Amazon tribes turn the tables on intruders with social media

RIO DE JANEIRO It was dusk on April 14 when Francisco Kuruaya heard a boat approaching along the river near his village in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. He assumed it was the regular delivery boat bringing gasoline for generators and outboard motors to remote settlements like his. Instead, what Kuruaya found was a barge dredging his people's pristine river in search of gold.

Kuruaya had never seen a dredge operating in this area of the Xipaia people's territory, let alone one this massive; it resembled a floating factory.

Kuruaya, 47, motored out to the barge, boarded it and confronted the gold miners. They responded in harsh voices and he retreated for fear they were armed. But so was he with a phone the first he'd ever had. Back in his village Karimaa, his son Thaylewa Xipaia forwarded the photos of the mining boat to the tribe's WhatsApp chat groups.

"Guys, this is urgent!" he said to fellow members of his tribe in an audio message The Associated Press has reviewed. "There's a barge here at Pigeons Island. It's huge and it's destroying the whole island. My dad just went there and they almost took his phone."

Several days' voyage away, in the nearest city of Altamira, Kuruaya's daugher Juma Xipaia received the frantic messages. She recorded her own video with choked voice and watery eyes, warning that armed conflict was imminent -- then uploaded it to social media.

In a matter of hours, word was out to the world.

The episode illustrates the advance of the internet into vast, re....

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