Indigenous people crossed from Peru into Brazil looking for help to combat illegal loggers and drug traffickers, researchers say
Indigenous tribesmen living deep in the Peruvian rainforest have emerged into the outside world to seek help, after suffering a murderous attack by probable drug traffickers.
The contact took place across the border in Brazil and was recorded in a video released on Friday. The tribesmen caught a serious respiratory disease after contact, a major killer of isolated indigenous people, but have since recovered.
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Other tribes living in voluntary isolation on the Peru-Brazil border have been spotted in recent years.
In August 2013 amateur footage emerged showing members of the Mashco-Piro clan appearing across the Las Piedras river from the remote community of Monte Salvado in the Tambopata region of Madre de Dios state, in Peru’s south-eastern Amazon. Local officials said up to 100 members were spotted in late June.
In the Brazil sighting, seven naked tribesmen armed with bows and arrows first turned up at Simpatia village, on the banks of the Envira river in the Brazilian state of Acre, at the end of June.
They asked for weapons and allies, according to Zé Correia, a member of the native Brazilian Ashaninka tribe who met them. The tribesmen told him they had been attacked in their forest homeland by non-Indians, most probably drug traffickers.
“The majority of old people were massacred by non-Indians in Peru, who shot at them with firearms and set fire to their houses,” Correia told the Amazon blog of Terra Magazine. “They say that many old people died and that they buried three people in one grave. They say that so many people died that they couldn’t bury them all and their corpses were eaten by vultures.”
The tribesmen come from one of over 75 uncontacted tribes believed to inhabit the vast Amazon rainforest, and their group is estimated to now number 40-50 people. They returned to the village some time after their first visit, suffering from a flu-like disease.
A specialist medical team from the Brazilian government’s indigenous people’s authority (Funai) treated the men, who have since returned to the forest.
The doctor who treated the tribesmen warned of the possibility of more contacts in the region and emphasised the crucial need to train more specialised health teams to deal with first-contact and post-contact situations. Common diseases such as flu can cause fast and deadly epidemics in isolated tribes which have never encountered such infections before.
José Carlos Meirelles, who has monitored uncontacted Indians in this region for Funai for decades, told campaign group Survival International: “If they don’t make things secure for whoever turns up there, unfortunately we’ll repeat history and we will be jointly responsible for the extermination of these people.”
Both governments have warned of the need to keep away from the tribespeople, to avoid spreading infections, but local NGOs say the advice is largely ignored.
“Most people try to talk to them and give them tools and things to help them, and clothes,” said Francisco Estremadoyro of Propurus, a Peruvian organisation that sets up protection areas for such groups, and the Peruvian tribemen are reported to have taken clothes from the Ashaninka village.
Estremadoyro told the Guardian earlier in July: “The clothes you wear are full of germs. The tools you have at home look clean, but they have germs, so the possibility of spreading germs is very very high.”
Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said a key problem was that Funai was underfunded.
“It’s vital that Brazil and Peru immediately release funds for the full protection of uncontacted Indians’ lives and lands,” he said on Friday. “The economic growth of those countries is coming at the price of the lives of their indigenous citizens. Their newfound wealth must be used to protect those few uncontacted tribes that have so far survived the ongoing genocide of America’s first people.”
Illegal logging has long been a problem in these areas and oil and gas exploration is now pushing into remote areas, particularly in Peru. But growing drug trafficking activity across the Peru-Brazil border may well also be driving isolated tribes out of the forest.
Peru has overtaken Colombia as the world’s biggest producer of coca leaf, the primary ingredient for cocaine and crack. Brazil is the second biggest market for the drugs after the US. Guard posts in the area in the area of the new contact were closed after being ransacked by suspect drug traffickers in 2011.
“Before uncontacted Indians were killed by loggers. Now they are killed by drug traffickers,” said anthropologist Beatriz Huertas. “Civil society organisations have repeatedly called on the authorities to establish mechanisms to protect their areas to prevent outsiders from entering, but most of the authorities are not interested in protecting the tribes. On the contrary, their existence is a problem for investment and the exploitation of existing resources in their areas.”
In 2012, the Guardian revealed that an environmental consultancy working for oil company Perenco withheld evidence of an ‘uncontacted tribe’ in an oil block which it was seeking permission to explore.
The existence of isolated populations have been a controversial topic in Peru. Government officials such as the former of head of the state oil company, PeruPetro, Daniel Saba, even denied the existence of isolated tribes as recently as 2007.
Source | TheGuardian