
Bogotá, Colombia
Tel: + (571) 691-8638

jruiz@epopeyacolombia.com

—Steven Ambrus

5

EcoAméricas

Centerpiece

Curbing miners a challenge in Madre de Dios
Santa Rosa, Peru

T

ucking a huge papaya under each arm, Nasbat Baca gestures extended, however, partly because of repeated threats of strikes
at dozens of rows of cacao plant seedlings shaded from the by the miners, who several times have mobilized thousands of
sun by green netting. Where others see wild jungle, the protesters to block the Interoceanic Highway, and partly because
30-year-old daughter of farmers transplanted from the Andean of the complexity of the task.
highlands to the Amazonian lowlands sees her future.
Because of competing interests and lack of coordination,
But gold fever threatens to kill her dream.
government officials over the years have granted conflicting con“Miners say nothing grows here, but that’s not true at all,” cessions in the area that is now the mining corridor. Agriculture,
says Baca, who has seen small-scale miners encroaching on Santa forestry, mining and Brazil nut concessions overlap, and some are
Rosa, the community near the Andean foothills, where she culti- superimposed on indigenous communities, which have special
vates papayas and cacao.
territorial rights.
As international gold prices have skyrocketed, placer minNearly 5,100 miners in Madre de Dios had filed so-called
ing has mushroomed in southeast Peru’s Madre de Dios region, formalization applications by the July 27 deadline, according to
a biodiversity hotspot that includes both the Tambopata Natural
Reserve and Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve.
Environmentalists point to rampant deforestation, mercury
pollution and encroachment on protected areas. For their part, the
miners counter that they employ tens of thousands of unskilled
workers—far more than the jobs offered by large-scale mines.
Caibbean Sea
Meanwhile, those envisioning a life in agriculture in Madre
ST. LUCIA Castries
Netherlands Antilles
Kingstown
Bridgetown
de Dios worry that the scramble for minerals will rob them of NICARAGUA
the
ST. VINCENT AND
Oranjestad (NETH.)
BARBADOS
THE GRENADINES
Managua
St. George’s
natural resources they need.
Willemstad
GRENADA
Port of Spain
“We want to see our land full of trees, full of animals, to
Caracas
TRINIDAD AND
have clean water and healthy children,” says Santos Ccuito Flórez, San Jose
TOBAGO
Panama
COSTA
48, who moved a decade ago to Unión Progreso, located a few
RICA
PANAMA
miles down the road, from the highlands of Cusco. “Mining makes
Georgetown
VENEZUELA
money, but it doesn’t last, yet the damage is permanent. The land
Paramaribo
GUYANA
Cayenne
will never recover.”
Bogota
FRENCH
Efforts to regulate the mining have been slowed by resisGUIANA
SURINAME
tance from the miners and the complexity of imposing regulations
and oversight in an area with weak government institutions and a Mining chews away at the
COLOMBIA
forest in Peru’s Amazonian Madre de Dios region.
history of corruption.
(All photos by Barbara Fraser)
Quito
Farmers in Unión Progreso took a stronger stance in midAugust, when they slashed the suction hoses on a miner’s equipECUADOR
ment. But farmers are all too aware that such action carries risks.
Says Ccuito: “The miners carry guns. It affects us emotionally.”
Santa Rosa and Unión Progreso lie along the newly paved
BRAZIL
Interoceanic Highway, which stretches from the Brazilian border
to the Pacific Coast. The two communities regard the road as the
PERU
gateway to markets for their crops. But they also lie within the
“mining corridor,” a swath of land along the Madre de Dios River
Madre de Dios
where the government allows alluvial gold mining. That places
them in the path of a relentless and unruly scramble for gold.
Area of detail
Lima
estimates that the
Macroconsult, a Peruvian consulting firm,
illegal gold produced in Madre de Dios is worth US$1.2 billion,
BOLIVIA
but the mining is largely unregulated. Most miners do not pay
P a c i f i c
La Paz
taxes or abide by environmental, labor, or occupational health and
O c e a n
safety norms.
In 2009, after miners encroached on the Tambopata Natu- Ernesto Montañez, director of the Regional
Sucre Office of Energy, Mines
ral Reserve, the then-fledgling Environment Ministry tried to and Hydrocarbons. By early September, his office had approved
crack down, creating the corridor. Any miners operating inside about half the applications and was reviewing the rest. The handoutside the mining corridor will be
the corridor without the necessary permits were labeled “infor- ful of requests filed by minersCHILE
PARAGUAY
mal,” while those outside—especially in places like the Tambopa- considered case by case, he says.
ARGE NTI NA
Farmers whose lands are inside the mining corridor are
ta Reserve buffer zone—were considered “illegal.” Military and
police operations have targeted the “illegal” miners, as well as caught in the middle. While some, like Baca, are betting their
dredges operating on the rivers. But miners often return after the future on farm crops, others rent their land to miners. With support from Caritas, a Catholic Church organization, Baca and othpolice leave, or operate at night to dodge the authorities.
In March, the national government issued a series of decrees ers are lobbying for an “agricultural band,” especially on the rich
to register the miners and bring them into the formal economy, farmland at the base of the Andes, but they may face a tough legal
while making illegal mining a criminal offense. Deadlines were battle to secure it.
BRAZIL

