Brazil: Fundamentalist missionary accused of 'enslaving' isolated Indians

May 6, 2015

One quarter of the Zo’é were wiped out by disease after being contacted by missionaries in the 1980s. © Fiona Watson/Survival

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A missionary with links to the controversial US-based New Tribes Mission (NTM) has been accused of keeping nearly 100 Amazon Indians in shocking conditions “analogous to slavery.”

Between 2010 and 2012, 96 Zo’é Indians were reportedly forced to work in the lucrative Brazil nut trade, collecting nuts in the forest in return for old clothes, pans, and other industrial goods. Public prosecutors brought the case, which is now being considered by a local court.

The prosecutors’ report states that the “Indians were camped in shelters made of tarpaulins and straw… food was lacking and they were visibly thin, and some of them were ill.”

The missionary, Luiz Carlos Ferreira, and the Brazil nut trader, Manoel Ferreira de Oliveira, were both allegedly members of the NTM, who illegally contacted the then-uncontacted Zo’é in 1987.

One quarter of the Zo’é were subsequently wiped out by disease. The Brazilian authorities expelled the NTM missionaries in 1991, and Brazil’s Supreme Court banned them from returning.

But Luiz Carlos Ferreira established a base on Manoel Ferreira de Oliveira’s land, near the Zo’é’s territory, apparently to lure them off their land in order to evangelize them.

Although contacted over 30 years ago, the Zo’é – who today number around 260 – are still highly vulnerable to diseases transmitted by outsiders.

Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable societies on the planet. Whole populations can be wiped out by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.