Cocaine Traffickers May Have Massacred Lost Brazilian Tribe

By Kenneth Garger 08/10/11

One of the last uncontacted tribes in the Amazon basin seems to have fallen victim to violent Peruvian smugglers.

Another world: The lost tribe Photo via

Drug traffickers in Brazil are suspected of massacring or scattering the Panoan Indians who make up one of the last known uncontacted tribes left on the planet. The mysterious rainforest tribe of around 200 made headlines in February when the first known images of them—photographed from the air back in 2008—were released for the world to see. The five-man guard post set up by the government to protect the tribe was attacked by "heavily-armed men," according to a report from Survival, a human rights organization that campaigns for indigenous peoples. It's believed that the assailants were mainly Peruvian and were trying to establish a cocaine smuggling route into Brazil, or to scope out the area for potential coca cultivation. The former head of the post, Jose Carlos Meirelles, returned by helicopter and reported seeing men "armed with sub-machine guns and rifles are in the forest surrounding the base.” The tribe's location was about 15 miles from the Peruvian border and over 100 miles from the nearest Brazilian settlement. Government officials failed to locate any remaining tribe members in a subsequent search of the area. But police did find a backpack belonging to one suspect, a Portuguese national, with a broken arrow inside. “Arrows are like the identity card of uncontacted Indians," said Carlos Travassos, head of the Brazilian government's Indian Affairs Department. "We think the Peruvians made the Indians flee. Now we have good proof.” Cops also found a 44-pound package of cocaine in the area, along with the captured man, whom they previously deported back in March for past drug trafficking charges. The Panoan Indians had had no previous contact with the "civilized" world—it's feared that their first meeting might have been their last.

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Ken Garger is a reporter for the New York Post. You can follow him on Twitter.