One hundred renowned anthropologists, members of non-governmental organizations, and other specialists who have worked with native peoples in Colombia and nearby regions have signed “The Letter of the 100” an open letter expressing their support for the authorities of the Cofán people in their denunciation of the activities of Mr. Alberto José Varela involving Yajé, also known as Ayahuasca.

In their public pronunciation the Cofán authorities have declared that:

  • Mr. Varela’s organization markets Yajé ceremonies by fraudulently alluding to supposed permission or approval from the indigenous Yajé-using authorities of Colombia;
  • His organization has turned the Yajé medicine into a lucrative business, posing a serious threat to the health and life of those who participate in these ceremonies.

With this Open Letter in Support of the Cofán People, the signees condemn Mr. Varela’s appropriation and fraudulent use of the name and traditions of the native peoples of Colombia, and the Cofán in particular, in order to legitimize his business activities. They also express their concern over the proliferation of this and other business ventures that employ Yajé solely in the interest of making a profit. Mr. Varela’s organization, “Ayahuasca International,” is a particularly shocking case, consisting of a network of interlocking companies, web pages, and Facebook profiles that Varela himself refers to as “the first multinational corporation dedicated to Ayahuasca”:

  • This business model employs aggressive marketing techniques, including significant investments in advertising and social media, with the goal of turning Yajé into a commodity of mass consumption, generating artificial demand for this medicine and taking advantage of the ignorance and vulnerability of many people;

  • In an irresponsible effort to expand the business, facilitators are given superficial courses through the “European Ayahuasca School,” such that people with minimal experience and training can conduct Yajé ceremonies;

  • In a likewise irresponsible manner, this medicine is advertised and sold directly over the Internet through the company “Ayahuasca Planet” to anyone, without any control;

  • As a result of this improper, disrespectful, and irresponsible use of the Yajé medicine, a growing number of people have described reprehensible practices, contrary to the principles laid out in the ethics codes and best-practice guidelines proposed by diverse organizations working to defend appropriate uses of Ayahuasca.

The signees are not opposed to the expansion of Yajé use per se, nor to the plurality and diversity of its spiritual and therapeutic uses. Instead, they affirm that the diffusion of these practices should always be based on knowledge, respect, and ethics. The activities of Albert José Varela represent a danger not only to those who take part in his organization’s ceremonies, but also, more generally, to the expansion and consolidation of these practices beyond their region of origin.

 

“The Letter of the 100”

AN OPEN LETTER IN SUPPORT OF THE COFÁN PEOPLE

AND AGAINST THE ACTIVITIES OF ALBERTO JOSÉ VARELA

PDF Version of The Letter

Originally published in English by Africa is a Country Blog 

Originally published in Spanish by El Espectador newspaper

We hereby manifest our support for the representatives of the Cofán people who signed a public denunciation against Mr. Alberto José Varela and his commercial activities involving Yajé.

In their denunciation, they point out that Mr. Varela does not have the permission or approval of the Yajé authorities of Colombia to transport or use the Yajé medicine; that they have not trained or instructed anyone from Mr. Varela’s organization, including Mr. Varela himself; and that he was not granted authorization to commercialize Yajé. By the same token, they note that Mr. Varela has made no economic investments for the benefit of the Cofán community, nor for the preservation of their culture and traditions.

The undersigned manifest our concern over the proliferation, in Colombia and many other countries, of a business model in which Yajé (also known as Ayahuasca) is used solely in the interest of making a profit; disrespecting the plant, its proper management, and the sacred character bestowed upon it by native peoples and mestizo populations of Southeastern Colombia.

The activities of Mr. Alberto José Varela are especially worrisome because he claims to have been “initiated” in 2001 by Taita Domingo Males Miticanoy, calling himself “the first Westerner authorized to use the ayahuasca of Taita Querubín in Europe, and referring to his organization, Ayahuasca International as “the first multinational corporation dedicated to Ayahuasca.”

 Between his so-called “initiation” and his arrest in Spain in 2008, Mr. Alberto José Varela conducted Yajé ceremonies in Colombia, Spain, and other countries, claims to have trained therapists “according to the instructions of Taita Domingo,” and sold Yajé to participants after ceremonies so they could consume it in their own homes.

