A widely known and well-respected indigenous Colombian shaman is in US custody on drug trafficking charges for possessing the psychedelic concoction ayahuasca when he arrived in Houston October 19 on a flight from Colombia. Taita Juan Agreda Chindoy faces up to 20 years in federal prison after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Although used as a religious sacrament in the Amazon, ayahuasca is banned under the US Controlled Substances Act because it contains DMT, a fast-acting hallucinogenic chemical. But in a unanimous 2006 decision, the US Supreme Court held that a US branch of a Brazilian church may use ayahuasca as a sacrament during religious rituals.
Taita Juan's supporters are organizing a campaign for his release and have created a web site, Free Taita Juan, to help mobilize support. His attorney was scheduled to meet with prosecutors Tuesday in a bid to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, the shaman remains behind bars in a US detention center.