Illegal logging settlement inside the Murunahua Reserve for uncontacted tribes, south-east Peru.

Peruvian Officials Deny Claims About Threats to Murunahua Reserve

David Dudenhoefer

Peruvian officials this week denied claims by the British organization Survival International that the government plans to abolish the Murunahua Territorial Reserve, created in 1997 to protect almost 1.2 million acres (482,000 hectares) of Amazon wilderness that is home to uncontacted groups of Murunahua and other Native peoples.

In a June 1 press release, Survival International claims that the Peruvian government plans to abolish the Murunahua Reserve, which abuts the Peru-Brazil border near a community of uncontacted Indians in Brazil that was filmed from the air by the BBC for a documentary released earlier this year. The Amazon lowlands of eastern Peru are home to an estimated 14 tribes with some, or all of their people living in voluntary isolation, who are commonly called “uncontacted” or “isolated” peoples. They face growing threats from loggers, miners and the oil industry.

“We have in no way even considered abolishing the Murunahua Reserve,” said José Carlos Vilcapoma, Peru’s Vice-Minister for Interculturality, who oversees the country’s Indian affairs department, INDEPA. “(The press release) is absolutely false.”

Murunahua Man in Peru

The Survival International press release lacks reference to specific statements by Peruvian officials. Rebecca Spooner, who runs the group’s Latin America campaign, explained that it is based on information from Peruvian organizations that work with Peru’s Amazonian Natives. Anonymous sources claim that INDEPA officials have cast doubt on the existence of uncontacted groups within the Murunahua Reserve during meetings, and have suggested that its legal status should therefore be modified.

Vilcapoma said that Survival International lacks credibility because it has failed to provide his office with proof to back up past claims of threats to uncontacted peoples in Peru. He explained the INDEPA is working with other government agencies and non-government organizations to improve protection of Murunahau and the other four territorial reserves that Peru has created to protect uncontacted Natives in the country’s Amazon region. But he admitted that INDEPA has no personnel in the Murunahua Reserve, due to budgetary constraints, and instead relies on the Environment Ministry to protect it.

Chris Fagan, executive director of the Upper Amazon Conservancy, has flown over the Murunahua Reserve repeatedly in recent years and produced reports documenting the presence of illegal logging camps inside it, which he has delivered to INDEPA. He said his organization has offered to fly INDEPA officials into the area to see those camps and cover the cost of working with the Peruvian Navy and police to evict them, but they always decline the offer.

“INDEPA is just not interested in dealing with this. They’ve stalled, and stalled,” said Fagan.

Vilcapoma said the Forestry Directorateis responsible for regulating logging and has a control post downriver from the Murunahua Reserve. But Fagan said that he passed by that post in April, and there were no Forestry Directorate officials there. It was being used as a camp by loggers whose rafts loaded with logs were moored along the riverbank. Fagan said he also visited a logging camp on the border of the Murunahua reserve in April that had a network of roads, bulldozers and massive mahogany logs waiting to be floated to port, and was totally illegal.

In March, Survival International distributed information about a 2006 U.S. embassy cable released by Wikileaks stating that 70 percent -90 percent of Peru’s mahogany exports were illegal. Peru’s Environment Minister, Antonio Brack, responded by stating the government has significantly improved enforcement since 2006. But Fagan says his experience in the field contradicts that assertion. He said the unwillingness of government officials in Lima to stop the mahogany trade and weak protection of national parks and indigenous territories on the ground have created a dangerous situation for uncontacted peoples.

Illegal Logging Camp in Peru

According to the anthropologist Beatriz Huertas, who has worked in the region sporadically since 1993, the Murunahua Reserve has never been effectively policed and loggers have been illegally extracting mahogany from it since it was created. She has interviewed Natives who live near the reserve who have told her about the murders of Murunahua and other uncontacted Indians, including a massacre in 2003 that claimed somewhere between 10 and 30 lives.

“I spoke with a Chitonahua woman in 2008 who told me the names of loggers who had entered the reserve and killed people. She said that it is common for loggers to kill isolated people,” Huertas said. “I work in the field and I know what the situation is like. They can’t tell me that it isn’t true that the fundamental rights of isolated peoples are being violated.”

