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Brazil and Venesuela – Worrying times

Many supporters of social progress in Brazil are deeply worried by the extent to which first President Lula and now his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, have been prepared to sacrifice the interests of local people and the environment to the alleged imperatives of economic development. Few have shown greater courage and determination in resisting this drive than the indigenous communities and social movements of the Amazon.

One flashpoint has been the government’s determination to construct a series of huge dams across the Amazon basin, dams that are not even needed to supply the country’s energy needs (Read more). LAB has covered in considerable detail the fight to stop the largest of the dams, Belo Monte (Read more).

Similar struggles, most barely reported in the press, are occurring across the entire basin. This week LAB is proud to carry a special report compiled by three Brazilian researchers who visited an indigenous community along the Tapajós river, where two mega hydroelectric power plants, São Luiz (6,133 MW) and Jatobá (2,336 MW), are planned.

In November 2012 members of the federal police and national security guard launched an assault on this community with machine guns and assault rifles, killing one man, Adenilson Munduruku, from the indigenous village of Teles Pires.

Although the alleged motive for police action was to close down a small illegal gold processing operation, the researchers and the community believe that the real objective was to terrorise the community, which has been obstructing government preparations for construction of the dams. LAB’s Nayana Fernandez has used footage filmed by local people on their mobile phones to make four short and powerful videos (Read more).

We also carry the story of a long and ultimately successful indigenous struggle, further west in the Amazon along the Araguaia river. This week the last illegal occupiers were evicted from land now judicially recognised as belonging to the Marãiwatséde Indians, part of the Xavante nation. These Marãiwatséde were forcibly removed from their territory back in 1966 and much of their forest land has been destroyed by the cattle ranches that replaced them, but the Indians are determined to replant the forest and rebuild their lives. The government official in charge of the process says the judicial ruling was very difficult to implement because of the scandalously close links between big landowners and all levels of government (Read more)

This week, we launch our LAb Amazon blog, to which we invite contributions from anywhere in the Amazon basin (Read more). Contributions are welcome in English, Portuguese or Spanish.

The first post on the blog, by LAB Editor Sue Branford, recalls the first time she met Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, the ‘Red Bishop’. Late last year Dom Pedro, now 84 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s, was forced to leave his home in São Félix by the Araguaia river because of death threats from landowners forced to give up land they had seized from the Marãiwatséde. The courage and commitment that Dom Pedro has shown to peasant families and indigenous communities throughout his life has been remarkable (Read more).

Venezuela

Venezuelans continue their anxious wait to see how president Hugo Chávez fares in his long battle with cancer. (Readers with long memories may remember how Tancredo Neves, elected to become Brazil’s first post-dictatorship president, was taken ill on 14 March 1985, the eve of his inauguration, and finally died on 21 April – 37 long days during which, just as in Venezuela today, people prayed in the streets for his recovery).

Julia Buxton looks at the future Venezuela will face without Chávez (Read more). COHA’s Larry Birns and Federick B. Mills warn US policy makers to resist the temptation to use the absence of Chávez to re-impose neoliberalism (Read more). David Smilde in his excellent blog, featured, along with many other blogs on the LAB website, warns the opposition that wrangling over the niceties of the country’s constitution will not win hearts and minds (Read more).

Meanwhile, 200 community organisers belonging to the National Network of Commoners met in late November in Sierra de San Luis to discuss ‘learning to govern ourselves’ (Read more).

In other news

In Colombia, yet another bitter dispute has broken out between a local community and foreign mining interests, backed by the government. This time protestors gathered at Toima in Tolima department, protesting against plans by Anglo-Ashanti to build a gold ore processing plant (Read more).

The progressive Mayor of Lima, Peru, Susana Villarán, confronts a recall election in March orchestrated by her predecessor and a mafia of gangster interests protecting lucrative contracts and pay-offs in urban transport and food markets (Read more).

In Chile on December 28 a court ordered the arrest of eight former army lieutenants for the murder of the singer and theatre director Victor Jara in the aftermath of the military coup in 1973. A short article with the details provides the launch post on our LAB Editors Blog, which will feature short articles, announcements and the thoughts of our Editorial Team. (Read more)

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Thanks to our wonderful website designer Robin Taylor, (see his own website), LAB Partner organizations are now listed in full on our Partners page. Click on any of the partners listed to see their full profile where, as well as a full description of their work, they can post links to news stories and reports describing it. For partners who have Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, their latest tweets and posts are displayed and updated dynamically so that they always show the partner’s latest news.