Monday, November 30, 2020

Amazon Pueblo: Giving Tuesday 2020

This year has been marked by pain and loss.  But also with resiliency, generosity, and hope.  Please consider supporting our work on this Giving Tuesday.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us and followed our news updates over the past year.  You can make a difference in the lives of the students in the village of La Libertad, Leticia, Caballococha, and Tabatinga.


Below are the programs we are funding during 2021.  We have provided an option to use Facebook or Chuffed to place a donation.  Facebook charges no fees.

Student Scholarship Program Donations

Facebook Scholarship Link        Chuffed Scholarship Link

Health Care Center in La Libertad Donations

Facebook Health Center Link        Chuffed Health Center Link

Our work during 2020

Here are the links to our major blog posts for this year.  Please read them if you would like more information about our work.

Amazon Pueblo Winter/Spring update 2020: COVID-19, clones, scholarships, boats, and more!

Great news from the Amazon! Recovery in the jungle.

Amazon Pueblo: Should our work go on?

SOS in the Jungle: Save Our Students' teeth!

Fishing nets during Covid

Warning: Pirates Terrorizing the River Villages of the Colombian Amazon!

Covid food relief during the quarantine, June 2020

Mil gracias!

Ben Angulo 

Director, Amazon Pueblo

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Covid food relief during the quarantine, June 2020

Food for the Village 

After three months of strict quarantine in Leticia, we returned to the village with food relief.  The income of the villagers had been devastated by the Covid restrictions, which eliminated travel and tourism.  The thing that we found most shocking upon arrival was the weight loss experienced by the villagers, especially the children.

Thanks to the donations of the friends and supporters of Amazon Pueblo, we were able to deliver food when it was most needed.

The chief and two volunteers from La Libertad carried the food from the stores in the dock to the village's boat.

Thank you to Betty, the owner of the Piranita dock.  We keep our boat there when in Leticia.  She, and her staff, are always friendly and helpful.

After loading the food onto the boat we started the three-hour trip upriver.

We were greeted with a warm welcome when we arrived at the port of La Libertad.  The helpers quickly moved the food to the Maloka, a gigantic thatched hut used for village meetings.

We then organized the food into bags for each family.  The families received rice, pasta, sugar, chocolate, salt, flour, cooking oil, soap, and a chicken!

Over 80 heads of the family received the food distribution.

Everyone helps to give out the bags and to carry them home.

All of the families were very thankful for the food.  It really raised the morale and hopes of the village at a difficult time.  Thank you to all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Warning: Pirates Terrorizing the River Villages of the Colombian Amazon!

Pirates in the River

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would one day be starting a social media campaign to stop REAL pirates, I would not have believed it.  BUT HERE IT GOES...

When I arrived in the village seven months ago, there was talk of pirates in the river.  I didn't think much of it, as I knew that there were instances of people having things stolen by criminals in isolated parts of the Amazon.  As I had many other things to do, I didn't investigate further.

But the rumors I was hearing about the robberies were increasing.  Some of the villagers started to warn me to be careful, as I had weekly trips on the river.  Then, one month after the quarantine in Leticia was eased, the father of one of our students in the Amazon Pueblo scholarship program was robbed at gunpoint!  Days later in a second incident, one of our scholarship students and his brother were also robbed.

Going upriver in our boat.

At this point, we asked many questions to understand what was going on.  The remaining part of this post contains the information that we learned and the possible actions that we may take going forward.  We have not included the names of the people we spoke with in order to protect the identities of the people.

A bit of background

For the last two and a half years a criminal band has been living on Isla Corea (Korea Island), a large island close to Isla de Los Micos (Monkey Island).  This is about 3 miles downriver from the village where we work, La Libertad.  The band is composed of Peruvians (Isla Corea is located in Peruvian waters) and Brazilians.  Their island is about 25 miles upriver from the Brazilian border.  They have been periodically robbing people passing in small boats, the indigenous of the communities upriver from Isla Corea.  They are pirates.