Huertas explained that this problem is not limited to Murunahua; it affects the country’s other territorial reserves and uncontacted tribes living in areas that lack protected status. Nongovernmental organizations have proposed the creation of five more territorial reserves in regions where they have detected Natives living in voluntary isolation, but INDEPA has failed to convene a meeting of the committee that needs to act on such proposals for years.

Because Peruvians will elect a new president this Sunday, the fate of those tribes will soon be in the hands of a new government. Vilcapoma noted that neither candidate has mentioned this issue in their campaign, which indicates that the issue is a low priority for voters. He explained that INDEPA is consequently planning a press conference and other activities to raise awareness about the Peru’s uncontacted peoples in the coming months.

“It is very easy to criticize from the outside, but it’s a lot harder to deal with this issue from inside the government,” he said.

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valeria's picture
Submitted by valeria on
...and now a neutral analysis: There are still dozens of "isolated" indigenous ethnicities in "Amazonia" - the region stretching over portions of 9 nations in South America. Those are generally "bands" of less then 200 individuals, ruled by a hereditary "Cazique" (Chieftain) and a "Paje" (Medicine man). Even indigenous bands that are in contact or in the process of integrating with the national society, have such rulers: Not elected tribal chairpersons as in USA/Canada. Imagine you are in an isolated band of 200 people - and the Chieftain and the Medicin-Man decide how you and your family must live, and you have no alternative or way out! Thus "isolation" with the life-style of pre-historic "traditions" is perhaps not what most indigenous people in the Americas really want. In fact, terrible traditions are still imposed by Chieftains and Medicine-Men in many of those "isolated" bands. A university-educated journalist, who is herself "Indian" from Brazil's Terena Tribe, together with other now educated "Indians" (anthropologists, lawyers) - has started a campaign among "Indians" to convince them to abandon the most terrible "tradition" of Amazon-Indians: Infanticide. And she has filmed a documentary to be circulated among Indian Tribes. This documentary was not produced for "Whites" - but an English-language subtitled version in available on the internet as well as youtube under: SANDRA TERENA BREAKING THE SILENCE. Another youtube video was made by a band which has comedically re-encated their end of isolation about 40 years ago - when the "spirit" came flying across their settlement and they shot arrows up to defend the settlment from the "spirit": The women re-enacts, how her scared mother, with her infant brother in arms, ran accidentally into the centerpost of the hut. Thus, today they laugh about the moment they emerged from isolation. See youtube video: PIRINOP MEU PRIMEIRO CONTATO. 90% of people in Peru, and 20% of Brazilians are racially "Indians" or have some indigenous ancestry - thus the situation is different from that in the USA where the indigenous race is a small minority. What do those who are integrated in Brazil want ? When the film producers of the next "Taina" film (comes in July) looked for a replacement of the first "Taina" who is now a grown women and professional actress, the casting call was answered by 2,700 Indian mothers in Brazil's Amazon. The final choice was 3 year old Viranu Tempe from a Tupi village, who only spoke Tupi. See the casting competition in one Amazon settlement, youtube video: SELECAO TAINA 3 . --- "Survival International" is one of hundreds of NGOs, financed and "directed" from the USA and Britain. - South Americans have the suspicion that those U.S. and British NGOs double as geopolitical agents to interfere with the independent economic development and national unity in their nations. The suspicion is that the subsidized agricultural and lumber exports of the U.S. and European Union - want to drive the competition of South American agricultural and lumber exports from international markets and that the "defense" of isolated tribes provides a rationale for U.S. and British NGOs to slander the national authorities of South American nations in order to discredit them internationally. Trees are harvested in South America - with offial permit - just like in the USA and Canada - from private, state and federal forests, and Indianer reservation (with agreement by the tribe). And trees grow again in South America just like in the USA and Canada. When illegal loggers are detected by satellite photos, overflight, or inspection at highway crossings - (in Brazil) - the camps get raided by Federal and State agents, the tractors and equipment are confiscated and the men arrested and fined high sums. When caught by inspectors at highway intersections - without a logging permit - the logs and trucks are confiscated and high fines are applied. Obviously, Amazonia is thinly populated, and covered to almost 90% by treetops, and virtually all transport and traffic is on river boats - therefore the authorities are spread extremely and enforcement is difficult.