6

September 2012

Indigenous communities have also clashed with the government over the new norms. Mining occurs in 10 of the 32 communities that belong to the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios
River and its Tributaries (Fenamad). In some cases, the miners are
community members; in others, they are outsiders. Community
leaders are negotiating with government officials over how concessions will be handled.
Deforestation in native communities has drawn both outrage
over mining methods and sharp criticism of indigenous leaders,
underscoring the tightrope the communities walk between traditional use of the forest and their need for cash. With gold trading at $1,600 an ounce on the international market, mining is the
most lucrative business in the mostly rural region.

can affect developing fetuses, accumulates in the tissue of fish,
with the largest concentrations in predators at the top of the food
web. A rapid assessment in 2009 found mercury levels higher
than the World Health Organization recommended maximum of
0.5 parts per million in three of 11 fish species commonly sold in
markets in Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital.
A year later, a study by Peru’s Ministry of Production and
Trade yielded similar results.
Arique is skeptical. “The study was done to demonize mining,” he says.
New research may settle the matter. A team led by tropical
ecologist Luis Fernández of the Carnegie Institution for Science
at Stanford University, who did the 2009 study, recently finished
gathering samples of fish and human hair for the most comprehensive analysis so far of the impacts of mercury pollution.
This time, researchers took about 500 tissue samples from
24 fish species, from large catfish to piranhas, including both
those that are commonly consumed and others that will provide
an idea of ecosystem health in half a dozen watersheds, including
some where no mining currently occurs, Fernández said.
Hair samples came from 1,100 people—about 1% of the
region’s population—in three urban areas and 20 rural communities, including 11 native communities. About 40 percent of the
samples are from people under age 18, which will “give us a good

Luis Fernández (left) of the Carnegie Institution for Science measures a zúngaro catfish in a Puerto
Maldonado market before buying
the fish to analyze its tissue for
mercury contamination.
Tr aditiona l ly, the
indigenous world view is
one of respect for forests
and rivers, says Fenamad
com munications coordinator Tomás Arique.
“We’ve been held up as
the guardians of nature,
and not because anyone
pays us for it,” he says.
But t he mo de r n
world has created modern
needs, and community
members have few ways
to earn cash, he says. Most communities are too remote to get
products to market profitably.
Because they derive much of their dietary protein from river
fish, residents of indigenous communities may be at greatest risk
of exposure to mercury, which miners use to extract flecks of
gold from sand and muck. The approximately 20 tons of gold produced annually in Madre de Dios—which Montañez believes is an
underestimate—result in the release of up to twice that amount
of mercury into the soil, waterways and air.
Mercury, which causes neurodevelopmental problems and
September 2012

Nasbat Baca shows off papayas from her farm, which the paved Interoceanic Highway
now links to distant markets.
Left: Leaves collect on the ground under a young guaba tree (Inga edulis), a first step
toward recovery of nutrient-depleted soil in a former mining site.
idea of what the effects are on children,” says Fernández, who
expects to have results of the analyses by the end of the year.
Urban residents are exposed to mercury in both fish and the
air. A study last year led by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) found high mercury levels in and around shops in
Puerto Maldonado that buy gold from miners. Before weighing
the gold to calculate the price, shopkeepers heat it to drive off as
much mercury as possible from the amalgam.
In most shops, the retorts used to heat the gold vent directly
into the shop or onto the street, exposing shop personnel, patrons
and bystanders to spikes of mercury vapor. The EPA’s Office of
International Activities has promoted installation of simple filters
made from barrels, which cut emissions and allow shopkeepers to
capture and recycle mercury, but their use is optional.
As far-reaching as mercury pollution—and far more visible—
is the deforestation resulting from decades of unregulated mincontinued on page 8

