RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Federal courts in Brazil have ordered a New Jersey-based fishing tour company to leave a remote indigenous area of the Amazon after prosecutors brought charges of operating without government permission and manipulating indigenous peoples, which is illegal in the country.
The Santarem attorney general’s office alleged in the civil suit that the company Acute Angling invaded an indigenous area where it set up a luxury fishing lodge without proper consultation with indigenous communities or approval from federal indigenous and environmental agencies.
Preliminary injunctions in both lower and higher courts ordered Acute Angling to stop operating in the vast and isolated Wayamu region, an indigenous area roughly the size of Ireland.
“The activity, as far as is known, has no government authorization for its operation. It involves the exploitation of economic activity within indigenous lands which, to be legitimate, must be preceded by prior free and informed consultation with the indigenous peoples,” Judge Clécio Alves de Araújo wrote on September 28, in a ruling that was later upheld by a higher court.
The Associated Press contacted the owner of Acute Angling, Paul Reiss, by phone and email. Reiss declined to answer questions, but the company has previously denied any wrongdoing in legal filings.
Based on the testimony of indigenous peoples, prosecutors in court documents accuse Acute Angling of making deals with some local leaders, who receive small amounts of money in exchange for access to the area.
The company also pledged to pay $800 a week as “collective benefit” for the 15 indigenous communities along the Mapuera River, a population of about 2,000 people, according to the lawsuit.
According to the same filing, that amount represents 1.4% of operating income for the planned fishing season. Acute Angling charged $6,995 per tourist for a seven-day trip, it said.
In a response filed with the court, the company said it pays communities the equivalent of $1,090 for every indigenous person in the Mapuera area where it operates. The company added photos of local people holding bundles of cash in plastic bags in the court file.
Following the court ruling, Acute Angling removed the trip to the Mapuera River from its website. The company still offers similar packages in another part of the Wayamu region on its website. The river is called Jatapu, but on the website it appears as Travessao River. The site describes the location where the American company has been operating for several years as an ‘exclusive Indian reservation’.
The local Aymara Association, which represents three indigenous peoples in the region, also says in an October report that Acute Angling still organizes fishing trips in the Wayamu.
The association accuses the company of luring villagers with loans and taking tourists to hunt. The latter would be a criminal offense in Brazil. The report also said the lodge operates without proper sewerage or waste facilities, and both are thrown into the river.
Outside of the Wayamu, Acute Angling is also facing criticism from indigenous groups along the Negro River who say it has been active there through informal deals.
“The company negotiated with leadership without consultation and the approval of other communities,” Marivelton Barroso, head of the Rio Negro Federation of Indigenous Organizations, told the AP via text message. “They shouldn’t be in native areas.”
The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.