In 2007, Mr. Varela founded the Putumayo Association for the Assistance of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, which he uses to organize trips from Spain to the Dept. of Putumayo, Colombia, and through which he collects money with the supposed aim of giving economic aid to indigenous peoples of southern Colombia and providing “needy communities with materials such as clothes, shoes, toys, and books.” The Putumayo Association also seeks to purchase land in the Colombian rainforest to allegedly collaborate with indigenous peoples in restoring it by “planting traditional crops and elaborating shamanic medicines which are the basis of their medical culture and their means of sustenance.” By 2008 the Putumayo Association had purchased five hectares of land in the Colombian Amazon.

Mr. Varela was arrested in Spain in December of 2008, after a police investigation initiated by complaints filed by family members of participants and neighbors over the disorderly conduct generated by the Yajé ceremonies he conducted. After fourteen months in prison, he was absolved in April 2011 of any crime against the public health because, as noted in the court’s sentence, it was not possible to quantify the DMT content of the Yajé confiscated by police. According to news reports, 40 kg of Yajé were found at his home.

In 2013, Mr. Varela resumed the same kind of Yajé activities he had carried out prior to his imprisonment, now using aggressive marketing strategies and investing significant amounts of money in advertising and social media.

In order to legitimize his activities, he named various Taitas who were supposedly part of his organization, including Víctor Queta, Taita Querubín Queta, Taita Juan Jamioy, Taita Alfonso Males Jamioy, Taita Juan Males Jamioy, Taita Biron Piajuaje and Taita Humberto.

To expand his business, he provides “training” for facilitators after only one to a few weeks long course through what he calls the “European Ayahuasca School”; these people – some without the least experience or training – then organize and conduct Yajé ceremonies.

It so happens that the founder of this “school” claims that he does not consume Yajé any more, because, according to him, he no longer needs to; he also prohibits facilitators from taking the medicine while they are conducting ceremonies, which runs contrary to the principles followed not only by Yajé traditional medicine practitioners, but in all contexts of Ayahuasca use we know of.

Mr. Varela has created a business model around the Yajé ceremony involving a network of businesses, web pages, and Facebook profiles designed to protect him legally from further complaints. Yajé is prepared on lands bought by the Putumayo Association and then distributed to facilitators who are “contracted” by one of his companies, “Inner Mastery International.” Trips to the Colombian rainforest are sold through “Ayahuasca Travels,” and Yajé is sold directly over the Internet through the company “Ayahuasca Planet.” All of these business activities are carried out by means of various intermediaries.

Given all the aforementioned, we the undersigned declare as follows:

  • We express our support for the Cofán people and their authorities, and we denounce Mr. Alberto José Varela for improper and fraudulent use of the name and traditions of Colombian native peoples, especially the Cofán, to legitimize his business activities;
  • We denounce the use of aggressive marketing tactics and social networks to publicize and commercialize Yajé ceremonies, and condemn the direct sale of this medicine over the internet to anyone without any controls whatsoever;
  • We denounce the irresponsible use Mr. Varela makes of the Yajé medicine, employing people without the necessary experience and training to conduct Yajé ceremonies; moreover, we note that these facilitators do not consume the medicine during ceremonies, contrary to the manner in which Ayahuasca is used in diverse contexts around the world;
  • While some people might benefit from the use of the Yajé medicine in sessions organized by Ayahuasca International, we warn prospective clients that participating in sessions run by this organization could result in grave risks to mental and physical well-being;
  • In this context, we note that a growing number of witnesses who have participated in Yajé sessions organized by Ayahuasca International have reported reprehensible practices, contrary to the principles enumerated in various ethics codes and guides to best practice, such as those developed by Brazilian Ayahuasca religious groups, ICEERS, and PDA;
  • We denounce the commercialization of Yajé as if it were an ordinary product or service, generating an artificial demand based on crass manipulation of what it means to consume the Yajé medicine, and taking advantage of the ignorance, credulity, good faith, and vulnerability of many people;

We the undersigned are not opposed to the expansion and spread of Yajé usage per se. Instead, we affirm that the diffusion of these practices should always be based on knowledge, respect, and ethics. The activities of Mr. Albert José Varela represent a danger not only to those who take part in his organization’s ceremonies, but also more generally to the expansion and consolidation of these practices beyond their region of origin.

August 2015

SIGNED BY (100):

 

ALHENA CAICEDO-FERNÁNDEZ
Profesora Asistente
Departamento de Antropología
Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia

CARLOS ALBERTO URIBE
Profesor de Antropología
Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia

JOAQUIN CARRIZOSA PhD
School of Anthropology and Conservation
University of Kent, U.K.

