President Jair Bolsonaro’s innocuous responses to the pandemic are under the scrutiny of international organizations. Evidence is evident in the investigation undertaken by the human rights commissions of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Its members seek to unravel what they consider “dangerous inaction” by the Brazilian federal government. Crude testimony of that “official absence” is the irreparable damage that COVID-19 exercises today on indigenous tribes. The health crisis of the native peoples of Brazil —305 in total, who speak 274 their own languages and are mainly distributed throughout the Amazon region— was minimized by the national authorities.
Villages have seen more than 200 elderly people die in less than a year, victims of the Coronavirus. Such a death traces a social catastrophe: the presence of the oldest indigenous peoples is an inseparable condition for the governance of these communities; and includes the transmission of knowledge about plants and disease cures, their community histories, their own languages and rituals. The rupture of this configuration, propped up by the older ones, will represent the end of many of the less numerous communities, especially those that, until not long ago, were kept “hidden” from the “white man.” Official data indicate that there are 114 indigenous groups that still remain isolated.RELATED
Precisely last Thursday, the European Parliament invited the Brazilian ambassador to the European Union, Marcos Galvao, to discuss the evolution of the pandemic and the impact on the most vulnerable sectors. According to Jamil Chade, a columnist for UOL in Geneva, MEPs said that “Brazil is a tragedy.” The German legislator Anna Cavazzini, of the Green Party, demanded from the Bolsonaro government a response to the death that is spread by the aboriginal tribes. “COVID-19 has turned into a social crisis. What will the government do about this?” Held. Congressman Miguel Urban Crespo, from Podemos, was very tough: “Bolsonaro declared war on the poor,” he emphasized.
The alarm grows daily among the communities themselves. According to the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), “there has been a substantial advance of the pandemic since the beginning of the year.” The entity maintained that there are at least 162 infected villages. Updated data from the Secretariat for Indigenous Health Care revealed that, since the beginning of the pandemic, the total number of infected has risen to 46,509 and deaths total 638.
The COIAB, coordinator of the different indigenous peoples, denounced a month ago “the extreme risk suffered by the recently contacted indigenous peoples,” that is, those who remained hidden “from the whites.” The last surviving man from the Juma People died on February 17: “Once again, the Brazilian government was criminal, due to its omission and incompetence. The government assassinated Aruká.” The warrior leader had received “early treatment” in January, consisting mainly of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. The recipe conforms to the only recommendations against COVID that the Brazilian president defends, but which were highly questioned by the World Health Organization and by Brazilian medical institutions. The remedies not only failed to preserve his life, but also contributed to worsening his hypertension. “The indigenous people of the Amazon are under intense pressure, due to the invasion of their lands and precarious health care,” warned Ivaneide Bandeira Cardozo, a Brazilian historian. “The world needs to know what is happening to the Juma and Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau peoples, who may become extinct.”
The COIAB Coordinator presented a formal complaint, where the violations of the rights of the natives as well as the attacks on the environment, are reported at the United Nations. “There are no legal measures to protect native peoples,” warns the dossier. The main measure demanded is the end of invasions of indigenous territories by those who exploit natural and mineral resources.
It is also stated that the “garimpeiros”, prospectors for gold and precious stones, constitute the main vector of the pandemic in the communities. The Yanomami territory, the largest Aboriginal area in the country, is home to 26,000 natives. But it is “infiltrated” by more than 20,000 Brazilians who, attracted by easy wealth, exploit precious mineral reserves on their own account and with artisanal methods. Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who commanded an Army operation in the Amazon in 2020 to control fires and rampant devastation, expressed official shyness in making decisions: “It is complex to withdraw the invaders.”
A detailed account of the “attacks” by illegal gangs on native communities and their health consequences is in the hands of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The authorities of that organization met, last Monday, with the Brazilian representatives of the National Human Rights Council. Its president, Yuri Costa, lamented: “We do not see a solution, neither in the short nor in the medium term, of a crisis that has a strong impact on human rights.” Antonia Urrejola, head of the IACHR, promised to take action on the matter. He argued that “the situation in Brazil is a priority. We express our solidarity in the face of this unprecedented panorama.”