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Thousands of illegal gold miners battled police for control of a regional capital in the Amazon basin on Wednesday and at least three people were killed by gunfire. 

Outnumbered riot police fired tear gas against miners who wielded clubs and rocks and tried to seize strategic facilities in Puerto Maldonado. The miners are fighting government efforts to regulate small-scale gold extraction, which is ravaging the rain forest, contaminating it with tons of mercury.

Interior Ministry spokesman Victor Calderon said it was unclear whether police fired directly on rioters in Puerto Maldonado, a boomtown at the confluence of two jungle rivers in a region popular with ecotourists.

After talks failed with a government delegation, at least 12,500 miners had attempted to seize public buildings, markets and the airport in the city, said Madre de Dios regional President Jose Luis Aguirre.

“The situation is untenable. You can hear gunshots throughout the entire city,” he told The Associated Press by phone, calling the situation “out of control.”

Three people were killed by gunfire, said regional health director Dr. Jorge Asencios, and 38 were treated at Santa Rosa regional hospital for injuries, including a police officer hit in the head by a rock.

Asencios said 10 of the wounded would be airlifted to Lima, the capital, for treatment.

Interior Minister Daniel Lozada said in a TV interview that some miners “were armed, even with explosives … and obviously police had to act to maintain order.”

He said police made 62 arrests and that nine officers were among the injured. By afternoon, 500 police reinforcements had arrived to bolster a badly outnumbered contingent of 700 officers.

Police said they prevented rioters from seizing the bus station and airport of the largely dirt-street capital of about 37,000 residents. But to the west, miners took control of a key bridge, blocking the transoceanic highway that links the highland city of Cuzco and Peru’s coast to Brazil.

“Everyone is frightened. The few government offices that are functioning are working with doors shut,” said Oscar Guadalupe, an activist who works with victims of child prostitution in the largely lawless region.

Protesters piled rocks and garbage on street corners and residents stayed home behind locked doors. Streets normally buzzing with motorcycle taxis were empty.

A gold rush has swelled Madre de Dios state with about 40,000 small-scale miners who are scarring virgin rain forest as they extract gold particles from river beds and alluvial plains. Mercury is used to bind the gold together in nuggets.

The gold fever has been fueled by a tripling in the price of the precious metal over the past decade.

It has attracted poor farmers from the Andean highlands as well as unscrupulous investors and gunslingers, and Madre de Dios now produces about a fifth of Peru’s overall annual gold yield.

The mining is almost entirely illegal and government attempts to regulate it have been mostly futile, not just in Madre de Dios but in other regions where informal mining is also rampant.

Informal miners also held protests Wednesday in at least two other regions, Piura in Peru’s northwest and Puno in the southern highlands bordering Bolivia.

A government commission led by the environment minister was in Puerto Maldonado on Monday to discuss legalizing the mining activity. But most informal mining leaders walked out after their request to increase their delegation’s size was turned down, said Humberto Cordero, a local environment ministry official.

One mining leader, Miguel Herrera, accused the government of aiming not to legalize but to destroy small-scale mining.

“Mining gives work to lots of people,” he said. “Many families depend on mining and would be without sustenance without it.”

Four recent government decrees have sought to regulate mining to protect the environment and capture tax revenues, said Cordero, who denied the government is trying to end all informal mining.

“In no way is there a desire to end mining activity as such as some mining leaders are misinforming,” he said.

The government’s intent is to end mining in prohibited areas such as buffer zones bordering nature reserves and to allow miners with legally recognized claims to formalize them,  Cordero added.

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  The Forest Code is dwindling, and with it the Brazilian forests. Soon to be voted in the House, the text that distorts the country’s main environmental law was the target of a demonstration today in Brasilia, which brought together social movements and environmental groups, asking the President to take an attitude Dilma the nation’s future.

   “Veta, Dilma”: this was the message that protesters wrote on the lawn of Congress on March 6th, with their own bodies and tracks, after a march that began in the Cathedral of Brasilia and ended in front of Congress, attended by about 1500 people.

   The Congress debates changes in the Forest for years. Despite the claims of scientists, lawyers, small farmers, environmentalists, religious groups and social organizations – basicament all sectors who have no financial interests directly related to the weakening of the law – so that the process be done in a responsible manner, the bill is full of problems: it stimulates further deforestation and relieves the recovery of the vast majority of illegally deforested areas, cancels fines for offenders and offers nothing to those who fulfilled the law and protect existing forests on their land.