JUAN ÁLVARO ECHEVERRI
Profesor titular
Universidad Nacional de Colombia, sede Amazonia, Colombia

MARGARITA CHAVES
Investigadora
Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, ICANH, Colombia

SALIMA CURE
Antropóloga
Coordinadora Museo Etnográfico del Banco de la República
Leticia, Colombia

JORGE RONDEROS VALDERRAMA
Presidente Corporación Prodiversitas Colombia
Profesor Titular Departamento de Antropología y Sociología
Director Grupo linea de investigación y revista Cultura y Droga
Universidad de Caldas, Manizales, Colombia

FRANCO EUGENIO JIMENEZ ACOSTA
Medico Cirujano especialista en Medicina Biológica
Biorigen – Arte de la Medicina Integrativa Personalizada
Yachay Investigaciones de Medicina Ancestral Americana, Colombia

MAITE YIE GARZON
Profesora Asistente
Departamento Antropología
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia

JULIO ARIAS VANEGAS
PhD (c) Antropología
The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York, U.S.A.

LEONARDO RODRIGUEZ (PhD)
Experto en Pueblos Indígenas – Colombia
Representante ante la ONU de Maloca Internacional (MAIN), Colombia

MICHAEL TAUSSIG
Professor
Columbia University
New York, U.S.A.

BIA LABATE
PhD Antropologia Unicamp
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

CHARLES S. GROB, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
UCLA School of Medicine
U.S.A.

JESSE HUDSON
Juris Doctor, Tulane University Law School, New Orleans
Masters of Science in International Development, Payson Program, Tulane University Law School, New Orleans
Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, U.S.A.

BRIAN T. ANDERSON, MD, MSc
Resident Physician
Department of Psychiatry
University of California San Francisco, U.S.A.

GILLIAN WATT
Masters, Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge, UK
Masters, Department of Study of Religions, University College Cork, Ireland

JEAN E. JACKSON
Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S.A.

CHRISTIAN FRENOPOULO
Professor substituto
Universidade Federal do Acre, Brasil

MICHAEL WINKELMAN, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Retired
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University, U.S.A.

MARTIN TERRY, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology
Department of Biology, Geology, and Physical Sciences
Sul Ross State University
Alpine, Texas, U.S.A.

MARCELO S. MERCANTE
Programa de Pós Graduação em Saúde Coletiva
Unisinos, Brasil

STEPHEN HUGH-JONES, PhD
Emeritus Research Associate
Department of Social Anthropology
University of Cambridge, U.K.

PEDRO MUSALEM NAZAR, PhD (c) Antropologia
Máster Salud Pública
Instituto Brasil Plural, UFSC – Brasil

GLAUBER LOURES DE ASSIS
Doutorando em Sociologia
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

JOSE ELIEZER MIKOSZ
Artista Interartes (Arte e Estados Não Ordinários de Consciência)
Professor Adjunto da UNESPAR/EMBAP
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

AFRÂNIO PATROCÍNIO DE ANDRADE
Doutor em Ciências da Religião e doutor em Direito.
Pós-doutor em Teologia pela Escola Superior de Teologia, bolsista da CAPES/PNPG, Brasil

DIEGO RODOLFO VIEGAS
Profesor Titular de las cátedras “Etnografía del Conocimiento” y “Antropología de la Conciencia”
Escuela de Antropología. Facultad de Humanidades y Artes
Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina

MATIAS MENDEZ
Master(c) en Psicología Clínica de Adultos
Profesor de Psicología
Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile

DAN ROSENGREN
Associate Professor
School of Global Studies
University of Gothenburg, Sweden

HENRIQUE RESSEL
Mestre em Antropologia
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

BRUNO RAMOS GOMES
Psicólogo, Mestre em Saúde Pública pela Faculdade de Saúde Pública-USP
Coordenador Centro de Convivência É de Lei – Redução de Danos, SP – Brasil

JOSÉ ARTURO COSTA ESCOBAR
Dr em Psicologia Cognitiva
Pós-doutorando no Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Vice-líder do Grupo de Estudos sobre Alcool e outras Drogas/UFPE
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

PATRICIA PAULA LIMA
Doutoranda em Etnomusicologia – INET-MD
Universidade de Aveiro – Portugal
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

ALBERTO GROISMAN, PhD
Professor do Departamento de Antropologia UFSC
Coordenador do Grupo de Ativismo Espistemológico-UFSC, Brasil

