How Rubber Destroyed the Indian Communities in Colombia

The story of the indigenous groups of the Amazon is one of both sadness and hope. Sadness because the rubber trade caused the loss of 80% of the Indigenous population of the Amazon region. Entire tribes were wiped out. People were uprooted and transplanted and much of the native life and culture were lost. However, there remains hope. This hope exists because many tribes, though greatly reduced in number, have survived. They have maintained their language and have recovered their culture and their traditions. Colombia recognizes the importance of saving these tribes. But rather than talk about the present, let's look at how rubber exploitation almost destroyed the Indians of the Amazon.

It all began in the late 1880's when the Peruvian, Julio Cesar Arana, started a rubber-collecting business known as Casa Arana -- later called the Peruvian Amazon Company. The company, with its main office in Iquitos, made him a multi-millionaire at the expense of the Indigenous population. (Think King Leopold and the Congo).

In order to collect rubber, Arana used the natives as virtual slaves. They were taken from their land and forced to work in deplorable conditions and forced to pay more than they made for the little food that they were given. Thus, they were always in debt to the company. If they produced too little, they were tortured. If they tried to escape, they were killed. Rape, torture, disease, and murder were commonplace. During the almost 40 years that the company existed, the native population in the area went from 50,000 to 10,000 -- 80% of the natives of the region had disappeared.

You can read the journal of Roger Casement, a British citizen that was sent to investigate allegations that had been made against the PAC and Arana -- who by 1907 had moved his family to England. The journal can be boring at times, but it paints a great picture of the true abuse suffered by the Indians at the hands of the company.

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement


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