7

EcoAméricas
continued from page 7

Contacts
Tomás Arique
Communications Coordinator
Fenamad
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Tel: +(51 82) 57-2499

ariqueway@hotmail.com
Luis Fernández

Research Associate
Carnegie Institution
for Science
Palo Alto, California
Tel: (650) 462-1047, ext. 230

luisf@stanford.edu
Asvín Flórez

Policy and Governance
Assistant, Aider
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Tel: +(51 82) 57-1733

aflorez@aider.com.pe
www.aider.com.pe
Deyvis Huamán

Coordinator, Aider
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Tel: +(51 82) 57-1733

dhuaman@aider.com.pe
www.aider.com.pe
Ernesto Montañez

Regional Director of Energy,
Mines and Hydrocarbons
Madre de Dios Regional
Government
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Tel: +(51 82) 57-1105

emontanez@minem.gob.pe
Juan Carlos Navarro

Expert on Agroforestry
and Risk Management
Cáritas Madre de Dios
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Tel: +(51 82) 57-3873

sonene26@hotmail.com
Víctor Hugo Pachas

Coordinator
Project on Natural Resource
Use and Conflict Mitigation in
Native Communities
Catholic Relief Services
Lima, Peru
Tel: +(511) 652-4351

victor.pachas@crs.org

8

ing. The region’s oldest mining zone, around now, miners sometimes let the soil settle, then
the town of Huepetuhe, shows up on satellite return to reprocess the sediment, squeezing
photos as a huge white scar, while images from out a bit more gold.
recent years reveal expansion into new areas as
Yet the toughest problem facing environprospectors locate a promising site and others mental officials may not be pollution or deforrush to cash in.
estation. “We can’t do much if we don’t get
Last year, Jennifer Swenson of Duke Uni- control over the mafias” operating in the region,
versity and colleagues calculated that about Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told
15,500 hectares (38,301
foreign journalists at a press
acres) of land in the
conference on Sept. 3.
region’s principal mining
Authorities admit that
areas had been deforested.
corruption is widespread in
Newer estimates put the
the region. They acknowlfigure at over 25,000 hectedge that bringing miners
ares (61,776 acres).
into the formal economy
When miners move
and imposing environout, they leave silt-clogged
mental safeguards—if that
water ways and barren
is possible—will require
ear th. T he new laws
g r e a t e r co l l a b o r a t i o n
require them to file minebetween the regional and
closure plans, as large
national governments, as
mining companies do, but
well as a joint effort by
some observers doubt the
mining, environmental,
government will be able
tax, transportation, health
to monitor and enforce the
and labor officials.
plans. Even if it can, vast
A mid the concern
tracts of deforested land
over environmental
will remain.
impacts, critics often forJust off the Interget that mining provides
oceanic Highway west
a livelihood for thousands
of Puerto Maldonado, in Along a busy street in Puerto Maldonado, shops ad- of people, many of them
a once- booming mining vertise that they buy gold and send money transfers. subsistence farmers who
area known as Guacamigrated to the gold fields
mayo, a nonprofit organization is trying to coax in hopes of a better future, says Víctor Pachas,
life from the remains of a mining camp.
an anthropologist who has studied informal
“Most species don’t do well in these con- mining in Madre de Dios and other parts of the
ditions,” says Deyvis Huamán, coordinator of country. “There are always going to be miners
the Puerto Maldonado office of the Association there,” Pachas says of Madre de Dios. “The task
for Research and Integral Development (Aider), is to mitigate the impact.”
as he strides across the sterile-looking plain.
A lasting solution, he says, would involve
In one of the few land-reclamation pilot including mining in land-use plans; identifyprojects in the region, Aider has planted sev- ing the different characteristics and needs of
eral hectares of guaba (Inga edulis), a scrappy miners in different areas of the corridor and
tree that bears long, pod-shaped fruit. Agron- developing technologies appropriate for each;
omist Asvín Flórez, who started the pilot in and organizing the miners into associations by
early 2011, chose guaba because it grows fast watershed, for easier oversight and more effiand fixes nitrogen in the nutrient-poor soil. cient access to markets.
Fallen leaves decomposing around the base of
Authorities will also have to find a soluthe trunks add organic matter, while the fruit tion for farmers who opt for crops like papayas,
attracts animals that bring seeds of other spe- pineapples, cacao and rice over gold. In Santa
cies into the area, promoting regrowth. Flórez Rosa, two of Baca’s neighbors won a prize for
says the goal is for landowners eventually to their cacao in a regional competition.
plant native timber species on reclaimed land.
Baca and other farmers traveled to a chocThe pilot project’s future is uncertain, olate exhibition in Lima and returned home
however. Initial funding from the German gov- enthused about their prospects. Baca is bankernment, which helped with planting, was not ing on the cacao seedlings, which she is prerenewed, so scientific monitoring of the results paring to plant among her papaya trees. “This
is limited. And there is always the danger that is the real gold,” she says.
the plantation will fall victim to a mining miniboom. While Guacamayo is largely abandoned —Barbara Fraser
September 2012