PEDRO FERNANDES LEITE DA LUZ
Antropólogo e Etnobotânico.
​Professor na UNIASSELVI, Brasil

ISIDRO MARÍN GUTIÉRREZ
Ph.D. en Antropología Social por la Universidad de Granada
Docente Investigador del Departamento de Comunicación
Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL), Ecuador

SANDRA LUCIA GOULART
Brasileira, Antropóloga, Doutora em Ciências Sociais pela Unicamp
Professora da Faculdade Cásper Líbero (São Paulo)
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

WALTER MOURE
Doctor en Psicología Clínica, Universidad de São Paulo, Brasil.
Investigador en Filosofia Intercultural de la Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Investigador en Psicología Clínica de la Universidad de São Paulo, Brasil

WAGNER LINS LIRA
Antropólogo, Mestre e doutorando em Antropologia pela Universidade Federal de Pernambuco – UFPE
Membro do Grupo de Estudos sobre Álcool e outras Drogas (GEAD-UFPE) e do Núcleo de Estudos das Religiosidades Populares (NERP-UFPE), Brasil

PATRICIA PAULA LIMA
Doutoranda em Etnomusicologia – INET-MD
Universidade de Aveiro – Portugal
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

ROBIN M WRIGHT, Ph.D.
Religion & Anthropology, Indigenous Studies, Latin American Studies
American Indian & Indigenous Studies Program Coordinator
University of Florida Gainesville, U.S.A.

JUAN GONZALEZ, PhD
Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, México

Dr. PILAR M VALENZUELA
Associate Professor
Department of World Languages & Cultures
Chapman University (California), U.S.A.

SIDARTA RIBEIRO, Ph.D.
Professor de Neurociências
Instituto do Cérebro
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Brasil

Profa. MARIA DE LOURDES DA SILVA
Faculdade de Educação
Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

SANDRO EDUARDO RODRIGUES
Doutor em Psicologia pela UFF
Professor da Universidade Ceuma-MA
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

ISABEL SANTANA DE ROSE
Pesquisadora em nível de pós doutorado (bolsista do CNPq)
Programa de Pós Graduação em Antropologia / Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil

FELIPE SILVA ARAUJO
Antropólogo e Linguista
GERTS/UFS, Brasil

JONATHAN D. HILL
Professor of Anthropology, SIUC
Coordinator, Latin@ and Latin American Studies minor
President, Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA)
Visiting Professor, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania

GABOR MATE, M.D.
Author and speaker
Canada

DANIELA PELUSO
Anthropologist (Amazonian specialist)
University of Kent, U.K.

EGLEE L. ZENT
Lab Ecologia Humana
IVIC
Venezuela

G. WILLIAM BARNARD
Professor of Religious Studies
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, U.S.A.

MAURO WILLIAM BARBOSA DE ALMEIDA (Ph.D. Cantab, 1993)
Professor – Colaborador
Universidade Estadual de Campinas (State University of Campinas), São Paulo, Brasil

ANJA LOIZAGA-VELDER
Investigadora Postdoctoral
Posgrado en Ciencias Medicas y de la Salud
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México

BERND BRABEC DE MORI
Senior Scientist
Instituto de Etnomusicología
Universidad de Música y Artes Dramáticas Graz, Austria

KATHLEEN HARRISON, M.A.
Ethnobotanist
Botanical Dimensions
Occidental, California, U.S.A.

CLANCY CAVNAR, PsyD
Psychologist at Healthright360
Walden House Residential Drug Treatment
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

Dr. BRIAN RUSH
Professor
Depts. of Psychiatry‎ and Public Health Sciences
University of Toronto, Canada

TANIA GONZALEZ RIVADENEIRA
Maestrante
Estudios Mesoamericanos
UNAM, México

KENNETH TUPPER
Adjunct Professor
School of Population and Public Health
University of British Columbia, Canada

Dr. HUGO LAVAZZA
Antropólogo.
Sección de Etnología y Etnografía – Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras – UBA
INMeT – Instituto Nacional de Medicina Tropical. Puerto Iguazú. Misiones, Argentina

JUAN SCURO
Doctorando en Antropología Social
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil

ANNE MARIE LOSONCZY
Antropóloga
Directora de estudios, EPHE, Paris, Francia

ELI ODA SHEINER
McGill University
Research Assistant
Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry
Culture and Mental Health Research Unit, Canada

Prof. Dr. MARÍA SUSANA CIPOLLETTI (en retiro)
Departamento de Antropología de las Américas
Universidad de Bonn, Alemania

MARIA CLARA REBEL ARAÚJO
Doutora em psicologia social
Coordenadora do curso de Psicologia- Universidade Estácio de Sá, Campus Friburgo, Brasil

WALTER DIAS Jr.
Mestre em Antropologia – PUC-SP
Professor Adjunto I – UNIP/ SJC – SP – Brasil

CHRISTINE L. HOLMAN, PhD
Justice and Social Inquiry
School of Social Transformation
Arizona State University, U.S.A.

