‘Massacre’ evidence on Peru’s Amazon borderlands

Rare video footage of the "first contact" with an isolated indigenous band near the Brazil-Peru border has emerged—along with new accounts of horrific violence against the group, prompting experts to warn of a threat of "extermination" and "genocide." The video clip, released by FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs department, and first published by Amazonia Blog, and shows several young and healthy members of the indigenous group exchanging goods such as bananas. But disturbing reports by the band mambers suggest that many of their elder relatives were massacred and their houses set on fire. Interpreter Zé Correia reported, "The majority of old people were massacred by non-Indians in Peru, who shot at them with firearms and set fire to the houses of the uncontacted. 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 previously isolated band, thought to have fled violence from illegal loggers or drug traffickers in Peru, made contact with a settled Ashaninka community and agents of FUNAI in late June. The band members were treated for an acute respiratory infection, to which they have no resistance, and kept in "quarantine" for several days before returning to the forest.

José Carlos Meirelles, who has monitored  isolated indigenous peoples in this region for FUNAI for decades, warned that urgent action is necessary to protect the displaced bands. "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," he said. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this week issued a statement that called for the urgent protection of the lands of isolated indigenous bands.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said: "It's vital that Brazil and Peru immediately release funds for the full protection of uncontacted Indians' lives and lands. Their economic growth is coming at the price of the lives of their indigenous citizens—now, 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." (Survival International, July 31)