EcoAméricas
Court ruling
continued from page 1
the high court decision, stating she “did not
share the reasoning” behind it and asserting
that it is not the role of courts to decide whether the Castilla project is contaminating or not.
Said Benítez in remarks to reporters:
“This type of decision corresponds to the Environmental Evaluation Service and the Environment Ministry.”
Benítez warned that the court’s legal standard for such cases will now generate “uncertainty” in the energy sector and “weaken” the
actions of environmental institutions.
“In my opinion, the court should not
decide such questions,” she said. “The only
institution with the authority and capacity to
decide whether a project is contaminating are
the health authorities.”
The Supreme Court met in a special session to discuss Benítez’s public comments, and
responded with a rare rebuke. “Benítez’s statements are an unacceptable and unnecessary
encroachment on powers that the Constitution
reserves exclusively for the courts,” they said.
Opposition lawmakers in Chile’s Congress, meanwhile, are preparing to move to
oust Benítez from her post next month, arguing that she violated the Constitution by challenging the court decision.

Minister draws objections
The lawmakers point out that Article 76
of the Chilean Constitution states in part that
neither the executive branch nor Congress can
“advocate for cases before the courts, review
the basis or contents of court decisions, or
insist that cases be brought again before the
courts.” Moreover, the lawmakers add, the
article states: “Authorities should immediately
implement all court decisions and may not
challenge the basis of any court’s decision, or
question the justice or legality of court orders
that are to be carried out.”
Says Chilean Congressman Patricio Vallespín, a member of the centrist Christian
Democrat party: “The minister is speaking like
a spokesperson for the company and not as a
government minister, which does not give us
confidence that she can exercise her duties. It
is inappropriate for her to defend a private electric project against the wishes of the Supreme
Court. Out of respect for environmental institutions, and [out of] respect for those who benefit from the court’s decision, we request that
she resign.”
While Benítez’s remarks certainly have
stoked the Castilla debate, concerns about the
environmental and health impacts of coal combustion lie at the heart of the controversy. The
high court agreed with citizens and fishermen
from the coastal community of Tortoral, locatSeptember 2012

ed just a few kilometers from the Castilla site,
that a coal-fired generating station of Castilla’s
size would pose a severe pollution threat to
nearby residents.
Four Tortoral residents chose to stick
with a lawsuit that they and others had brought
to block the project, refusing to give in to generous compensation offers from the company.
The suit argued Castilla potentially represented a violation of their constitutional right to
“live in a pollution-free environment.”
Lucio Cuenca, a lawyer and director of the
Latin American Observatory for Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), a group that has worked
closely with the Tortoral residents opposed to
the project, said the high court decision creates historic legal precedents.
“The preventive manner of the courts
with this decision [to protect the constitutional right to a pollution-free environment] concerning a project that has not yet been built,
that has never happened before in our courts
in Chile,” he said.

Comprehensive assessment
Another element in the court’s decision—
that the project must have an environmental
impact study addressing the thermoelectric
plants and Castilla’s planned port together—
also marks advance, Cuenca argues.
“The court has learned what the Environment Ministry still doesn’t understand, that
such initiatives have a joint impact that must
be considered together, which is a very good
precedent for big projects as harmful as Castilla and HidroAysén [a hydroelectric complex
planned for southern Chile],” he says.
The high court has left the door open for
Castilla’s backers, who include the minority
stakeholder E.ON energy company of Germany, to resubmit an environmental impact study
covering both the port and the thermoelectric
plants. But it is unclear how—or whether—the
project’s backers will proceed.
Álvaro Toro, the lawyer for the Tortoral
residents, told reporters he believes the company cannot resubmit their project because
the Chilean courts agreed with opponents that
the coal complex would be “contaminating,”
and that the site in question does not permit
contaminating projects under land-use zoning
regulations.
On his Twitter account, Eike Batista, the
billionaire owner of Brazil’s MPX, reacted
angrily, and appeared reluctant to continue. He
tweeted that the courts are “making it impossible to invest in Chile,” adding: “If they don’t
want us, we go, bye, bye.”

