On June 8, chief José Carlos Ferreira Arara, known as Zé Carlos, felt shortness of breath and fatigue. He was taken from his village in the Amazonian state of Pará to the São Rafael General Hospital, in Altamira. As his condition worsened, there were no vacancies at the regional hospital’s intensive care unit — but no time to transfer him to another facility. He died on June 9 of cardiac arrest, due to complications resulting from a coronavirus infection. He was 41.
Information on Zé Carlos’ death spread on Facebook and in the media. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an environmental NGO based in Brasília, ran an eloquent blog post about his life and legacy. A strong and charismatic leader who met with filmmaker James Cameron and actor [and former California Governor] Arnold Schwarzenegger when they visited the region a decade ago, Zé Carlos lived just a few miles from where the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam was built, on the Xingu River.