Photographers' Blog

Indians, or farmers-to-be?

Maraiwatsede, Mato Grosso, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

Sixty years ago Brazil’s Indians had their territory demarcated, when they lived in a rich forest from which they extracted their food. Their rivers were teeming with fish, and their jungles with wild animals.

Today, in the 21st Century, many Brazilian Indians live a completely different situation, trapped in corners of their land by settlers who are large and powerful farmers that invade native territory to plant soybeans, sugar cane, and pasture to raise cattle.

We recently visited the Indian village of Maraiwatsede in the central western state of Mato Grosso, a region dominated by cattle ranches and soy farms. Little remains of the native forest that belonged to the Xavante tribe. Much of this land is not officially registered so it was invaded by ranchers trying to expand their holdings. There is even a clandestine city with nearly 1,000 inhabitants built on Indian land.

Because it is a remote location, without much policing and almost no control over borders, power and law in this region is established by those who have more money and more land. The existing law is one of the wild, with force, violence and corruption prevailing.

In the 1960’s, when the the virgin forest was still vast, the Xavante Marwaiatsede tribe lived within their territory of 165,000 hectares but were later expelled by the military dictatorship which argued that it wanted to build a highway through it. The truth was that they wanted to hand the land over for farmers to exploit it.

Dreaming of diamonds

By Jorge Silva

We are just north of the Amazon Basin, riding a boat on the Ikabaru River. The passengers are people who buy gold and diamonds. They stop at each of the illegal mines that appear as craters on the river’s edge. They carry small weighing scales that seem very accurate, magnifying loupes, burners to melt the gold and separate the mercury, and some large spoons to collect it.

They are also carrying bags full of cash.

We are very close to the porous and at times imperceptible triple border between Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. The area is remote and hard to access. Getting here takes a day of navigating along the river, or flying in one of the small planes that land on makeshift dirt landing strips. There are no roads.

To get here days before, we flew on a small Cessna over the area where the immense savanna and its table-top mountains meet the jungle.

Rare Amazon encounter

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

When I show him a photo I’ve just taken of a fellow tribe member, he smiles. He’s fascinated and can’t believe it. When I point the lens at him and then show him his own image on the screen, his body retracts. He frowns, confused.

In the depths of the Amazon jungle, just 19 km (12 miles) from the Brazilian border, is the village of Irotatheri of the Yanomami tribe, that still groups around a fire. They live barefoot, semi-naked, and free. Until last week they had not seen any humans that didn’t look like they do. Never had they seen any outsider, let alone a bearded one.

We had flown five hours from Caracas with the Venezuelan Army to accompany them as they investigated the alleged massacre of 80 members of the tribe by Brazilian miners. We landed at a small shapono, or Yanomami village, consisting of a ring of houses in a jungle clearing. I immediately recognized that nothing would be the same for them ever again. There was going to be something irreversible about this meeting.

Riches above, wealth below

I’ve visited different parts of Ecuador’s Amazon jungle many times both as a photographer and as a tourist. I even covered a border war there and always found the jungle to be beautiful, in all situations. But nothing ever impressed me as much as a recent tour of the Yasuni National Park, home of the Waorani people and arguably one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth.

Apart from containing more species of trees than in all of North America, the Yasuni also contains some 20 percent of Ecuador’s oil reserves. For that reason it is also the focus of a novel initiative that the current government has launched to the world: In exchange for not drilling for crude in a 200,000-hectare area of Yasuni National Park, the government is asking wealthy nations, foundations and individuals to give it $3.6 billion. The proposal to the international community is to replace some of the income that Ecuador will not receive by keeping the petroleum underground, and prevent the contamination that comes from exploration,  production, and consumption.

They’ve given potential partners until 2024 to pay up, or watch the Yasuni’s oil being exploited. Last September, Chile became the first contributor with $100,000. There are other offers from France, Belgium, The Netherlands,  Spain, Italy and Norway.

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