#FergusonPHL: Philadelphia reacts to Ferguson news

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.09.32 PMNBC Philadelphia used one of my shots from last night’s Ferguson solidarity protests in Philly, after the announcement of the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

More of my photos and video from last night on are up on Demotix.

There’s another protest scheduled for 4pm today in North Philadelphia, at Broad and Cecil B. Moore. The march will start at City Hall at 3:30pm and head north. Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/295619220627789/

Elections in Brazil: a win for Rousseff, and China

It’s become a cliché to liken this Brazilian election to a telenovela. Yet it does seem a fitting analogy for a campaign season that saw one of the candidates die in a plane crash and his vice-presidential candidate — environmentalist Marina Silva — then soar in the polls, only to come down equally suddenly after some of the most negative attack ads in the country’s political history. Pro-business candidate Aécio Neves and incumbent Dilma Rousseff were neck-and-neck going into Sunday’s second round, but in the end, Rousseff claimed victory, albeit by a slim margin.

Of all the candidates, the one with the most dramatic story was Silva, who would have been Brazil’s first black president. The daughter of rubber tappers in the Amazon, illiterate until age 16, she rose through the ranks in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) to become his minister of the environment. However, she differed with her party on several key issues, including the building of massive hydroelectric dams in the Amazon region — a major part of the PT’s platform for energy independence. In the current election, she was the running mate of PSB candidate Eduardo Campos, whose sudden passing thrust her into the spotlight.

After Silva was defeated in the first round of elections on October 5, it looked to her supporters as though their hopes of a more environmentally friendly, progressive Brazil were dashed. Worse yet, to many, she shot back at the PT’s negative campaigning by publicly endorsing Neves, a pro-business governor from Brazil’s wealthy, white south.

Neves and Rousseff, who was chief of staff under Lula and has carried forward his policies in her three years as president, faced off in the second round. In the end, slightly more than half of Brazilians preferred the status quo, and Rousseff claimed victory with 51.6% of valid votes.

So what will Rousseff’s win mean for the environment, and for Brazil’s relationship with its number one trading partner, China?

Read more at China Dialogue >

PHOTO/ Mismatch: why are human rights NGOs in emerging powers not emerging? (openDemocracy)

Anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil. Karen Hoffmann/Demotix.

My photo of anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil, was used in this openDemocracy story by Lucia Nader, who is Executive Director of Conectas Human Rights, a Brazil-based NGO with national and international projects. (“Belo Monstro” and “Eletromorte” are plays on words: The consortium building the mega-dam is called Eletronorte, and “morte” means “death” in Portuguese.)

From Lucia’s piece: “There is a perverse see-saw effect in place within the BRICS countries. In Brazil, as the government grows in prominence and companies become more global and voracious, human rights NGOs face a sustainability crisis and find their budgets shrinking. Are these two developments connected?” More >

PHOTO/ ‘Troubles of a new beginning,’ Wiener Zeitung Online

Just noticed that my photo of Colombia’s Palace of Justice was used to accompany an Austrian story about how, “after half a century of civil war, Colombia is trying to end the conflict. The year 2014 is all about two important ballots and the conclusion of a peace agreement.” More at Wiener Zeitung Online (in German) >

 

Wildcat Wells in Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve Bring New and Unstudied Risks (Earth Island Journal)

BY KAREN HOFFMANN – MAY 1, 2014

Regulatory agencies aren’t carefully assessing the impact of ramped up oil and gas exploration in southwest Florida, say critics

When you think of oil drilling, South Florida probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. But rising oil prices are bringing increasing oil and gas exploration projects to southwest Florida, home of the Everglades, and they are already putting environment at risk.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently slapped a $25,000 fine on the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company for injecting unapproved acid into Florida’s vulnerable underground limestone formations in the middle of Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. Yet the DEP recently approved another request by Dan Hughes to drill near another protected areas — the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge — despite vehement opposition from residents and environmental groups.

Big Cypress National PerservePhoto by Marcel Hujser

Of all the new drilling proposals, the one seeking to drill the federally protected Big Cypress Natioanl Perserve has created the most furor.

Though oil drilling seems at odds with South Florida, which is known for its wildlife parks and agricultural reserves, fact is, drilling has been going on in this region ever since Humble Oil bored its first well in Collier County in 1943. The US Geological Survey’s most recent estimates show that there are about 370 million barrels of undiscovered oil in South Florida. Energy companies are eager to get that oil out of the ground.

Most of the recent drilling applications have been for exploratory wells — “wildcats” in industry parlance. First, companies drill an exploratory well to see if there’s any oil. If there isn’t, they plug it up and move on. If there is, they drill another well to inject the wastewater, called brine, into the ground.

