Loggers vs. "Invisible" Tribes: Secret War in Amazon?

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"The relationship between the isolated brothers and the loggers doesn't come to the surface because there's a predisposition on behalf of the loggers that these encounters and possible battles should not be made public, so as to not alarm the government, because it would, regardless, have consequences and call for intervention by the authorities," Miranda said.

Indigenous rights groups and conservationists say recent encounters between loggers and the isolated peoples have resulted in bloody exchanges of shots between the groups. The isolated peoples have wounded loggers with arrows. Loggers claim to have killed dozens of isolated peoples with bullets.

Diego Shoobridge, director of the Peruvian division of ParksWatch, a conservation organization formed to preserve biodiversity within national parks and other protected areas, says there have been several cases where isolated peoples appeared on the river shores and encountered loggers who shot at them.

"One case was in the [Alto Purus Reserved Zone] in February 2001. I was around and interviewed the shooter who informally assured me he killed three natives," said Shoobridge. "The others took the bodies back. There were no corpses when the police went to the place for inspection. So [the] shooter, a Sharanahua indian, was not detained."

Schipper says that such stories are simply lies created by people who are trying to make a living off the uncontacted peoples.

"In the latest declarations by the [Native Federation of Madre de Dios River and Tributaries] in Lima, both on TV and print, they said that there were confrontations and deaths. The Ministry of the Interior went, verified, investigated, and found nothing," he said.

Government Reaction

In an effort to resolve these conflicts, the Peruvian government in August 2002 sent armed guards to Monte Salvado to evict illegal loggers from the territorial reserve and to keep the peace. The National Guard, vastly outnumbered, met resistance from the loggers.

"These men, they're practically putting up extensive resistance to leave, protesting that the exit route down the river is very slow," Lieutenant Enrique Gustave Zamora Bonilla, head of the National Guard in Monte Salvado told Ortiz and McConnell in August.

Shoobridge says the tension in Monte Salvado has increased in the months since Ortiz and McConnell were there. He believes that if the government does not change course and take control of the situation, the conflict will result in genocide of the peoples living in isolation.

"The reserve is formally established, nothing more. There is no formal control," he said. "The loggers are operating inside the reserve. Some time ago there were wounded loggers by arrows. As I tell you, the loggers want to get rid of the uncontacted. I am sure that in the short run there will be bloody encounters."

Note: National Geographic Today airs the third in a five-part series today on the plight of peoples living in isolation in the Peruvian Amazon. The series was produced by Doug McConnell and Enrique Ortiz of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

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