Contacts
Lucio Cuenca
Director
Latin American Observatory
for Environmental Conflicts
Santiago, Chile
Tel: +(562) 699-0082

observatorio@olca.cl
Pablo Gazzolo

Press Coordinator
MPX
Santiago, Chile
Tel: +(562) 714-2400

contacto@mpxenergia.cl
www.castillageneracion.cl
Felipe Palma
Press Office
Environment Ministry
Santiago, Chile
Tel: +(562) 240-5775

fpalma@mma.gob.cl
Patricio Vallespín

Member
Chilean Congress
Puerto Montt, Chile
Tel: +(56 65) 481-677

pvallespin@congreso.cl

—James Langman

9

EcoAméricas
Silver project
continued from page 1

Contacts
Úrsula Garzón Aragón
Defense Coordinator
Mexican Center for
Environmental Law (Cemda)
Mexico City, Mexico
Tel: + (52 55) 5286-3323

ugarzon@cemda.org.mx
Ricardo Barbosa

Director of Information
Economy Secretariat
Mexico City, Mexico
Tel: +(52 55) 5729-9198

luis.barbosa@economia.gob.mx
Tunuary Chávez
Jalisco Association in Support
of Indigenous People (Ajagi)
Guadalajara, Mexico
Tel: + (52 33) 3826-6103

mesaambiental@frenteende
fensadewirikuta.org.mx
Juan Carlos González

Legal representative
Minera Real Bonanza
Mexico City, Mexico
Contact: Sugeli Téllez Puerto
Tel: +(52 55) 5488 9088

stellez@fwd.com.mx
Diana Aspiros Heras

Director of Information
Environment and Natural
Resources Secretariat
(Semarnat)
Mexico City, Mexico
Tel: +(52 55) 5628-0600
ext. 10790

diana.aspiros@semarnat.gob.mx
Aaron Keay
President and CEO
Revolution Resources
Vancouver, Canada
Tel: (604) 678-4024

aaron@revolutionrc.com
Paul Liffman
Professor
El Colegio de Michoacan
Zamora, Michoacan, Mexico
Tel: (713) 348- 4847 (Rice
University)
+(52 351) 515.7100 ext 1200
(Michoacan)

pliffman@yahoo.com

10

at the center of Huichol cosmology. “All of it
is sacred [to the Huichol],” says Paul Liffman, a
Colegio de Michoacán anthropologist who has
studied the Huichol. “Every plant, every rock
is sacred. There are springs, rock outcroppings
and caves that are ancestral sites, with complicated long narratives attached to them.”
Liffman notes the pilgrimage involves
collecting peyote, which is intricately involved
in the ritual. The importance of springs in the
Huichol’s natural and spiritual world makes
mining “particularly objectionable,” he says,
adding: “Mining would disrupt the aquifers.”
Opponents reject First Majestic’s assurances that its mine won’t harm sacred sites.
“The mine never tells the full story of its
impact,” says attorney Úrsula Garzón Aragón
of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law
(Cemda), which is part of a coalition of Huichol
communities and non-governmental groups
fighting the mines. There is also concern over
tomato-growing by a local company called Productora Agrícola Pocaluz. The Huichol, who
are called Wixárika in their own language, say
the company taxes the parched water table and
clears desert land to set up giant greenhouses.

Two-track battle
Opponents are fighting on both the legal
and public-relations fronts. A judge has ordered
First Majestic to suspend the mining project
pending the resolution of a lawsuit in which
opponents allege a lack of community consultation. A May rock concert—Wirikuta Fest—in
Mexico City included prominent Mexican musicians and drew tens of thousands of spectators.
Mexican authorities expect the new
mines would create much-needed jobs, but
they don’t want to appear insensitive to cultural claims by long-marginalized indigenous
groups. Seeking a middle ground, the federal
government on Aug. 16 published a decree setting aside 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) as a
national mining reserve, in which mining by
private companies is prohibited.
The reserve, which includes over 60,000
hectares (148,000 acres) inside Wirikuta, was
among several measures the government had
promised in May at a ceremony in the National
Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City. At that event, officials also said First
Majestic had ceded 761 hectares (1,880 acres)
of its concession, including the Cerro Grande
ceremonial center, back to the government.
Environment and Natural Resources
Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada promised that studies would begin to identify the
region’s ecosystems and biodiversity as a step
towards declaring the entire Wirikuta a federal
natural protected area. (Such a designation

would not rule out mining and other economic
activity in the Wirikuta, but would theoretically impose stricter environmental conditions
on those activities.) The region is an important
area for bird conservation, particularly for the
endangered golden eagle, he said.
But after the May ceremony, the opposition coalition denounced the protection plan
as “incomplete” and “full of false data that distort the reality of the sacred place.” Nor did
the reserve decree quiet critics, who say the
measure left the most worrisome concessions
untouched. Tunuary Chávez of the Jalisco Association in Defense of Indigenous People (Ajagi)
argues that the government, in effect, is saying
“have confidence in me,” even though there
is nothing to stop one of its successors from
revoking the measure. “The land is not protected from changes,” Chávez asserts.

