More than a decade after Congress approved Law 28736 for the protection of Peru’s few remaining indigenous peoples who choose to live in total isolation, the ministry of culture has set out the sanctions, including fines up to 4 million soles, for enforced contact or unauthorised entry into their territory.

Though the majority of Peru’s indigenous forest dwellers live in established communities within recognised territories, there remain scattered semi-nomadic groups that avoid contact with Peruvian society at large. These include the Mashco Piro, a Yine group of some 750 individuals that roam between connected territorial reserves in Madre de Dios designated by the government between 1997-2002 for their exclusive use.

Isolated groups like the Mashco Piro face increasing threats to their survival as incursions by drug traffickers, illegal loggers and settlers penetrate their territories by force of arms. The greatest threat to isolated peoples is however presented by epidemics of viruses such as influenza and the common cold, which are not present in their societies and against which they lack immunity.

Given that the culture ministry has little or no presence on the ground, the effectiveness of these legal sanctions is questionable. The indigenous organisation AIDESEP has provided the impetus for the initiative and its members, alongside supporting NGOs, will remain the main actors until the ministry can establish regional branches of its own.