   The vote on new law, the last step before it goes to the presidency for approval, was set for 6 March but has been postponed till next week. The delay will have little impact on the already terrible text, as it is already full of problems. The law stimulates further deforestation and relieves the requirement for recovery of the vast majority of already illegally deforested areas, cancels fines for past criminals and offers nothing to those who fulfilled the law and protect existing forests on their land.

The demonstration in Brasilia comes after a week of demonstrations across Brazil and is a reminder to President Dilma of her campaign promises to veto any changes in the Forest Code that allows more logging in the Brazilian Amazon.

The only way the Amazon will survive this process is for president Dilma to veto the new Forest Code.

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Spanish energy cooperation Endesa (subsidiary enterprise of the Italian Enel cooperation) is builiding a giant hydro-electric power plant next to the River Magdalena, Colombia- The construction work has started today- the protest camps of the local farmers and fishermen have been evacuated by force!

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So far the Rio Magdalena river is flowing naturally through the rainforest and is home to many species. Beginning with the construction work on the giant embankment dam El Quimbo, this unique biotope will disappear forever. 82 square kilometres of rainforest will be flooded. The habitat of thousands of animals and plants will be destroyed and more than 1 500 people are going to lose their villages, their land, and their pastures.

The energy corporation Enel advertises this project as “green energy” – but this type of electricity generation is in fact destructive for the environment and all but green. Many million tons of stones have to be blasted down. 200 000 cubic metres of concrete and 15 000 tons of construction steel are needed to build the dam. In fact, this means there will be 5 000 tons more steel in the dam than there is presently in the Eiffel Tower.

Animals and plants do not have a voice of their own that is heard in Colombia, so the people were protesting against the embankment dam by blockading the construction site of this insane venture. In the beginning of February special forces of the Colombian police (ESMAD) evacuated the protest camp by force. In a few days the first construction phase is about to start. This involves the relocation of the Magdalena river in a below ground tube. Above that tube the dam will be constructed – with an elevation of 150 metres!

Please sign this urgent petition to Colombian government- we demand that this devastating embankment dam must be stopped!!

https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/mailalert/849?mt=1304

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The group of students, part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, ventured to the jungles of Ecuador. The mission was to allow “students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way.” The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. As it turns out, they brought back a fungus new to science with a voracious appetite for a global waste problem: polyurethane.

The plastic, which was in a milky-white liquid form before being introduced to the fungus, had vanished when she checked on the mixture in a Petri dish two weeks later.

Anand, 23, said it was an amazing feeling. And hiking through a rainforest didn’t hurt either.

“It was really exciting. You could see that these microbes were able to break down plastic,” Anand said. “The white substance turned clear. It seemed like a long shot, so it was exciting to see that it worked.”

The fungus isn’t the only one to degrade polyurethane, but it’s special because it can do so under anaerobic conditions, or without oxygen, said Yale biochemistry Professor Scott Strobel, who oversaw the project.

In the future, Strobel said he hopes to characterize the protein the fungus produces that is responsible for bioremediation.

In the meantime, students are looking into ways to degrade polystyrene.

“We are also developing approaches to identify organisms able to degrade more complicated polymers. One of the students this year is targeting polystyrene,” Strobel said. “Because of the nature of the polymer, that is a much more difficult challenge than polyurethane.”

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Loggers in Brazil captured an eight-year-old girl from one of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes and burned her alive as part of a ‘campaign’ to force the indigenous population from its land!

Sign Petition and share:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/813/288/541/

The most recent statistics released by the Indigenous Missionary Council claimed there were 452 murders of Indians in Brazil between 2003 and 2010!!!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2083884/Brazilian-loggers-tied-year-old-Amazonian-tribe-girl-tree-burned-alive.html#ixzz1l3mZxYa7

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The world’s largest meat processor has agreed to stop buying beef from ranches associated with slave labor and illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to the public prosecutor’s office in the state of Acre. The deal absolves JBS-Friboi from 2 billion reals ($1.3 billion) in potential fines and paves the way for the firm to continue selling meat to companies concerned about their environmental reputation. 

The agreement is significant because it was signed by prosecutors from other Amazon states including Rondonia, Amazonas, Roraima, Pará, Tocantins, Maranhão and Amapá. Other cattle giants are expected to follow suit. 