These injection wells are the main threats to the environment. From Ohio to Texas, they have a record of leaking. The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that brine from oil and gas extraction may contain “toxic metals and radioactive substances” and “can be very damaging to the environment and public health if it is discharged to surface water or the land surface.”

But Florida’s permeable geologic formations present new and unstudied risks as well. Because of the porous limestone that makes up the southwest Florida’s bedrock, it’s possible that the wastewater could migrate upward into the groundwater that millions of Floridians drink.

Given these concerns, you might assume the EPA and DEP would carefully study the environmental impacts before issuing a permits for such wells — especially in environmentally sensitive areas. But this is Florida (cue the chirping cicadas), where it seems, anything goes. . The Big Cypress National Preserve, incidentally, is already home to 11 wells.   More at Earth Island Journal >

Honduras: Indigenous return to territory with IACHR protection orders after mining murders

Victims Ricardo Soto Funez, 40; Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71; and Armando Funez Medina, 46 (Upside Down World)

Three indigenous Honduran Tolupanes were shot and killed on August 25, 2013, at a private residence in Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71, from the Community of San Francisco Campo, Armando Funez Medina, 46, of Las Brisas, and Ricardo Soto Funez, 40, of Cabeza de Vaca. Upside Down World reports that the alleged killers, Selvin Matute and Carlos Matute (no relation to Enriqueta), were hired guns for the Bellavista Mining Company, “which has been extracting antimony from the surrounding mountains without the consent of the community and with a mining concession that is in dispute. The two men also hire themselves out to illegal loggers that deforest the mountainsides.”

According to the Honduras Accompaniment Project:

Witnesses say the killings were committed by two local men under contract by wealthy miners illegally extracting the mineral antimony from the lands of the indigenous Tolupan people of Yoro.

This occurs in a context of increasing intimidation and violence against communities which peacefully oppose mining on their territory, a situation which is met with impunity (see latest article on La Nueva Esperanza).

In the case of Locomapa, the community had organized to protect their resources and to oppose mining on their land. They had spoken on the radio, denouncing the illegal exploitation by powerful mining interests and by loggers. Members of the community decided to set up a road block, allowing local traffic, but stopping mining vehicles and illegal loggers. It was on the 12th day of this roadblock that the killings occurred.

According to residents, the shootings allegedly were carried out by hit men of the mining company. Locals say the two accused live in a nearby community and are corrupt members of the indigenous council who had directly threatened to kill the activists before the shooting, telling the wife of one of the murdered men to prepare the casket.

Eyewitnesses say the two perpetrators arrived at the roadblock on motorcycle at 5:30 Sunday afternoon, drunk, and opened fire on the dozen or so activists there. Two men died in the entryway to Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house. Then she was shot as she came out to see what was happening.

The two suspects remained free Monday, and reportedly returned to the same house three times, to threaten and intimidate the grieving families who were awaiting the bodies from the morgue.

Families mourn for three community members killed while opposing illegal mining (PROAH/Honduras Accompaniment Project)

Now, the families have returned to San Francisco de Locomapa with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to Upside Down World:

It is a bittersweet reunion. The tears of the joyous reunion are mixed with those of grief for the three that were gunned down. MADJ has convened this convocation to both honor the martyrs and to formally have official representatives of the Republic of Honduras sign the Act of Implementation of Protective Measures that were ordered on December 19, 2013 by the [IACHR].

From the IACHR website

On December 19, 2013, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for the members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their families, in Honduras. The request for precautionary measures alleges that the members of the MADJ have been receiving a series of threats and acts of harassment and violence because of their work in defense of the natural resources of the indigenous peoples in the Locomapa sector of the department of Yoro. After analyzing the allegations of fact and law submitted by the petitioners, the Commission believes that the information presented suggests that the situation of the MADJ members and their respective families is serious and urgent, as their lives and physical integrity are said to be under threat and at grave risk. Therefore, pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to preserve the lives and physical integrity of the 18 members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their family members; reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their families on the measures to be adopted; and inform the Commission as to the steps taken to investigate the incidents that gave rise to the adoption of this precautionary measure so that such incidents do not happen again.

As Upside Down World notes, “After decades of indifference to the plight of the Tolupanes, it was not until the IACHR intervened that anyone from the Honduran government paid any attention. This new attention is a testament to the dedication of MADJ and the members of the community that have maintained the struggle to defend their natural resources. Some 38 members of the community are protected by this act, but it is a hollow gesture if the representatives of the government don’t abide by it, which has historically been the case in Honduras.”