Indigenous communities at risk of “genocide” with Covid-19 outbreak

. Mar 27, 2020
Indigenous communities at risk of "genocide" with Covid-19 outbreak Photo: Lidiane Ribeiro/Ibama

One month since the first confirmed Covid-19 case in Brazil, the virus has spread all across the country. There are now reports of positive coronavirus tests in all 27 states, from the bustling Southeast all the way to the sparsely populated North.

With around 2,000 new cases in the last six days, the Covid-19 curve in Brazil resembles that of Spain, where the virus spread earlier and has now gotten well out of control, registering 4,858 deaths so far. However, there are specificities to Brazil that could make the situation here even more deadly: besides the densely populated favelas on the outskirts of major cities, there are also hundreds of indigenous lands, largely cut off from the rest of society and with precarious health infrastructure.

Sofia Mendonça,

researcher and doctor at the Federal University of São Paulo <a href="">told</a> <em>BBC Brasil</em> that there is an incredible risk of Covid-19 spreading to indigenous communities. And if it does, &#8220;it could cause a genocide,&#8221; she remarked.</p> <p>One of the key points of concern is the Amazonian region known as the Vale do Javari, Brazil&#8217;s largest <a href="">indigenous territory</a> which is also home to the biggest concentration of previously <a href="">uncontacted communities</a> in the world. The Brazilian government recognizes the existence of 19 such isolated tribes in the area — which indigenous rights activists refer to as &#8220;free peoples&#8221; — but there are expected to be far more living in the 85,444.82 square-kilometer expanse to the Northwest of Brazil.</p> <p>Beyond the free peoples, there are another seven indigenous communities in the region, including groups from the Marubo, Matsés, Korubo, and Kanamari ethnicities.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Suspected cases?</h2> <p>Indigenous activists and citizens of the Vale do Javari are on edge since <em>Amazônia Real </em>reported a suspected case of coronavirus in a male member of the Marubo community on Monday, but community leaders assured <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that the rumors were false.</p> <p>&#8220;When he saw that his name was being spread around on social media as a suspected coronavirus case, he was already at home, celebrating his daughter&#8217;s birthday,&#8221; explained Lucas Marubo, a member of the indigenous community and coordinator of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Vale do Javari (Univaja).</p> <p>&#8220;He went to the hospital for medicine because he has a tumor on his leg and had developed a fever. After he left the hospital, this rumor of a suspected coronavirus case spread all over WhatsApp,&#8221; Lucas Marubo told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. &#8220;But he is well, he came by my house today.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>The Univaja coordinator stressed however that they are ready to fight the disease in whatever way they can. &#8220;If we find a case in the indigenous village, we have a helicopter to remove patients,&#8221; he said.</p> <h2>Government actions to protect indigenous populations</h2> <p>In usual circumstances, there is significant movement between the indigenous villages and Atalaia do Norte — the biggest city in the Vale do Javari. Youngsters are bussed into town to go to school and health workers carry out vaccinations and check-ups in the villages.</p> <p>However, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil&#8217;s indigenous affairs agency Funai has ordered all activities with contacted and isolated communities to be suspended for the next 15 days.</p> <p>Indigenous people have been urged not to move around the territory, and all students have been sent back to their villages, only expected to return next year.</p> <p>Lucas Marubo explains that teachers and care workers already living in the indigenous communities will be able to continue their activities, but that Funai has all but ground to a halt in the region.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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