Outside Pressures Threaten Isolated Amazon Cultures

By John Roach
for National Geographic News
March 11, 2003

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In April 2002, the government of Peru set aside more than 2 million acres (809,400 hectares) of remote jungle in the Amazon River Basin for the protection of indigenous people who live isolated from the outside world.

In theory, the reserve allows the Yora, Yine, and Amahuaca peoples to live as they have for thousands of years. They are believed to be migratory groups who survive by collecting seasonal resources, such as turtle eggs from exposed riverbanks in the dry season and Brazil nuts from trees in the forest in the rainy season.

"They are moving all of the time," said Enrique Ortiz, a program officer with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Ortiz and colleague Doug McConnell, communications director at the foundation's San Francisco, California, headquarters, produced a five-part series currently airing on National Geographic Today about the plight of these people living in isolation from the outside world.

While the government of Peru believes it has a responsibility to protect and promote the well being of these ancestral communities in the Peruvian Amazon, setting aside such a large swath of land for them has met resistance from other Peruvian people who make a livelihood from the country's natural resources

Eduardo Salhuana, the congressional representative for Madre de Dios region where the territorial reserve was established, said the problem is that the good intention to protect these peoples living in isolation is not in tune with the social and economic reality of the region.

"As much as we can try to enact laws, create a reserve, we run the risk of it not being respected because the local populations find a way to extract the resources from the forest," said Salhuana in an interview with Ortiz and McConnell.

Resource Pressures

Indigenous rights groups say that the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989, an agreement enacted by the United Nations (the number does not refer to a year, but rather a treatise number), gives indigenous peoples the right to control their own development and have their cultural and social values protected. Convention 169, as it is called, was entered into force by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1991 and ratified by Peru in 1994.

"In the case of isolated peoples, clearly they choose to remain in isolation and follow their own path of development," said Janet Lloyd, an anthropologist in Northumberland, England, who works with Amazon Watch, a California-based organization formed to protect indigenous peoples' rights.

Continued on Next Page >>


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