Company interest
Though First Majestic’s project is furthest
along, another Canadian company, Revolution
Resources, says it has found gold and silver in
early exploration of areas including Wirikuta’s
desert, where the sacred site of the Huichol
deer-peyote god Kauyumarie lies. Says President and CEO Aaron Keay: “It is much too early
to say there’s going to be a mine there.” The
company will not say whether the finds were
in Wirikuta or elsewhere on its concession.
As for First Majestic, Juan Carlos González,
legal representative for Real Bonanza, its Mexican subsidiary, says legal challenges have for
now halted company plans to apply for construction permits. He points out mining in the
region dates from 1741 and has left a network
of 400 kilometers (250 miles) of tunnels under
the sierra. The company plans to excavate a
ramp so trucks can pass below those tunnels,
with the ramp’s opening 7 kilometers (4 miles)
from Cerro Quemado and 5 kilometers (3 miles)
from Cerro Grande. The separation plant that
will extract the silver from rock would be nearby, and occupy a plot no larger than 100 meters
by 80 meters, the company says.
Real Bonanza promises to clean up some
2 million tons of cyanide-laced mine tailings
from previous mining operations; use fewer
toxic chemicals to separate silver; treat tailings
to permit planting and reclamation; and use
treated wastewater from nearby towns.
Citing various agreements and a 2007
state land-use plan for Wirikuta, González says
his company considers the project “viable”
from a legal standpoint. “The company will
help protect the sacred sites and keep the pilgrimage routes unchanged,” González adds.
—Elisabeth Malkin
September 2012

EcoAméricas
Around the Region
continued from page 2
redwoods of the United States.
Schwerter, president of the
National Renovation party
in the Lakes region until he
was forced to resign earlier
this month, was mayor of the
southern town of Fresia when
he was formally charged in
May 2005. In 2009, he was
formally convicted along
with some 30 others, but he
appealed to the high court.
Prosecutors were able to
prove their case in part by
examining Schwerter’s checking account records, exposing
him as the lead buyer of alerce
wood from loggers who were
felling the trees on 40,000
hectares (100,000 acres) of
land near Fresia owned by timber company Forestal Sarao.
This logging took place under
the cover of a legitimate permit request for removing dead
alerces from the neighboring
landholding. Cutting live alerces is prohibited in Chile, but
harvesting dead ones is sometimes allowed under approved
forest-management plans.
Now, Schwerter must serve
21 days in prison. Dozens of
individuals in southern Chile
have been convicted for illegally felling alerces in the past
decade. But Mauricio Fierro,
director of the Puerto Montt
green group Geoaustral, argues
Schwerter’s conviction was a
rarity as almost all those prosecuted to date have been “humble loggers and not the intermediaries enriching themselves
from selling alerce abroad.”

Follow-up: Jorge Aichele, Director,
Conaf-Los Lagos, Puerto Montt, Chile,
+(56 65) 486-102, loslagos.oirs@
conaf.cl; Mauricio Fierro, Director,
Geoaustral, Puerto Montt, Chile, +(56
65) 251812, geoaustral@telsur.cl.

◊◊◊
Work can resume for disputed
Amazon dam and rail projects
Two controversial Amazon
infrastructure projects are
back on track—for now—
as legal battling for and
September 2012

