Recently, I watched the new documentary Bajo el Cielo Amazónico (Under the Amazon Sky), which takes a critical look at the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the logging industry in the Ucayali region of the Peruvian Amazon. The film focuses on Ashaninka communities from along the Tamaya River, and takes issue with many aspects of natural resource extraction on indigenous territories in the Amazon, including:
- The social and environmental impacts of logging and deforestation
- The ‘invisibility’ of indigenous communities without land titles or ID cards.
- Poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth between companies and local communities
- The irrationality of sustainable natural resource extraction
- Unfair labor practices and the withholding of salaries
- Access to education and health care
In approaching these issues, the film strives to raise the voices of local communities affected by logging, mining and oil exploitation by having them tell their own stories, following a similar tradition to Una Muerte en Sión (A Death in Zion) and La Voz de los Apus (The Voice of the Apus).
The concerns about natural resource development on indigenous territories raised in each of these three movies are especially relevant today as the Peruvian Amazon continues to face increasing environmental and social challenges. Within just the last month, the Peruvian government passed Emergency Decrees 001-2011 and 002-2011 which aim to increase foreign investment by eliminating the requirement for environmental impact assessments (EIA) for more than 30 large-scale development projects, including several hydropower dams and transportation and trade corridors.
These emergency decrees have drawn strong criticism from Peruvian civil society. Earlier this month, the organizations Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) and Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA) called on the Peruvian Congress to repeal Emergency Decrees 001-2011 and 002-2011 on the basis of being unconstitutional (the Peruvian constitution states that emergency decrees cannot legislate on environmental matters.) More recently, indigenous federations from the San Martin region of the Peruvian Amazon have called on the government to stop granting logging, oil, and gas concessions until it respects the territories and right to self-determination of indigenous Amazonian communities. With so much controversy and high tensions surrounding natural resource development in the Amazon it’s about time that the Peruvian government stop viewing environmental protection as an impediment to development.