The Colonial Legacy:
Many centuries have passed since the first colonists arrived on the shores of the Americas. Sailing across the world to unburden themselves of the powers of the Old World, colonists explored lands, and set up the foundations for the creation of nations.
Such foundations came at a great cost to the natives of the Americas, with indigenous populations decimated through violence and disease. The latter taking the deadliest toll. Spanish, Portuguese and British sailors quickly covered the continent, and huge proportions of the indigenous natives either died out or assimilated into the new European cultures.
But there are still a few tribes left, untouched and unseen by the wider world. And one of the last remaining few was just made contact with in Peru. The Peruvian government has taken serious precautious in planning these contacts. These precautions have a reason.
Centuries ago, when colonists first settled on the continent, many European diseases spread among the natives. The natives were susceptible to the new illnesses, and many of them died. Therefore, it is now accepted that the high amount of native casualties was not totally related with genocide, but also with disease.
Environment, History, Disease and DNA
How did this tragedy happen? The answer lies in one word: DNA. DNA is located in the nucleus of every cell of our human body. DNA contains a sequence of bases, which is a sort of code or instruction manual that regulates the manufacture of certain proteins or enzymes indispensable for cellular function. Proteins are the main fuel of our cells, and they carry out multiple functions. One of them is immunity: the ability of our organism to combat disease. Consequently, human life would be impossible without the existence of those proteins.
Image Source: Csus
Apparently, the structure of our DNA has a lot to do with both the human experiences and the environment in which our ancestors lived. Both the “nurture and the nature” of our ancestors regulated the structure of their DNA in a way that protected them from bacteria and viruses that inhabited in their specific environment. In a way, biological research also came up with a basic “rule of thumb” similarly found in history: the past has a great and unavoidable influence in our present.
Colonialism Also Caused A Biological War
DNA is a magical thing. When our body comes in contact with a new pathogen (an infectious agent), it can instantly develop a new protein to combat it and kill it. But it can only do that with “weaker” versions of a pathogen. In other words, if the natives had ever been in contact with a feeble European virus before, their bodies would have been immune by the time Europeans arrived. None of the natives would have died of disease. History might have been different.
But this sort of “pre-Conquest” contact never happened.
Image Source: Whenintime
When Europeans arrived to the Americas, their powerful pathogens had also traveled with them. As soon as those pathogens spread, the natives came in contact with them. Unfortunately, the natives’ DNA was uncapable to produce proteins to combat them. Diseases such as the Spanish flu, measles, and smallpox became fatal. The native population declined tremendously.
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A Democracy With Loopholes
Image Source: National geographic
As fatal as this process was, it is all part of history. Although, it does not mean that it can not happen again.
The perplexing fact is that this phenomenon is still occurring today. According to Survival International, there are sixteen uncontacted tribes in the Amazonian region. These tribes are susceptible to any form of contact with outsiders. Not only from the immunological viewpoint, but also from the cultural.
When Latin American countries emancipated from foreign powers, their revolutions were carried by “creoles”, who were nationals of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent. An essential fact to grasp is that creoles utilized their cultural heritage for building Latin American nations: the Spanish language and several colonial institutions prevailed. Even though their revolutions were designed to include all national citizens, some groups were excluded: Latinos of African descent, Asian immigrants and indigenous communities.
The interesting point is this: In order to build a state, the creole culture was supposedly enforced on everyone. Those who refused this cultural indoctrination, were not liable to acquire citizenship and lived as outcasts of society. This insight gets to the main injustice on the creation of a state: some cultures were given the right of superiority over others. And it also gave state authority the right to foster a “silent” cultural genocide.
With the purpose of uniting different populations under one jurisdiction, some cultures were repressed. As the distinguished intellectual and critic Noam Chomsky said: “the building of nations is a violent process that separates people who are similar with each other, and brings together people who have nothing to do with each other.”
This state-building process unleashed a wave of cultural genocide and repression of Latin American indigenous communities. Nowadays, almost every Latin American country has indigenous communities who are struggling for their rights.