against them continues.
Late last month, Carlos
Ayres Britto, the chief justice
of Brazil’s Supreme Court
(STF), overturned a federal
appeals court decision that
had suspended work on the
R$26 billion ($12.9 billion),
11,283-megawatt Belo Monte
dam. And in early September,
the Norte Energía consortium,
led by the federal electricity
holding company Eletrobras,
resumed construction on Belo
Monte, which is slated to be
the world’s third most powerful hydroelectric station.
A three-member panel of the
Brasília-based First Regional
Court of Justice had ordered
work on Belo Monte to stop
on grounds that a failure to
hold proper consultations with
indigenous groups made the
dam project unconstitutional.
Ayres Britto argued that
the lower court’s ruling ran
counter to a 2007 court holding that Congress was within
its rights to approve the dam
without consulting indigenous
people. Ayres Britto’s decision still must be confirmed
by the entire Supreme Court,
a ruling not expected to
take place until next year.
In another September decision, Federal Appeals Court
Judge Mario Cesar Ribeiro
reversed a lower court ruling
in July that had suspended
the licensing and construction of work on the US$4.1
billion expansion of an
Amazon iron ore railway
because of alleged licensing
irregularities and failure to
consult indigenous peoples.
Ribeiro ruled that the earlier decision “showed unwarranted judicial interference
in defining an environmental
impact assessment [EIA]
as the best document [for
licensing the railway].”
His decision allows Vale,
the world’s second largest
mining company, to resume
work on the railway, which
Vale plans to do immediately.

Follow-up: Bruno Valente, Federal
Prosecutor, Belém, Pará state, +(55 91)
3299-0137, brunovalente@prpa.mpf.
gov.br.

◊◊◊

Peru weighs new agency
to oversee impact review
A new agency answerable to
Peru’s Environment Ministry
will oversee environmental
impact statements for extractive industries, particularly
mining and petroleum, under
a bill submitted to Congress
by President Ollanta Humala.
The bill would create the
National Environmental Certification Service for Sustainable
Environmental Investments
(Senace), which would take
over responsibility for approving environmental impact
statements, according to
Environment Minister Manuel
Pulgar-Vidal. The minister
did not specify a timeline.
The bill is the first in a series
of measures aimed at creating a “new relationship” with
extractive industries, according to government officials.
Pulgar-Vidal said he did not
know when the other draft
legislation would be submitted.
Sources familiar with negotiations within the cabinet said
ministers were wrangling
over proposals to pool environmental data and establish
a national land-use planning
office that would determine
where extractive industries
could operate and which
areas would be off limits.
The Environment Ministry
won the first battle, as the
draft legislation places Senace
under the ministry’s jurisdiction. Currently, environmental
impact statements are overseen by the ministry in charge
of the industry in which the
project in question is occurring. Critics claim this state
of affairs creates conflicts of
interest. For instance, they
point out that the Energy and
Mines Ministry is responsible
both for promoting minerals

and petroleum exploration
and for approving environmental-impact statements.
As the government tries to
upgrade its impact-review
capability, several mining
projects remain on hold due
to local community concern
over environmental impacts.
Among these is the controversial Minas Conga in Cajamarca. Protests late last year
forced the government to hire
outside consultants to review
part of the environmental
impact assessment for the
Conga mine, a copper and
gold project proposed by the
Yanacocha mining company.
The project has been on
hold since those demonstrations, which also triggered a
Cabinet shake-up. (See “Mine
fallout forces Cabinet changes
in Peru”—EcoAméricas, Dec.
’11.) After an August opinion
poll showed that 78% of the
population of the Cajamarca
region, where the mine would
be located, opposed the project, the company—a consortium of U.S.-based Newmont,
Peru’s Buenaventura Mining
and the International Finance
Corporation—said it would
postpone construction for at
least two years. Meanwhile,
the company is proceeding
with construction of reservoirs
that it and government officials
say will address local residents’ concerns that the mine
would dry up water sources.
Green groups call creation
of the agency a step forward,
but they question a bill provision that would enable the
cabinet to exempt impact
studies for some projects
from the agency’s oversight
and place them instead
under the ministries responsible for those industries.

Follow-up: Manuel Pulgar-Vidal,
Peruvian Environment Minister, Lima,
Peru, +(511) 611-6000, mpulgarvidal@
minam.gob.pe, www.minam.gob.pe. For
the draft bill creating Senace: www.scrib
d.com/doc/104196850/Proyecto-de-Leypara-la-creacion-del-Senace-web.

11

EcoAméricas

Q&A:
Corporate sustainability a contradiction? She thinks not.
Economist Marina Grossi heads the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development
(CEBDS), a grouping of 75 companies that together
account for 50% of Brazil’s gross domestic product.
Members include the state oil company Petrobras,
Latin America’s largest company; Vale, the world’s
second-largest mining company; and the Gerdau
Group, Brazil’s largest steel producer. Grossi has
been with the CEBDS since 2005, working as an executive director and as coordinator of its climate
change, sustainable development and sustainable
financing departments. She became president in
2010. Grossi served as an advisor to Brazil’s Science and Technology Ministry from 1997 to 2001
and as coordinator from 2001 to 2003 of the mixed
private-public Brazilian Forum on Climate Change.
In 2004 she was Brazilian coordinator of the Carbon
Disclosure Project, a U.K-based nonprofit. During
1997-2004, she also served as a negotiator for Brazil in global climate talks. She spoke recently with
EcoAméricas correspondent Michael Kepp.

besides being ethically wrong, has a long-term
adverse impact on a company’s reputation, and
as a result, on its balance sheet.

