Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brazilian Officials Fear "Genocide" of Isolated Amazonian Tribe at Hands of Drug Traffickers

As noted in yesterday’s post, reports have surfaced that an uncontacted tribe known as the Panoan people in the Brazilian Amazon may have been eliminated by Peruvian drug traffickers. After the tribe was first discovered in 2008, Brazil’s National Indian Foundation  (Funai) established a five-man research post to study and protect the Panoans from potential interference from outsiders.
But after the post was recently assaulted by armed gunmen, the researchers fled.  According to Survival International, an indigenous rights advocacy group, when Brazilian authorities returned to the site of the tribe, they recovered a drug trafficker's rucksack with a broken Indian arrow in it, but no other signs of the Panoans.  From the AP:
A Funai statement said the outpost is located in an Ethno-Environmental Protected Area along the Envira River in the state of Acre, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Brazil-Peru border. Funai president Mario Meira was scheduled to arrive at the outpost on Tuesday accompanied by a Justice Ministry official and federal police agents, the statement said. 
According to the statement, the arrowhead belongs to the indigenous group that made international headlines in 2008 when tribesmen were photographed firing arrows at an overflying plane. 
"The arrow head is like an identity card of the isolated Indians," Carlos Travassos, of Funai's isolated Indians division, is quoted as saying in the statement. "We are more worried than ever. This situation could be one of the biggest blows to our work protecting isolated groups in the last decades. A catastrophe for our society. A genocide!"
The incident raises questions about the ethical implications of contacting isolated peoples.  While indigenous rights advocates claim that limiting contact is necessary in order to protect their right to self-determination, it is worth questioning whether the Brazilian government’s decision to keep its distance from the Panoans did more harm than good.  With illegal logging and drug trafficking becoming more common in the Brazilian Amazon, such instances could become increasingly common, and are a reminder of the disastrous effect that the drug trade can have on local communities, even in the hemisphere’s most isolated regions.

News Briefs

·         The Wall Street Journal says that Brazil's Bovespa Index fell by 7.5 percent in response to the U.S. debt crisis before recovering slightly, casting doubt on its performance in the coming months. Still, in an interview with the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said he was “very optimistic” about Brazil’s economic future, and the future of the region in general, citing efforts by Latin American nations to diversify their economies beyond the commodities market.

·         The new Brazilian Minister of Defense, Celso Amorim, is in favor of withdrawing peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), O Globo reports.

·         The New York Times reports that U.S. immigration officials are increasingly checking the documentation status of those seeking entry into Mexico.  Rather than cracking down on undocumented immigration, however, some say that the measures make it harder for immigrants to leave.

·         Mexico analyst Patrick Corcoran has written an insightful piece over at on how the country’s next administration should reevaluate the country’s security crisis. Because the current strategy has no set definition of what constitutes “victory” in the drug war, he argues that “Mexico’s next president should fill this semantic vacuum by articulating a rough sketch of what the end result of his security policies will be.” Meanwhile, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute has new updates regarding the 2012 election process, specifically regarding the PAN and PRD parties.

·         It seems that Mexico now has something of a Unabomber-type terrorist cell on its hands. Excelsior reports that an anti-technology group known as "Individuals Tending to Savagery" has claimed responsibility for detonating a package bomb at a university in Mexico City on Monday. According to a statement on the group’s website, the professors injured in the attack were targeted for furthering the "destruction, manipulation and domestication of the Earth." AP reports that another suspicious (and presumably expolosive) package was found at Mexico's National Polytechnical Institute on Tuesday, though it didn't detonate.

·         Former New Mexico Governor and Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson wrote an interesting op-ed in the Washington Times last Fruday, arguing that border violence is a “prohibition problem” and calling on the U.S. to legalize marijuana in order to cut down on drug-related homicides in Mexico.

·         Christian Science Monitor correspondent Nacha Cattan takes a look at recent reports on foreign direct investment (FDI) in Mexico, noting that the violence does not seem to be having an effect.   According to a report by Mexico’s Economic Secretary released late last month, the seven states where the most drug-related murders take place now receive even greater shares of  the country’s FDI than before the wave of violence began.

·         James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz argues that the rejection of Torres’ candidacy is a sign that "the Guatemalan election and judicial institutions held their ground on this issue." However, it is hard to see this as much more than forced optimism, considering that the country’s courts are the same ones that acquitted former President Alfonso Portillo of corruption charges, despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

·         Plaza Publica highlights accusations that the world’s third largest banana company, Del Monte, has hired one of the most powerful drug trafficking families in the country to intimidate labor activists in Guatemala.  Since 2008, at least four union leaders have been murdered in the country.  A dispute settlement panel in Washington is scheduled this Thursday to hear complaints from workers that Guatemala has failed to protect labor rights as required under a free-trade agreement with the U.S.

·         InSight Crime’s Jerry McDermott offers some quality analysis of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ new security strategy. As he notes, the president’s new approach only barely touches on impunity in the country, which McDermott labels the “Achilles heel” of the security plan.

·         La Republica reports that Carlos Herrera Descalzi, the Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mining announced yesterday he would be meeting with Minister of Finance, Luis Miguel Castilla this week in order to review progress on the mining windfall tax. The proposed tax was a hallmark of President Humala’s campaign, and is expected to be a major source of funding for his poverty reduction campaign. Representatives from the finance ministry will be meeting with mining companies on Friday to share their views and proposals on the subject.

·         Chile’s El Ciudadano reports on the latest wave of student protests in the country, claiming that nearly 500,000 demonstrators took to the streets yesterday to mobilize in support of greater access to education. Student leaders continued their demands for a national referendum on their demands, which the government has dismissed.

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