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Issue #1924      July 20, 2020

COVID-19 spreads among Brazilian Indiginous

At least 408 Indigenous people have already lost their lives due to the new virus. Communities say that invaders are taking advantage of the pandemic to enter into their territories.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro removes his mask to speak to journalists on March 18.

Data from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib) point out that there have been 408 deaths due the disease, of which 111 are in Amazonas. Additionally, almost 10,341 Indigenous people were infected by COVID-19. In Brazil, the Indigenous territory is marked and usually has protection from the government. However, because of COVID-19, the territories are now without any kind of protection, opening opportunities to invaders to not only to explore the minerals and nature resources but also to bring different kinds of diseases that the natives don’t have any kind of immunity to. In effect, repeating the errors of the colonial era, where thousands of Indigenous people died as a result of being exposed to the arrival of Europeans.

According to Sonia Guajajara, Indigenous leader and coordinator of Apib, in an interview with G1 (Globo Productions) the Brazilian government is not acting seriously towards the pandemic. With regard to the Indigenous populations: “Brazil is impregnated with institutional racism, which is structural, and which reproduces itself over time.” In a very contradictory decision, the government is only counting the numbers of natives infected that are also registered in public records, leaving behind thousands of other communities that preferred not to have any kind of contact with western civilisation.

On the 8th July, the Minister Luis Roberto Barroso, of the Supreme Federal Court (STF), determined that the State should take action against the COVID-19 pandemic among the Indigenous population. The decision was a response to a request from Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib), the main indigenous entity in the country, in conjunction with six political parties.

In the action, Apib affirms that fundamental precepts of the Constitution are being disrespected with the “flaws and omissions” of public power in the fight against the epidemic of the new coronavirus among the Brazilian Indigenous peoples. These populations, according to the entity and the Brazilian Ministry of Health, have a lethality rate for the virus of 9.6 per cent – while in the general population the rate is four per cent.

Apib affirms that the performance of the government in face of the epidemic among indigenous peoples constitutes a “true genocide, which may result in the extermination of entire ethnic groups” and asked for specific measures, such as the creation of a sanitary barrier and the removal of invaders from Indigenous lands.

On the same day of the Supreme court ruling, President Jair Bolsonaro approved a safety measure that recognises Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas (Afro-Brazilians), and other traditional peoples as “extremely vulnerable groups” during the COVID-19 pandemic and determined that emergency actions were needed to protect them from the new coronavirus. Bolsonaro, however, vetoed excerpts from the ruling that provide that the government is obliged to provide “access to drinking water,” distribution of basic food baskets and “free distribution of hygiene, cleaning and disinfection materials for the villages,” in addition to guaranteeing an “emergency supply of hospital beds and intensive care.”

The ruling permits the creation of an Emergency Plan to Confront COVID-19 in Indigenous Territories. Among other vetoes made by the president, however, are the stretches that oblige the government to release emergency funds for Indigenous health, to facilitate access to emergency aid for Indigenous and Quilombolas people, and to install internet in the villages. According to the Executive, these and other measures were vetoed because they create “mandatory expenditure” without demonstrating “the respective budgetary and financial impact, which would be unconstitutional.”

It is important to point out that the Bolsonaro government that is now saying that there is no public resources for water and medicines for Indigenous people, stating that they’ve already spent more than 1 million Reals (approx. 300,000AUD). And according to public records, Bolsonaro spent 45,000 Reals (approx. 15,000 AUD) weekly for petrol in his personal car. So its not about resources, it is about genocide.

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