RALPH METZNER, Ph.D.
Psychologist, author,
Professor Emeritus, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, U.S.A.

JONATAS C.DE CARVALHO
Mestre em História (UERJ)
Pesquisador em Extensão No País – CNPq
Projeto Espaço Darwin – Fazenda Campos Novos – Cabo Frio, Brasil

NEAL M. GOLDSMITH, Ph.D.
Psychotherapist and author, Psychedelic Healing
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
U.S.A.

ERIC MICHAEL KELLEY
Lecturer
Department of Anthropology
UMass Boston, U.S.A.

PABLO ORNELAS ROSA
Doutor em Ciências Sociais PUC/SP
Professor nos Programas de Mestrado em Sociologia Política e em Segurança Pública
Coordenador do Grupo em Pesquisa Poder, Subjetividade e Resistências
Universidade Vila Velha – UVV, Brasil

ALEX K. GEARIN
University of Queensland
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Australia

CLARA NOVAES
PhD Psicologia, Psiquiatria Transcultural, Sorbonne, Paris
Membro da Associaçao Internacional de Etnopsicanalise
Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP), Brasil

STEVE McDONALD
Association Secretary
Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine
Australia

CHARLOTTE WALSH, LLB (Hons), MPhil
Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Leicester, U.K.

GERALD THOMAS, PhD
Collaborating Scientist
Centre for Addictions Research of BC
University of Victoria, Canada

JEAN-PIERRE CHAUMEIL
Directeur de Recherche émérite au CNRS
Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative, France

JUSTIN PANNECK, PhD
Associate Professor
Colorado Technical University, U.S.A.

CELINA M. DE LEON
School of Public Health, MPH (cand)
U.C. Berkeley, CA, U.S.A.

DRAULIO BARROS DE ARAUJO
Professor at the Brain Institute (UFRN), Brasil

JOSHUA HOMAN
PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas
Research Associate, Museo Regional, Universidad Nacional de San Martín, Peru

PHILIPPE LUCAS
Research Affiliate – Centre for Addictions Research of BC, Canada

IVAN SERGIO FELONIUK
Abogado, investigador y magister en Bioetica
Miembro del equipo organizador del Foro Social Mundial
Presidente de Prodiversitas, Brasil

SEBASTIEN BAUD (PhD)
Research Associate
Institut of Ethnology, University of Neuchâtel (UniNE), Switzerland
French Institute for Andean Studies (IFEA), Lima, Peru

ISMAEL APUD
Docente Asistente
Facultad de Psicología
Universidad de la República, Uruguay

DAVID NICKLES
Researcher & Moderator
DMT-Nexus
U.S.A.

EDUARDO GASTELUMENDI
President
Peru Psychoanalytic Society
Peru

HEINER DÖRFLER
Medical Doctor
Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics
University of Zurich, Switzerland

MATTHEW CONRAD
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

JAN WEINHOLD
Ph.D., Heidelberg University
Germany

ANA ELDA MAQUEDA
Departamento de Farmacología Clínica
Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, España

EVGENIA FOTIOU
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
Kent State University, Kent, OH, U.S.A.

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ-PAVILLARD
Antropólogo, candidato a doctor
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España

MARCELO CAMURÇA
Antropólogo, docente e pesquisador no Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciência da Religião
Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora- Minas Gerais, Brasil

ALEJANDRO CAMINO D.C.
Director
Museo de Plantas Sagradas, Mágicas y Medicinales
Cusco, Perú

DANNY NEMU
Psychedelic Press, U.K.

MANUEL ALMENDRO, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Member of European Federation of Psychology Associations. EFPA
European Certificate in Psychology and Psychotherapy- EuroPsy
Director of Oxigeme, Center for a Psychology of Consciousness, España

 

Video Ukumary Kankhe Sucumbios Traditional medicine Yage (Ayahuasca):https://vimeo.com/138279739