‘Monaco’ of Brazil, Peruvian city in Iceland inhabited by Israelis, but dreams of becoming Venice – 20/07/2021 – world

It is a Peruvian city, but it is anchored in the Brazilian territory. It’s called Iceland, but it’s in the Amazon. It’s called Venice, while most of the locals are Israelis, followers of a religion that believes Jesus Christ was reincarnated in Peru.

Located where the Javari River empties into the mighty Solimões (called Amazonas by Peruvians and Colombians), the island of Iceland was demarcated as Peruvian territory by a binational delegation in mid-1866. The boundary had was agreed by a treaty in 1851, which defined the Javari as the border.

Months later, while trying to reach the then unknown sources of the Javari, this expedition was surprised by the native Mayoruna warriors. The Brazilian leader, Lieutenant-Captain João Soares Pinto, was killed by arrows. His Peruvian counterpart, Manoel Rouaud y Paz Soldán, survived but had a leg amputated. Due to access difficulties, the two countries did not complete the demarcation until 1925.

Beginning in the 1930s, according to older residents, the natural erosive process of the Javari River caused the course of the riverbed to change. It was then that Iceland “moved” from the left bank to the right.

Today, Iceland is only separated from Brazil by a small branch of the Javari (“hole”, to use the local term). It is the old main bed, now called Javarizinho and which dries up during the Amazon summer. In the absence of other Peruvian cities nearby, its geographical position evokes the fate of small nations like Monaco or the Vatican.

On paper therefore, the main bed of the Javari is completely Peruvian in this section. Sometimes there is discomfort. In 2017, the city of Iceland attempted to retrieve a load of timber seized by Ibama when the boat passed the city, without success.

Itamaraty maintains a little-known technical body in Belém to monitor the borders in the northern region. This is the 1st Brazilian Commission for the Demarcation of Borders (PCDL). The report requested information, by email and phone, about the demarcation in the Icelandic region, but there was no response.

In practice, Iceland, which takes its name from being on an island (“isla” in Spanish), was considered Brazilian territory until the 1990s, when it consisted of a handful of houses. and lived off rubber, fishing and timber.

In an area where the border makes little sense, the oldest known resident was a Brazilian rubber tapper, known only as Seu Filó, now deceased. Another Brazilian woman remembers the story, Deucelina de Souza Córdova, 80 years old. She moved to Iceland in 1984 with her husband, a fisherman. Their children were born and raised there.

For years Cordoba believed it was living in its native land. “Ever since I came into the world, I’ve always heard it was Brazil. I moved out thinking it was Brazil. Suddenly it became Peru.

The report found her on a Sunday in June, while visiting her Peruvian daughter and son-in-law in Iceland. Today, she lives in Benjamin Constant (AM), on the same bank of Javari. The three-kilometer distance is covered in a few minutes by small boats, which charge R $ 5 for the trip.

The presence of Peruvians did not begin to develop until the mid-1990s, with the arrival of the followers of the religious leader Ezequiel Ataucusi (1918-2000), who claimed to be Jesus Christ reincarnated. This migration to the Amazon was supported by the national government in Lima, which encouraged the colonization of distant borders.

In the region, they are engaged in agriculture and commerce and are easily identified by their long beards and hair, in men, and by the long veil, in women. On Saturday, holy day, they dress in the clothes of the time of Christ. They are commonly referred to as the “hairy”.

Currently, the district of Yavari, of which Iceland is the seat, has about 15,000 inhabitants. Of that total, about 30% is from the Israel Mission of the New Universal Covenant, the official name of the church founded by Ataucusi and now headed by his son.

In Iceland itself, there are about 3,000 inhabitants. In addition to its geographical peculiarity, the city stands out for being the only one in the region to be built on a floodplain, as we call areas flooded during part of the year.

The solution found was to build concrete walkways, much stronger and safer than the precarious wooden pilings in neighboring Brazilian towns. Another difference is that motorcycles and cars are prohibited from walking on the catwalks. Most of them are walked, in addition to a few bicycles.

The silence and the bucolic rhythm began to attract visitors curious about the “Venice of Yavari”, as Iceland presents itself in tourist packages. The tourist flow in the region has the Colombian city of Leticia as a hub – almost daily flights to Bogotá facilitate the arrival of European and American tourists. Rare are those who venture to know the Brazilian side, perceived as violent, ugly and uninteresting.

In all these years, the most effective attempt to control the Brazil-Peru border came last year, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It didn’t work, remembers trader Gendrau Alván, owner of a tourist restaurant in Iceland.

“They closed the passage, but there was no way, people deviated,” he said. “We depend on the meat sold to Benjamin, people need to eat. And we are a family, whether we are from Brazil or Peru.

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