Rights group says 5 Amazon tribes at extreme risk

By Andrew Whalen
Lima, Peru (AP) 6-09

Five Amazon tribes are closer to extinction than any of the scores of other indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation worldwide, an Indian rights group said during late May.

While loggers, ranchers and oil companies have encroached on their lands in the jungles of Peru, Brazil and Paraguay, those countries’ governments have failed to protect them, allowing outsiders to destroy their forests and expose them to unfamiliar diseases, London-based Survival International said in a report.

Many tribe members are now fleeing illegal loggers in Peru for Brazil’s vaster jungles, said Jose Carlos Meirelles, a Brazilian government researcher in the Brazilian Amazon.

Brazil’s government last year released photos of a dozen isolated Indians firing arrows at an airplane outside grass-thatched huts near Brazil’s Peruvian border.

But top Peruvian officials have said there is no proof of any such tribes’ existence, with President Alan Garcia suggesting in a 2007 newspaper column that they may have been invented by environmentalists opposed to Amazon oil drilling.

Mayta Alatrista, head of Peru’s Indian Affairs office, acknowledged the tribes’ presence, but said a government investigation found no evidence of forced migrations.

Peru has opened 75 percent of its Amazon territory for oil exploration, including on lands legally titled to Indians. Paris-based oil company Perenco SA plans to invest $1 billion by 2012 to drill in the remote jungle near Peru’s border with Ecuador, a region inhabited by isolated tribes.

Thousands of Amazon Indians in Peru have blocked an oil pipeline and stalled transport across six jungle provinces for more than a month to protest oil activity and to demand the repeal of laws they say open their lands to further development.

Survival International says there are more than 100 indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation worldwide, but the five Amazon tribes, totaling several hundred people, are most at risk due to the pace of encroaching development.