Under the terms of the deal, JBS agreed to stop buying cattle from areas embargoed by environmental inspection agencies and lands classified as conservation units or indigenous territories, unless the management plans of those areas allow for livestock. Cattle production often occurs illegally in forests zoned for conservation or indigenous use and squatters are used as proxies to grab the land. JBS will also not buy cattle from ranches that have been convicted of labor abuses, including slave labor. 

From September 2012, JBS will only buy meat from ranches that have registered their holdings with the government and have the proper environmental licenses. 

Any breach of the agreement could result in fines up to 500 reals ($300) per pound of beef. 

The deal could help curtail deforestation for cattle production — which accounts for the bulk of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon — but its effectiveness still hinges on local governance, where corruption remains a problem. The government is working to improve the situation by arresting environmental officials linked to graft and increasing the transparency of the registration process by making more information available on the Internet, but some states are further along in the process than others. 

The news comes nearly two years after Brazil’s biggest meatpackers agreed to a moratorium on new forest clearing for cattle production. The agreement was spurred by a Greenpeace campaign that linked some of the world’s most prominent brands — Nike, Timberland, and Adidas — to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The companies responded by refusing to buy cattle products unless they were shown to be free of deforestation. 

Deforestation continues to ebb in the Brazilian Amazon. Annual deforestation is down by more than three-quarters since 2004 despite a rise in commodity prices. Improved law enforcement, an increase in the number of protected areas, growing sensitivity in the corporate sector to environmental issues, and macro-economic trends are generally credited for the decline. 

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The rising price of gold has multiplied by six the pace of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in the Peruvian region of Madre de Dios in recent years. 

Illegal gold searches using primitive techniques in the years 2003-9 led to the destruction of 7,000 hectares of virgin and extremely diverse rainforest in the two-largest gold-digging areas in the region, Guacamayo and Colorado-Puquiri, Assistant Professor Jennifer Swenson of Duke University said in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Researchers came to this conclusion when they studied satellite images taken by US space agency Nasa and related them to the evolution of the price of gold and to Peru’s mercury imports.

“Virtually all mercury imported to Peru is used for artisanal gold mining and imports have risen exponentially since 2003, mirroring the rise in gold prices,” Swenson said.

“Given the rate of recent increases, we project mercury imports will more than double by the end of 2011, to about 500 tons a year,” she said.

The highly poisonous metal is used by poor gold-diggers to wash gold off rock and sand. It is not only harmful to the health of those who handle it, but it also pollutes the region’s rivers and air.

Mercury also gets into the food chain and harms local indigenous communities and even those that live further away. Once the gold searchers are done, they leave behind a desert landscape that is poisoned by mercury.

Peruvian Environment Minister Antonio Brack said gold-diggers have already destroyed 32,000 hectares of rainforest in Madre de Dios.

In March, a large joint operation by police and the military targeted tens of thousands of gold searchers, and 32 floating dredges were seized, Brack said. The minister said he was sorry about the death of two prospectors during the raid, although he stressed that the use of force had been justified in the face of an “environmental tragedy.”

However, the problem is far from solved. Police assume that at least 250 floating dredges are in use in the region. According to Brack, it will take at least five years to get those searching for gold to leave.

And yet poverty in Peru continues to push more and more people into searching for gold, as well as into other equally illegal activities like logging or settling in the rainforest.

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United Nations declared 2o11 as the International Year of Forests (Forests 2o11), and why Forests are the theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May 2o11.

In this special year, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are working together to highlight the importance of forest biodiversity to humankind.

The theme for Forests 2o11 is ‘Forests for People’, celebrating of the central role of people in the management, conservation, and sustainable development of our World’s Forests.

Spread The Word- Raise Awareness Worldwide.

We DEPEND on Forests.

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United Nations ~Celebrating Forests for People~ main page:

http://www.un.org/en/events/iyof2011/index.shtml

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Convention on Biological Diversity info pages:

Foreword; Introduction; Value; Threats; Hope; Links:

http://www.cbd.int/idb/2011/booklet/?tab=0

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International Year of Forests 2o11- logo and guidelines:

http://www.un.org/en/events/iyof2011/logo.shtml

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Key Forest related Events in 2o11:

http://www.un.org/en/events/iyof2011/events.shtml

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We Are All One:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCnWZncHH2Y

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The company leading the dam project, Norte Energia, announced that infrastructure work on roads that will provide access to the region started on Monday morning.

