Eye on the Amazon

"Uncontacted Tribes" Could Be Wiped Out by Drug Traffickers and Oil Companies

Photo credit: www.uncontactedtribes.org/brazilphotos

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Brazilian officials fear for the survival of an isolated Amazon group after a remote guard post on the Peru-Brazil border was overrun by heavily armed suspected drug traffickers who crossed the border from Peru. The guard post was protecting the headwaters of the Envira river where stunning aerial photographs of an isolated tribe has made worldwide headlines in 2008.

The Peruvian government has been repeatedly criticized for failing to protect isolated indigenous peoples. As recently as June of this year the Peruvian Ombudsman office wrote a scathing letter to Peru's Ministry of Culture criticizing them for allowing isolated peoples reserves to become overrun by loggers and oil drilling.

Carlos Travassos, the head of the Brazilian government's isolated Indians department (FUNAI), said, "We think the Peruvians made the Indians flee. Now we have good proof. We are more worried than ever. This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades. It's a catastrophe."

In Peru, less than 150 miles to the south, oil company Pluspetrol in consortium with Spanish Repsol and US company Hunt Oil is pushing ahead with expansion of oil drilling and exploration inside an isolated peoples reserve in Block 88 in an area known to be inhabited by indigenous people with little or no contact with the outside world and extreme vulnerability to introduced diseases. This expansion has been supported and facilitated by the Peruvian government agency responsible for protecting isolated peoples, INDEPA.

In the north of Peru, Peru's Energy Ministry recently gave the green light to Anglo-French company Perenco to build a pipeline to Oil Block 67 in a proposed isolated peoples reserve and perhaps the most biodiverse area in South America. Despite ample evidence and reports documenting the presence of isolated peoples, the Peruvian government has continued to push ahead with oil development in Block 67 and surrounding Block 39, operated by Repsol-YPF, in what amounts to a cover-up of the evidence of isolated peoples.

The Peruvian government has repeatedly failed to protect the lives rights of some of the world's most vulnerable people. In the 1980s over half the Nahua people were wiped out by introduced diseases following contact with loggers after Shell explored the area for oil. Today territories and reserves for isolated peoples are more under threat than ever before as oil exploration expands unchecked into some of the most remote areas of the Amazon and the Peruvian government continues to fail to protect isolated peoples' territories from loggers and drug traffickers.

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