I had written two skeptical articles on the issue of “isolated tribes” in the Amazon region.

In the first article, I pointed out that the idea that these people can and should remain isolated (by keeping out the governments and do gooders and developers) is wrongheaded, because that won’t stop the bad guys from moving in (e.g. the illegal loggers, the drug growers).

In the second article, I linked to an article that said this “isolated tribe” had disappeared, and that there was some evidence that they had moved or been killed due to criminal attacks, probably from drug related criminals.

I should note the original article is about a tribe in Peru, but there are no real borders in the area, so tribes move freely into Brazil and other nearby areas.

Amazon rain forest map from Wikipediaamazonia

The problem, of course, is that the lack of border control also allows criminals to move back and forth between these South American countries.

So now I have a follow up link. It seems that the drug runners have moved into the area with a vengence, and so the Brazilian government has decided to go in and impose some law and order into the region.

From StrategyPage:

Operation Agatha, …involves 3,000 troops and 35 aircraft sweeping the border area for other signs of illegal activity (including illegal mining and logging, as well as other forms of smuggling.) Amazonas State is very much the “wild west”. In an area of 1.5 million square kilometers (606,000 square miles) there are only 3.5 million people. Much of the area is thinly populated jungle and grassland.

Most of the people in Amazonas are Indians, the descendants of tribes that have lived in the area for thousands of years. The drug gangs, and other criminals moving in are not welcome, but the bad guys are heavily armed and used to having their way.

So the idea that we will keep these tribes from those evil do gooders who will bring changes to their “traditional” lifestyle  is shown to be flawed: because the dirty little secret is that if you don’t have a proper authority, you end up with a lack of law and order that allows criminals to take over.

We know this, because we face a similar problem in the Philippines.

From the Philippines News:

George Farnus, a forester and community development worker bared to this writer in a visit to Sadanga that in Botbot, Tinglayan, and Kalinga, many households have expensive appliances, even though those areas have no electricity. They instead use expensive batteries and generators to power those appliances. How can they afford it? Marijuana...
“We plant marijuana to send our children to school. Can the government suggest a better alternative? It warns of arresting us but it cannot provide us work, food or education for our children,” the planters bluntly reply when asked why they plant the locoweed.

A similar story was told to me by my oldest adopted son from Colombia: his family worked for rich folks, but some of his relatives admitted growing cocaine in order to raise their standard of living.

This report on Northern Luzon points out the complex and interrelated problems of what many indigenous peoples face. The “don’t interfere with these people” idea leads to chaos, and chaos brings a not so benign mix of illegal mining, illegal loggers, drug growers etc. which will destroy the ecosystem (and the tribal way of life).completely.

Too many rich westerners see destitute folks as animals in their ecotourism zoo, not bothering to wonder if perhaps some of these wonderful primitive folks might not prefer to chose themselves if they want the benefits of the modern world (e.g. iron pots, modern medicine, and cellphones).

A better way to invest your charity dollar is to support organizations who work for “sustainable development” and try to tread the fine line between destructive change and a not-so-benign neglect.

At least  “Eco tourism”  allows locals some chance to earn money locally so they can continue to live in their traditional areas.


Nancy  Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

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