Many experts argue that companies and the world
economy need to take environmental-impact costs
far more fully into account. Is your association
willing to advocate this and, if so, how? Would its
members, for instance, accept a carbon tax?

As sustainability increasingly becomes a
greater concern, companies here and elsewhere
will eventually have to take the environmental
impacts of their processes, practices and products far more fully into account, and factor
this impact into product prices. When companies begin to do so, Brazilian companies will
have competitive price advantages, in relation
to other countries, because of the abundance
of clean hydropower here, which accounts for
nearly 80% of the electric energy matrix. ComMarina Grossi
panies in most other countries rely much more
heavily on fossil fuels, which takes a far greater environmental
In 2011, the CEBDS drafted “Vision Brazil 2050,” giving its mem- toll. The CEBDS is in favor of a carbon tax on industrial emisbers nine sustainability guidelines with goals including investment sions above certain levels, but feels that governments, in levyin green technology and renewable energy, and improved recycling ing such a tax, need to offer companies fiscal incentives if they
and reuse of industrial waste. One guideline calls for greenhouse- reduce emissions by a certain amount. Our members, in genemission cuts in excess of government goals. Why the higher target? eral, also believe that, sooner or later, most governments will
The government’s overall emissions-reduction targets are begin to levy such a tax.
ambitious, but are largely based on reducing deforestation,
mainly in the Amazon, and by reducing the farming and ranch- Isn’t it the nature of a large oil or mining company to be unsustaining sector’s emissions. By making productivity more efficient able? I ask because to be truly sustainable, wouldn’t limits have to
and sustainable, Brazilian industrial firms and businesses believe be placed on economic growth and, thus, on companies’ output and
they can contribute more to reducing emissions than the gov- profits? In this sense, isn’t corporate sustainability a contradiction
ernment envisions, mainly through more efficient water and in terms?
No, corporate sustainability is not a contradiction in terms.
energy use, transportation improvements, increased recycling
and sustainable solid-waste disposal [and] through the capture You need to differentiate economic growth from economic
and flaring or conversion into electricity of methane at sanitary development. Any company that is a market leader and has a
landfills. These guidelines are meant to show companies how long-term vision sees sustainability as a fundamental means of
to best reduce their emissions and in doing so, become more survival. In the long term, this growth will only be achieved
sustainable. The CEBDS plans in the next three years to set with sustainability that has already been planned. A company
emissions-reduction targets linked to these nine guidelines and can grow regardless of the environmental impact its activities
cause, but it will inevitably suffer the consequences of its impact
recommend that its members try to reach them.
in the short, medium or long term. Examples [of such impacts]
Have large companies joined the Council because they’re committed can vary from the availability of water from a river basin where
to sustainability or to present an eco-friendly face to the public? Is the company is located to the increased health-related costs of
there a screening process?
its employees inhaling its toxic, non-filtered gases. If growth is
Most CEBDS member companies have joined the council achieved at such costs, the result is obvious: ill-will on the part
to share and exchange information about how to become more of [nearby] communities that feel its environmental impacts
sustainable and to use the council as a roadmap to become more and damage to its brand. Such social values should be intrinsic
sustainable. Joining is also good for their corporate image. Com- to a company and are intrinsic to those companies that have a
panies wanting to join the council have to show that they have long-term vision. No standard sustainability agenda exists for
a project for becoming more sustainable, like a project for doing the business sector, but we can define a common future vision.
a greenhouse gas emissions inventory or a report outlining how And the business sector has a clear advantage over government
they plan to become more sustainable.
in sustainability issues. One of the documents that shows this
best is “Vision Brazil 2050,” drafted by the CEBDS. Presented at
To what extent do big Brazilian companies engage in greenwashing? Rio+20 [the UN sustainability conference held this year in BraThe CEBDS has an ethics council to review accusations zil], the study is a point of departure meant to serve as a basis
against its members for practices such as greenwashing and, if for the strategic planning of Brazilian business. It is the result of
it finds they are doing so, to encourage them to discontinue the a serious engagement on the part of businesses, academia and
practice. The council does so by arguing that greenwashing, civil society, and took over a year to prepare.

12

September 2012


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