The Case Of Peru
Peru has a violent history. During colonial rule, indigenous communities were forced to work in the mines and agricultural lands owned by Spanish lords. This sort of exploitation and repression continued even after the Peruvian state was created in 1821.
It has continued throughout the decades with some scarce periods of peasant revolts. These uprisings were violently repressed by the Peruvian army. In 1960′, for example, Peruvian president Fernando Belaunde Terry, a revered icon of Peruvian democracy, ordered to wipe out some Amazonian tribes. The fact that Belaunde is still widely respected only proves how deeply misinformed and submissive Peruvians are about the violent repression happening in the Amazon and other andean towns. Ignorance, it seems, is the source of all injustice and atrocities.
Indigenous Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo: Image Source: Alejandrotoledo
The repressive policies ended in 2001, when Peruvian Indigenous president Alejandro Toledo came to power. Toledo empowered indigenous heritage and promised to grant basic rights to their communities. Five reserves in the Peruvian Amazon were assigned to Amazonian tribes, which were meant to protect these isolated tribes from foreigners.
Unfortunately, when Toledo’s government ended, in 2006, the government’s promise for indigenous protection was not kept.
Map of Amazonian Reserves in Peru-Image Source: Kimmac
Peru became a haven for foreign investors, and global demand for their natural resources increased. The Peruvian government then began close negotiations with multinational oil companies. More than 70% of the Amazonian land was leased to these multinationals. Was there a referendum among the natives who occupied these lands? The answer is no. As encouraging as the economy is looking now, since 2006, Peru has kept a long tradition of denying basic human rights for Amazonians.
Indigenous communities now receive scarce government protection from outsiders who disrupt their ecosystem, and destroy their forests and rivers. All their complaints have been rejected and their protests were not taken seriously.
Activists who defended indigenous rights suddenly were being disappeared while the government turned a blind eye. Instead, the government has chosen to imprison activists who claimed for justice. Since then, confrontations between the natives and the authorities have taken place repeatedly.
El Baguazo-Image Source: Cpalsocial
In 2009, a major political crisis erupted. The natives of the Bagua Amazonian region clashed with government forces, which sought to expel them from their lands to give way for oil exploration. The confrontation, known as the Baguazo, had a terrible outcome: 73 people dead(41 were natives) and more than 150 natives wounded.
The then Peruvian president Alan Garcia did not seem sympathetic about the lives lost. After hearing about the massacre of natives, the president said: “These people are not first class citizens.”
Amazonian Tribes, Human Rights And Disease
Image Source: Survivalinternational
Natives wish to be respected, and keep the right to maintain their culture and language. But due to past experiences, they now refuse to make contact with western culture.
Besides facing government repression, tribes also have to fight against disease. Due to the powerful influence of genetics, a simple shake of hands with an outsider could be fatal. The government claims that there are only a few (16) of these tribes in the area. But there could be a lot more than expected. The fact is that many tribes are nomadic and live a furtive existence.
The case of the Nahua tribe is a clear example of how deadly “civilization” can turn out to be for natives. In 1980, the Shell oil company started explorations in the Nahua’s Amazonian territory. When the natives had contact with the explorers, they suffered a severe epidemic of pneumonia. Nahua natives were dying everywhere, and left to rot in the woods. More than 50% of the natives died. Many similar cases have occurred.
There has been a lot of criticism against the Peruvian government. Now, the Peruvian ministry of culture claims that they are making “controlled” contacts with natives. But these efforts are feeble and inconsistent. In reality, this all seems a new masquerade of the Peruvian government, who plays the game of double standards and unkept promises.
The Amazonian reserves are now mainly occupied by illegal loggers and oil explorers. The activities of these individuals seriously jeopardize the existence of Amazonian communities. If those reserves were meant to protect the natives..Why is the government allowing these loggers and oil companies to threaten the remaining indigenous tribes?
We live in a world where courageous human rights activists are either imprisoned or murdered. What was their only crime?: to carry the voice of the people and demand justice. One should then stop asking questions and just gather the courage to see the plain truth.
Everyone claims to live in a democracy, but one can only see a prevalent fact: hypocrisy.