The Amazon Under Threat

According to conservationists, oil & gas mega-projects in the area could destroy world's largest rain forest system in a relatively short period of time
The Amazon Basin contains the world's largest tropical rainforest and houses nearly fifty percent of the planet's terrestrial biodiversity. Located in nine countries along South America, this mankind treasure is today at serious risk, as world's energy giants develop simultaneous infrastructure projects that threaten millions of hectares and the isolated indigenous cultures.

Mega-Projects are massive infrastructure projects - pipelines, power lines, roads, dams, and waterways-designed to open the Amazon rainforest frontier to large-scale industrial development. Mega-projects enable industries to extract and export raw materials (oil, gas, timber, gold, etc.) to regional and global markets.

Most of those projects require large-scale deforestation to go ahead and the economically weakened Andean countries cannot control the advance of the multinationals. In some cases, like Peru and Ecuador, the necessity of meeting extraordinary foreign debt payments make them surrender to global corporations and support their threatening investments.

One of the most notorious cases is the Camisea Project in southeastern Peru. Financed by public funded banks like the Export-Import bank of the U.S. and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Camisea is meant to export to the USA, 13 trillions cubic meters of gas. According to Amazon Watch, it has already taken the life of 15 Indians from the Nanti community, who died of diseases previously unknown in the area.

Camisea is pushed forward by an Argentine - US consortium headed by Pluspetrol (Arg) and the Hunt Oil Co., from Texas. Halliburton, another Texas based oil company, in which Dick Cheney served as CEO before joining George W. Bush administration, will construct the Pacific Ocean oil terminal to export the gas production to Peru to the Western ports of the United States. According to very well informed sources, Camisea would increase Peruvian GDP in a 15% once finished.

Amazon Watch says "the Camisea companies clearly care little about meeting international environmental standards as the project even violates minimal World Bank policies by destroying critical natural habitat, affecting endangered species, failing to assess and mitigate adequately environmental impacts and refusing to implement independent expert oversight or monitoring. As such, an April 2002 Independent Assessment of the project predicted irreparable impacts on the region."

Ecuador, another country in serious troubles to meet foreign debt obligations as Peru, also holds dangerous energy projects. Another consortium of multinational oil companies is driving ahead with a controversial new oil pipeline project known as OCP (heavy crude pipeline). The 300 miles pipeline to export heavy crude through country's Pacific ports, is expected to be finished by June 2003. Amazon Watch warns that this would place fragile ecosystems and dozens of communities in jeopardy.

Ecuador struggled hard during the year 2000 to seal an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. According with the independent media and sources in Ecuador, one of the IMF requirements at that time was to hike in oil production to meet payments on its US$16 billion national debt. Therefore, the Ecuadorian Government embarked on a massive oil exploitation program that endangers the central and southern Amazon rainforests.

The situation in Colombia is even more difficult. To the debt problems, the analyst has to add the long-running conflict between the authorities and the Marxist rebel groups operating along the country. To secure foreign investments, the Government usually militarizes oil regions and pipelines. Therefore, those areas turn into battlefields as oil wells and pipelines are juicy targets for guerrillas. For instance, an oil pipeline in the northern Department of Arauza has been blown up over 700 times.

Then, the paramilitary groups go to these areas to counterattack rebel actions, which leads to increased violations of the basic human rights of indigenous communities and cause the forced displacement of many from their ancestral homelands.

Bolivia is another paradigmatic case. The country went through a severe social crisis after neo-liberal policies were imposed to the impoverished population. Continuos rural uprisings that sometimes reach the largest cities, like the last popular rebellion that stormed La Paz, are the expression of the deep social instability the country is in.

However, its vast gas resources look very attractive to foreign investors. In the last four years, Bolivian gas reserves have leapt up to 52.3 trillion cubic feet from 5.6 trillion cubic feet. To export an estimated 75% of this gas, plans are underway to expand the gas pipeline system through the heart of Bolivia's globally renowned forests and indigenous territories. Again, oil giants like Brazil's Petrobras, in their fight to dominate the market, pass over the opposition from the farming communities that live in the path of gas development.

Brazil and Venezuela also have a part on this. In joint and individual projects, both countries put the fate of the Amazon basin into an uncertain future. Amazon Watch warns on the construction of a 470 mile long power line that would bring electricity from Venezuela to Brazil. According to this conservationist group, "the mega-project will have serious impacts on the health, the land and the way of life for more that 24.000 indigenous people".

Multinational interests, lobbying power and local indebted economies combine to threat a treasure that belongs to the entire humanity. The consequences of the destruction of the world's richest ecosystem are unpredictable. No question, the most affected will be the man himself.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

Based on reports from Amazon Watch, Amazon Alliance and National Geographic

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