The Colombian coast guard is very aware of the pirates.  The difficulty in stopping the criminals is because the coast guard is not allowed to enter and arrest anyone in waters outside of Colombia.  When the coast guard is patrolling, the pirates retreat to their island to go further upriver (a day's travel) to rob in another area.  That is why this problem has persisted for over two years.

One afternoon we passed a Coast Guard
patrol boat in front of Isla Corea.

Contact with the Colombian Coast Guard

After we learned a good amount of what was happening, we went to report it at the Coast Guard base in Leticia.  At times it is easier for a foreigner to talk with the police or other authorities.  The indigenous people do not always trust, or outright fear, the police or military.

The coast guard base of Leticia

At the base, we waited for about 30 minutes to speak with someone.  The person we spoke with was courteous and attentive.  He knew exactly what we were talking about.  He expressed his frustration with what was going on.  He said that they were working on a diplomatic process with the Peruvians to stop the pirates.  He asked us to send him our report using the cell phone application WhatsApp, which is common and one of the most reliable ways to communicate in the Amazon.  When I arrived in my apartment in Bogota I sent him the report.

Here is the modified version of the report:

Dear .......,

Thank you for speaking with me in Leticia.  At this moment I am in Bogota.  Here is the information I collected from the villagers of some of the affected communities:

On October 2nd six boats were robbed by the pirates.  I spoke with one person from Puerto Triunfo who was robbed that day at 10 am.  He said they had the following weapons: two mini-Uzis, one assault rifle, four pistols, a shotgun, and a machete.

Mini Uzi

It was reported to me that the criminal band consists of 4 Brazilians and 6 Peruvians from Puerto Alegre 2nd zone.  They include members of a specific family; four brothers.  They live in a group of 6 or 7 houses on the Island of Korea.  They have a 7-meter aluminum boat with a 40 hp motor.

Map of Isla Corea pirate base and surrounding communities

The pirate base of Isla Corea
They frequently leave to rob people from the top of the point of the Island of Korea.  When they are being pursued by the law they exit from the river at the bottom of the island.

They steal almost anything of value; motors, cell phones, watches, food, shoes.  They hit the people during the robberies.  On the island, they have a depository where they sell the boat motors and other goods.  For example, a stolen longtail 13hp motor (called a "peke peke" in the Amazon) may be bought for 100 to 150 dollars, 20% of its new value.

The everpresent peke-peke motor of the Colombian Amazon.

The people of the indigenous villages above the Island of Korea are afraid to pass the island or to fish in the area.  They tell me that the pirates have been operating in the area for the past two years, but the frequency of attacks has recently, and greatly, increased.

When the Colombian Coast Guard is patrolling the area, the villagers tell me that the pirates go upriver to steal from people further upriver in Tabocal on the Peruvian side of the border.

Peruvian flag

The villagers told me that the police of Santa Sofia are aware of the problem, but do not call for help when they see the pirates.

I was told that more than a year ago a group of people from Macedonia reported a robbery to the police in Leticia.  After they made the report, the pirates went to Macedonia and threatened the lives of anyone who reported them.  Since this time, the villagers are reluctant to make further reports, for fear of being killed.

The villagers told me that the police of the Puesta Yauma de PerĂº first zone are paid 2,500 Reales by the pirates every 15 days as a bribe to allow them to operate.

Please keep me updated on what is happening and the safety of the area.  If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Ben Angulo 

The result of the letter to the coast guard

I contacted a friend in Colombia who followed up with the letter I sent to the Coast Guard.  She said they are in the process of trying to stop the pirates.  She mentioned that a recommendation from our contact at the Coast Guard base was to have the villagers travel with guns.  I'm not sure if this would improve or complicate the problem.  So far, no one has been killed by the pirates.  Might the escalation of arms cause more problems?

A single-shot, 20 gauge shotgun from Peru.  These
are homemade and sell for around $100 each.  Many
villagers use these guns to hunt small game.

I have been attempting to contact others about the pirate problem, but communication is very difficult in the region.

