Isolated Amazon Tribe Being Pushed Out By Drug Traffickers

By McCarton Ackerman 07/16/14

Once completely isolated, Brazil's Jaminawa tribe faces threats of disease and displacement thanks to drug trafficking.

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One of the most isolated tribes in the world is now reaching out to nearby local communities, but it could be because drug traffickers are pushing them out of their homes.

The Jaminawa ethnic group, located deep in the Amazon, could be affected by Brazil’s border with Peru becoming a major route for coca leaf smuggling. The group normally shoots arrows at any intruders, but dozens of members have reportedly approached other settlements along the Envira river to ask for tools and machetes.

Peru has become the biggest producer of the coca leaf, which is the primary ingredient for cocaine and crack, while Brazil is home to the second biggest drug market in the world behind the U.S. “Before uncontacted Indians were killed by loggers. Now they are killed by drug traffickers...most of the authorities are not interested in protecting the tribes,” said anthropologist Beatriz Huertas. “On the contrary, their existence is a problem for investment and the exploitation of existing resources in their areas."

Governments in Brazil and Peru are even urging nearby settlements to not interact with the Jaminawa group, although this is largely due to health reasons. Because the Jaminawa have no immunities from their lack of interaction with others, common cold and flu viruses can be deadly for them. Madeleyne Machado of the Brazilian government's protection agency for indigenous groups said a team was able to provide medical treatment for seven of the Jaminawa people and eliminated them as a risk for spreading contagious diseases.

However, the advice to not interact with the tribespeople has largely gone ignored when they have arrived at settlements. Francisco Estremadoyro of Propurus, a Peruvian organisation that sets up protection areas for indigenous groups, confirmed that “most people try to talk to them and give them tools and things to help them, and clothes.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.