The £7bn Belo Monte dam on the Amazon’s Xingu river is scheduled to start producing energy on 31 December 2014 and would be the second largest of its kind in Brazil and reputedly the world’s third largest. The Brazilian government says the dam is urgently needed if the country is to keep pace with soaring domestic energy demand resulting from a booming economy that grew 7.5% last year.

But indigenous and environmental groups claim Belo Monte will displace tens of thousands of river-dwellers and bring violence and social chaos to the Amazon state of Para.

In a recent interview with international journalists, Mauricio Tolmasquim, the president of Brazil’s Energy Research Company, defended the project. “Belo Monte allows Brazil to achieve two objectives. First, it manages to meet the energy needs of the country, which will foster growth in development; while at the same time maintaining low levels of greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

But during a campaigning trip to London earlier this month, Sheyla Juruna, a prominent indigenous activist from the region, said the dam would destroy river communities.

“We are here to show the international community that we are not being heard and that the Brazilian government is seriously violating our rights. The government speaks about sustainable development and human rights. How can this be true when they are forcing these projects of destruction on us?”

Last year, the Oscar-winning director James Cameron, visited the dam, explaining: “If this goes forward then every other hydroelectric project in the Amazon basin gets a blank cheque. It’s now a global issue. The Amazon rainforest is so big and so powerful a piece of the overall climate picture that its destruction will affect everyone.”

“I do not accept the Belo Monte dam,” said Mokuka Kayapó, an indigenous leader who met with Cameron. “The forest is our butcher. The river, with its fish, is our market. This is how we survive.”

Not all locals agree. In Altamira, the nearest town, some are excited about energy ministry claims that around 20,000 jobs will be created. Outsiders, assumed to be dam-opponents from environmental groups, are often treated with with suspicion.

Tolmasquim said the dam’s blueprint was designed to bring “the smallest possible negative effects to local communities” and claimed Belo Monte could be a “driving force for sustainable development in the region.”

“No indigenous land surrounding the area of the project will be flooded. No indigenous community will be moved out of their land,” he said, adding: “This is a very different project from other major projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam project, which was estimated to have relocated one million people.” Opponents are unconvinced and this week vowed to continue fighting, despite the start of building works.

The project remains at the center of a major legal tussle and has so far been granted only a partial environmental license under which full construction cannot begin.

“The struggle to resist the Belo Monte Dam and protect the Xingu river is far from over,” said Christian Poirier, the Brazil programme co-ordinator for environmental group Amazon Watch. “Resistance on the ground will not waver.”

“We will keep battling,” Renata Pinheiro, a legal representative from the Xingu River Forever Alive Movement, told the Amazonian O Liberal newspaper.

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Federal Brasilian judge Ronaldo Desterro has blocked plans to build a huge hydro-electric dam in the Amazon rainforest because of environmental concerns.

Judge Desterro said environmental requirements to build the Belo Monte dam had not been met.

He also barred the national development bank, BNDES, from funding the project.

The dam is a cornerstone of President Dilma Rousseff’s plans to upgrade Brazil’s energy infrastructure.

But it has faced protests and challenges from environmentalists and local indigenous groups who say it will harm the world’s largest tropical rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people.

Judge Desterro said the Brazilian environmental agency, Ibama, had approved the project without ensuring that 29 environmental conditions had been met.

In particular, he said concerns that the dam would disrupt the flow of the Xingu river – one of the Amazon’s main tributaries – had not been met.

His ruling is the latest stage in a long legal battle over Belo Monte. Previous injunctions blocking construction have been overturned.

The government says the Belo Monte dam is crucial for development and will create jobs, as well as provide electricity to 23 million homes.

The 11,000-megawatt dam would be the biggest in the world after the Three Gorges in China and Itaipu, which is jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay.

It has long been a source of controversy, with bidding halted three times before the state-owned Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco was awarded the contract last year.

Celebrities such as the singer Sting and film director James Cameron have joined environmentalists in their campaign against the project.

This 6km (3.7 miles) dam will threaten the survival of a number of indigenous groups and could make some 50,000 people homeless, as 500 sq km (190 sq miles) of land would be flooded.

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