Our Plan to Stop the Pirates

Gather information  We can document when attacks occur, look for patterns, and get a better idea of everything that is happening.  This will allow us to make more informed decisions

Photograph with telephoto lenses
from the Colombian side of the river?

Drone flights to take surveillance pictures/video of
activity on the island and river?

Organize the villages Meet with all of the villages being affected by the pirates.  Arrange times for the villagers to travel together in small boat "convoys", which are less of a desirable target.  Have all the villages contribute to the collection of information.

Report activity to the police and coast guard  We can periodically report on the action of the pirates to the authorities.  We may be able to more effectively coordinate the travel times of the villages to the patrol times of the coast guard boats.

Warn people and spread the word A reason that the pirates are able to continue to do what they do is that people are afraid to take action against them.  They are afraid to report to the authorities.  They are afraid to talk.  We can do this by making connections to the outside media, be it in Leticia, Bogota, Colombia, or the world.

One thing we DO NOT want to do

We do not want to make the problem worse.  As we mentioned earlier, so far no one has been killed.  Through the actions by Amazon Pueblo, we do not want to be responsible for the serious injury or death of the people of the river villages.  However, we do want to stop the piracy and the pirates continuing exploitation of the vulnerable people of the Amazon.  We want to help.

What do you think?  Please comment below with any ideas, and spread the word about our mission!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Fishing nets during Covid

Fish to live
The first few months of the outbreak were the worst, food-wise, in the village.  Over three-quarters of the villagers' income was from tourism, which became nonexistent overnight.  They started to plant more crops to eat, but they would take months to grow.  One thing that we could do for more food was fish.  This is one benefit of living along the Amazon River!

While it is possible to fish with a hand line, it takes a lot of time and does not provide enough fish for a family.  Mostly the children fish by hand, which they truly enjoy.  But when they need to feed a family of eight or more, fishing nets are the answer!

At the start of the pandemic, we did not have enough nets to meet the increased food needs.  This is one area where we could easily, and quickly, make a difference.  Below are pictures that show the way nets are prepared and used.  

Preparing the net
The materials used were bought in the city of Tabatinga, Brazil.  In all, the cost was about $40 USD for one net.  The materials needed are: 150 of net, 150 feet of 1/8 inch cord, one pound of lead weights, 200 feet of heavy, black, nylon thread, and many small, empty, plastic bottles or small chunks of styrofoam.

To prepare a fishing net takes about three days of work.  It will make a net that is about 150 feet long.  Mainly adults and teenagers work to make a finished net.

First, the outer covering of the cord is removed.  This doubles the length of the cord.  The cord is then tied to the tops and bottom of the netting with the heavy thread.  This is the most tedious and time-consuming part of making the net.  The parents will usually teach their older children how to make the proper knots and spacing.  Lead weights are placed along the bottom of the net so that it will sink properly in the water.

Gabriel working on the net.  He was much faster and more
 accurate in his technique than I was.

A boring video of Ben preparing the net.

Fishing on the Amazon
Along the top of the net, at spaces between 10 feet, small plastic bottles, or chunks of styrofoam are secured.  These are not bought, they are saved or scavenged.  They then go onto the river in small wooden boats.  They may or may not have small, gasoline-powered motors.  Depending on the water level and the time of year, they may travel up to one-half hour to their fishing spot.  Then the net is lowered into the water.  After one hour or more in the water, the nets are pulled up, checked, and brought back to the village.

Bringing the catch home
When the fishers arriving at the village they are greeted by their family and friends.  They help to take the fish out of the net.  At times this is dangerous.  Piranha that has been caught in the net, while they are eaten, can also cause a serious bite to the fisher!

After sorting, the fish are ready to take home.  When a catch is very good, they will give some to their friends or neighbors, or sell them to others in their village or neighboring villages.

The best part
At home, the fish may be salted to eat at a later time.  More frequently it is fried in a pan with oil, grilled over an open fire, or cooked into a stew.  The villages eat fish for up to three meals a day!

At last, the fried fish and bread are ready to eat.  Delicious!

Please enjoy this video of the catch arriving and fish being cleaned.  Thank you for the video, Stephan!