Ethnic cleansing on Peru’s jungle border

Highly vulnerable "uncontacted" indigenous bands who recently emerged in the Brazil-Peru border region have said that they were fleeing violent attacks in Peru. FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has announced that the uncontacted bands have returned once more to their forest home. Seven members of the band made peaceful contact with a settled indigenous Ashaninka community near the Ríó Envira in Brazil's Acre state three weeks ago. A government health team was dispatched and has treated seven band members for flu. FUNAI has announced it will reopen a monitoring post on the Rió Envira which it closed in 2011 after it was overrun by drug traffickers. Survival International called the emerging news "extremely worrying," noting that isolated indigenous groups lack immunity to the flu, which has wiped out entire tribes in the past. Brazilian experts believe that the isolated bands, who belong to the Panoan linguistic group, crossed over the border from Peru into Brazil due to pressures from illegal loggers and drug traffickers on their land.

Survival also protested plans to expand the Camisea gas project, located in the Nahua-Nanti reserve for isoalted indigenous groups, and Canadian-Colombian oil giant Pacific Rubiales' current exploration on lands inhabited by the Matsés tribe and their "uncontacted" neighbors. Both projects will bring hundreds of oil and gas workers into the lands of isolated groups, introducing the risk of deadly diseases and violent encounters, Survival asserted. Survival has launched an urgent petition to the Brazilian and Peruvian governments demadning that they protect the lands of "uncontacted" indigenous groups, and called on the authorities to honor their commitments of cross-border cooperation.

Survival's director Stephen Corry said: "This news could hardly be more worrying —not only have these people confirmed they suffered violent attacks from outsiders in Peru, but they have apparently already caught flu. The nightmare scenario is that they return to their former villages carrying flu with them. It's a real test of Brazil's ability to protect these vulnerable groups. Unless a proper and sustained medical program is immediately put in place, the result could be a humanitarian catastrophe." (Survival International, July 21)

Peru's leaders are meanwhile plugging the Camisea expansion as an economic boon. Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla said construction of a $7 billion pipeline in the country's south will allow Peru to export to neighboring countries, including Chile. "The gas pipeline will eventually sell energy to other countries," Castilla said in comments reported by daily Peru.21.

Peru's government last month awarded a contract to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and Spain's Enagas to build the pipeline, called the Gasoducto Sur Peruano or Southern Peruvian Gas Pipeline. The 1,000-kilometer line will transport gas from the Camisea fields to Mollendo (Arequipa region) on Peru's southern Pacific Coast. Along the way, it is designed to pass through Andean towns and villages in Cuzco and Moquegua regions, where it is to provide cheaper energy to residents and local businesses. (Peruvian Times, July 8)