The March 2013 issue of Smithsonian magazine offers the first account of a flight that confirmed the presence of an isolated indigenous tribe in a remote part of the Colombian Amazon. In 2011 Colombian anthropologist Roberto Franco and photographer Cristóbal von Rothkirch went in search of an "uncontacted" tribe rumored to live in a tract of rainforest between the Caquetá and Putumayo rivers. During a flyover they spotted a maloca—communal hut—in a region with no other human habitation, confirming the existence of the group. A subsequent flyover found four more indigenous structures. The thatch longhouses are thought to be belong to two indigenous groups, the Yuri and the Passé. The groups, which apparently fled to the area to escape the abuses of the early 20th century rubber trade, are believed to be the last isolated tribes in Colombia's Amazon.
Some 500 members of the Munduruku indingenous group held a grand assembly Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 at the villahe of Jacareacanga, Pará state, in the Brazilian Amazon, where they denounced the Bacia Tapajós development project slated for their territory. The scheme calls for a complex of five hydroelectric dams on the Rio Tapajós, with the first slated for Teles Pires. Read the statement from the meeting: "We are not against the development of the country, but we will not accept having our lives destroyed in the name of a type of progress that will only benefit the great entrepreneurs who will be increasingly rich."
A judge in Guyana's high court ruled Jan. 17 that indigenous groups do not have the right to expel "legal" miners from their lands. The judge, Diana Insanally, found that if the miners in question held a government-approved license then the local community had no right to dispute the operations. The ruling has sparked protests by indigenous groups and is expected to be appealed. "We are deeply disappointed and worried with this ruling and what it means to our village and to Amerindian communities in general," read a press release from the indigenous community Isseneru. "[I]t has serious environmental and social impacts for us. The miners have, for example, brought with them problems related to drugs and prostitution."
In an incident that remains unclear Jan. 10, a commando of the Peruvian army's 6th Jungle Brigade at El Milagro base in Amazonas region fired on local civilian residents who had been employed by the base to build a vigilance post, leaving two injured. The two were evacuated by helicopter to the nearest town—Bagua, the site of the "Amazon's Tiananmen Square Massacre," when troops fired on indigenous protesters in June 1989. (La Republica, RPP, Jan. 10) The massacre, known in Peru as the "Baguazo," remains the subject of an investigation by Peruvian judicial authorities. The Bagua office of the Fiscalía, Peru's attorney general, announced Jan. 24 that it will seek life imprisonment for indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who is accused of firing a rifle blast at police during the incident. Also facing a life term is Joel Shimpukat, brother-in-law of congress member Eduardo Nayap. A total of 53 indigenous activists face charges in the "Baguazo." (Perú.com, AIDESEP, Jan. 24)
In a ceremony at Los Tajibos hotel and convention center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's President Evo Morales on Jan. 11 promulgated Law 337 on Support of Food Production and Forest Restitution, part of his plan to boost food production under the Patriotic Agenda 2025 program, building towards the bicentennial of the country's independence. The law establishes a "special regime" forgiving owners of predios (private collective land-holdings) who engaged in illegal deforestation between July 1996 and the end of 2011. The measure applies only to private lands cleared without permission of the National Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Innovation (INIAF), and not to lands illegally cleared in forest reserves or other protected areas. Normally, landowners who clear their lands without authorization face a fine and are obliged to reforest the areas, a penalty known as "reversal." The decree chiefly concerns the eastern lowland region of the country in the Amazon Basin, known as Oriente.
Peru's Amazonian organizations AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU last week announced plans to sue both the government and oil companies over proposals to expand the huge Camisea gas project into land inhabited by "uncontacted" or isolated tribes. A consortium of companies in charge of the bloc—including Hunt Oil of Texas, Spain's Repsol and Argentina's Pluspetrol—plans to cut hundreds of testing tracks through the forest, detonate thousands of explosive charges, and drill exploratory wells. Some 75% of Block 88 lies inside the Nahua-Nanti Territorial Reserve, created to protect uncontacted and isolated peoples who are extremely vulnerable to disease and development projects on their land.
Hundreds of indigenous people gathered outside the Marriott Hotel in Quito on Nov. 28 at the VII Annual Meeting of Oil and Energy, where the Ecuadoran government announced the opening of the XI Round oil auction, offering 13 blocks covering nearly eight million acres of rainforest in the Amazonian provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago near the border with Peru. Led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities (CONFENIAE) and representing seven indigenous nationalities, the group blocked the entrance to the hotel, to be met by military and private security forces as well as police who used pepper spray. Several indigenous leaders succeeded in entering the meeting and publicly confronted Minister of Non-Renewable Energy Wilson Pastor. "CONFENIAE was never consulted about this," said the organization's Franco Viteri. "Our position on oil extraction is clear: We are absolutely opposed."
A Munduruku indigenous man was killed in a gunfight with Brazilian federal police at the remote Amazonian settlement of Teles Pires, straddling the border of Mato Grosso and Pará states, authorities said Nov. 9. Six other Mundurukus and three officers were wounded, the federal police said. The police were part of a multi-state operation targeting illegal gold mining. Police said a group of Munduruku men armed with shotguns and bows and arrows attacked the officers as they were destroying mining equipment. Authorities charge Munduruku leaders were receiving monthly payoffs from illegal miners. (Otramérica, Nov. 25; Agência Estado, Nov. 21; EFE, Nov. 9)