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FW: Venezuela Bars Researchers After Book Charges Ethnocide/India ns' measles blamed on pair

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Don [mailto:dbain@TELUS.NET] Sent: Sunday, January 07, 2001 4:21 PM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Venezuela Bars Researchers After
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2001
      FW: Venezuela Bars Researchers After Book Charges Ethnocide/Indians' measles blamed on pair

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Don [mailto:dbain@...]
      Sent: Sunday, January 07, 2001 4:21 PM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: Venezuela Bars Researchers After Book Charges
      Ethnocide/Indians' measles blamed on pair

      From NatNews@egroups.com

      from Maureen..thanks!

      January 7, 2001 (SF Chronicle)
      Venezuela Bars Researchers After Book Charges Ethnocide/Indians' measles
      blamed on pair
      Phil Gunson

          Caracas, Venezuela -- Headline-grabbing allegations of ethnocide
      leveled at two U.S. researchers have led to a ban on all new scientific
      studies in indigenous regions of Venezuela.

          The development is the latest fallout from Patrick Tierney's
      "Darkness in El Dorado," a book in which he alleges that the late
      geneticist James Neel and controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon
      caused a lethal measles epidemic in the 1960s among the Yanomami
      Indians, an Amazonian tribe that is one of the world's most isolated

          The epidemic, Tierney says, led to "hundreds, if not thousands" of
      deaths, a charge that has caused a rift among anthropologists.

          The allegations have rocked the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific
      Research, or IVIC, a research institute funded by the government.

          Not only did IVIC collaborate for many years with Chagnon's
      controversial studies of the Yanomami, but one of the institute's most
      revered founders -- Dr. Marcel Roche -- was involved in the original
      1968 expedition into the tribe's lands.

          Scientists in a variety of disciplines -- though not, it appears,
      those belonging to IVIC -- are now facing a serious threat to their
      research projects.

          In November, Gabriela Croes, director of indigenous affairs for the
      Venezuelan government, announced a moratorium on all research in
      indigenous areas. IVIC and other scientific bodies were not consulted,
      nor even officially informed.

          At its recent convention in San Francisco, the American
      Anthropological Association set up a commission to determine whether
      Tierney's allegations have merit. In Venezuela, a vice presidential
      panel of inquiry was named last month.

          The developments have angered IVIC's director, immunologist Egidio
      Romano, who says the panel of inquiry lacks the resources to carry out a
      proper investigation.

          "I had to buy the members' copies of the Tierney book," he said.
      "And hardly any of them speak any English. I don't know how they're
      going to investigate the allegations."

          Romano also denounces Tierney as a "fraud, a person who alters the
      information he is given, considers only the context that interests him
      and exaggerates his conclusions."

          He adds that the research moratorium is "the equivalent of saying,
      'You're guilty, and now we're going to investigate exactly how you are
      guilty.' "

          Chagnon's methods and conclusions have been questioned by foes both
      from within his field -- "cultural anthropologists from the academic
      left," as he likes to describe them -- and from without. Chagnon
      recently retired from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

          A little-known aspect to the controversy surrounding him has been
      his decade-long open dispute with the Salesian missionaries, one of the
      most powerful institutions in Venezuela's Amazonas state.

          The government has traditionally relied upon the Salesians for
      education, health and other services in Indian territory.

          Chagnon argues that the death rate of Yanomami in the vicinity of
      Salesian mission stations is four times the normal rate, and that the
      Salesians are guilty of hundreds of Yanomami deaths because they
      distribute shotguns to the Indians -- a charge the church rejects.

          Chagnon's close Venezuelan collaborator, explorer and naturalist
      Charles Brewer-Carias said, "(For the Salesians) the most important
      thing has been to convert the Indians, regardless of the consequences.
      That guaranteed the continuing financial support of the state."

          Brewer-Carias considers the Tierney book a component of a defamation
      campaign waged by the Salesians, whose power in Amazonas, he argues, is
      threatened by Chagnon's writings.

          The Salesian bishop of Amazonas, Mons. Jose A. Divasson, denies
      proselytizing and says the Salesians' mission has been "to accompany the
      Indians. . . . We are very respectful of their culture."

          He in turn accuses Chagnon and Brewer-Carias of exploiting the
      Yanomami for their own purposes, extracting huge amounts of blood and
      other samples in exchange for "trade goods" such as machetes that have
      sparked conflict within the communities, and of acting as a front for
      "powerful interests" such as tourism and mining.

          Divasson also says Chagnon is a hypocrite: "In an interview in 1989
      or 1990, he said the best way of working with indigenous peoples was the
      Salesians' way."

          In a telephone interview, Chagnon acknowledged that this was true.
      "I had reservations about their work, but this was not the time to air
      them," he said.

          "I made that statement in the context of developing a collaboration
      (with the missionaries)."

          Nohely Pocaterra, chair of the parliamentary commission on
      indigenous peoples, says she understands the scientists' concern over
      the moratorium, but says it is "necessary to call a halt" to research
      activities "because we urgently need an inventory of what is being

          Under Venezuela's new constitution, she points out, the Indians have
      a right to be informed and consulted, and she asks what is perhaps the
      key question:

          "How is it that, despite the presence of so many scientists in
      indigenous communities, the Indians are sinking deeper and deeper into
      extreme poverty, and diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are more and
      more common?"

          Even before the current controversy surfaced, scientists already
      faced a ban on research into indigenous use of herbal medicines. Human
      rights activists say multinational drug corporations are making vast
      sums by exploiting the Indians' intellectual property, while giving
      nothing in return.

          The new ban covers all new projects involving foreign or private
      research institutions. The effect on IVIC, a government body, is limited
      to projects involving collaboration with foreign scientists.

          "We assume (the scientists) have good intentions," Pocaterra said.
      "But then that's what we thought about Chagnon."

          The Yanomami, meanwhile, are pressing a fresh grievance against
      President Hugo Chavez's government. Thirty-two tribal leaders recently
      signed a letter claiming that the government is in breach of its
      obligations under a 1999 agreement with the Inter-American Commission on
      Human Rights to ensure adequate health care for the indigenous.

          The Yanomami say 10 children and two adults have died since October
      from respiratory diseases as a result of official negligence, which is
      alleged to include the dispatch of vaccines whose expiration date had
      Copyright 2001 SF Chronicle

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