As criticism of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's response to the coronavirus pandemic continues to stack up, global Indigenous rights advocates and the Arara people are raising new concerns that the crisis could devastate the recently-contacted tribe in the Xingu basin of the Amazon rainforest.
"We're very worried," an Arara man told Survival International, a movement for tribal people's rights, in a report published Friday.
According to Survival, the Arara people of the Cachoeira Seca (Dry Waterfall) territory have the highest known Covid-19 infection rate in the Brazilian Amazon. The group cited official statistics showing that 46% of the 121 Arara people in the reserve have the virus, but said experts believe that everyone in the territory could be infected.
"At the health post [near the village] there is no medicine, no ventilator," the Arara man told Survival. "We wanted a ventilator for that post so we wouldn't have to go into town. The village is three days away from the city, where the hospital is located. We're asking for protection with these coronavirus cases. The number of invaders has increased a lot, they're cutting down a lot of timber. The government isn't stopping them. There are too many invaders in the area."
While the Arara tribe was contacted in 1987, Survival noted Friday that "some of the reserves in the area are known to be inhabited by uncontacted tribes, the most vulnerable peoples on the planet."
The Arara tribe, uncontacted until 1987, has the highest Covid rate in Brazil, according to official figures.@survival reckons it's no coincidence their land is heavily invaded by loggers and land grabbers
— Megan Darby (@climatemegan) June 19, 2020
Backed by Survival and other allies pressuring the Brazilian government to take action, the Arara people are demanding the immediate eviction of the hundreds of colonists, land grabbers, loggers, and ranchers who illegally operate on their territory as well as an urgent healthcare response from the government to save lives.
"We're on the brink of disaster."
"In the last 40 years the Arara's forests have been decimated and many of them have died from introduced diseases," Survival International research and advocacy director Fiona Watson, who has visited the Arara tribe, said Friday. "President Bolsonaro is now overseeing the destruction both of a once-thriving people, and the rainforests they managed and looked after for millennia. Brazilian and international solidarity to resist this genocide is desperately needed."
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Bolsonaro has faced harsh condemnation within and beyond Brazil's borders for both his "pitiful" handling of the ongoing pandemic and his broader agenda targeting environmental protections and Indigenous people that critics have tied to alarming destruction in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest and a global hotspot for biodiversity.
Brazil on Friday had more than 978,100 confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 47,700 deaths—second in both to only the United States, which is home to over 100 million more people than the South American country. As the Washington Post reported last week, Indigenous people in multiple Brazilian states have begun complaining that the government has "abandoned" them during the public health crisis.
It's a desperate situation: #Coronavirus has spread into some of the most vulnerable communities on the planet - and Bolsonaro is practically egging it on.#ForaGarimpoForaCovid#MinersOutCovidOut https://t.co/ILpjQTJDbV
— Survival International (@Survival) June 15, 2020
In a recent statement translated by Survival, the Coordinating Body for Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) said that "since the beginning, we've been denouncing the advance of coronavirus towards Indigenous lands and the risks of contamination in our territories. Covid-19 has now entered and is spreading rapidly. We're on the brink of disaster."
"We are in a daily battle to survive, not only Covid-19, but the dismantling of laws; the halting of the demarcation and protection of our territories; the targeting of our lands and our lives; the assassinations of our leaders; the anti-Indigenous legislative measures of the federal government," COIAB added.
"Covid-19 is offering us an opportunity to shift away from life-blind capitalism which seeks infinite economic growth at the expense of the planet's life support systems."
—Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch
In an op-ed for Al Jazeera on Monday, Alnoor Ladha and Felipe Viveros wrote that "environmental activists, Indigenous rights defenders, and conservationists are also concerned about what post-Covid-19 economic recovery may mean for the Amazon."
Atossa Soltani, founder of Amazon Watch and co-creator of the Amazon Emergency Fund, told Ladha and Viveros that "this pandemic is taking a toll on vulnerable populations in the Amazon while illegal looting of the rainforest for timber, gold, oil, and other commodities is increasing deforestation. We are concerned that in the name of post-Covid-19 recovery, Amazon countries are planning to double down on their neoliberal economic policies and extractive industries."
"By 2100 we may see up to a billion of our fellow humans die from climate chaos and ecosystem collapse," Soltani said. "Covid-19 is offering us an opportunity to shift away from life-blind capitalism which seeks infinite economic growth at the expense of the planet's life support systems. Our choice is clear: we must change the way we live and relate to our living planet. Otherwise, the future of our species is not guaranteed."