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Colombia: Challenge to Protect Uncontacted Tribes

In order to protect isolated indigenous communities that still exist in Colombia, the Colombian government is adjusting the management plan of the National Natural Park of Rio Puré, a million hectares (2.47 million acres) of mostly pristine Amazon rainforest between the Caquetá and Putumayo River basins along the Brazilian border.

Aerial photographs taken recently by the NGO Amazon Conservation Team, in partnership with Natural National Parks of Colombia, confirmed the presence of a population that has no contact with the Western world. The community is known locally as the Caraballos and in the ethnographic literature, as Yuri.

Adelaida Cano, adviser on indigenous affairs at the Ministry of Interior, told Indian Country Today Media Network different government institutions and NGOs are working to formulate a policy for uncontacted communities.

"The Ministry of Health already has guidelines to take care of people with whom there is already an initial contact. There are protocols to block possible contagions, "she said.

At this time there is concern about the threat generated by the expansion of mining in the region. "If there is an isolated community we must not contact it because we are not colonizers, nor conquerors or anything like that," she added.

Historically, populations that have been contacted have suffered from the spread of diseases. A recent example is the community Nukak Maku, most of whom died of flu after entering into contact with Christian missionaries in the 1980s. From the 90s this population has also suffered from forced displacement. Today it is in danger of extinction.

A park that needs to be straightened

Puré River National Park was created in 2002 in the interfluve of the Putumayo and Caquetá rivers to create a conservation corridor from the river Amazon to the Caquetá and, mainly, to protect from contact the uncontacted tribe of Yuri.

However, in the book Cariba malo: episodios de resistencia de un pueblo indígena aislado del Amazonas, published this year, Roberto Franco from the Amazon Conservation Team indicates that the territorial control from the Colombian state must be strengthened, especially in the lower basin of the Putumayo river, as currently in this area there’s people in search of gold and wood and threatening the park's natural resources and the lives and freedom of the Yuri and other isolated groups that might exist there.

"Some Indians from the lower Caquetá River in Colombia, as the Mirañas, say that leaders of these isolated groups from the Rio Puré remain seated at night in their rituals chairs, thinking on how to prevent the entry of outsiders into their territory. For over a hundred years, their vital attitude has been to reject the contact,” according to the book.

The book also indicates that in South America, the sub continent with the highest amount of isolated groups in the world, there might be around a hundred communities in the jungles of the Amazon River basin.

"The main interest in developing this research is to ensure that the Colombian state recognizes the existence and rights of isolated indigenous groups, especially their right to self-determination, to avoid contact with national society," says the author.