Amazon’s indigenous groups fight virus | Daily News


Amazon’s indigenous groups fight virus

Brazilian Waiapi in the Waiapi indigenous reserve in Amapa state in the Amazon.
Brazilian Waiapi in the Waiapi indigenous reserve in Amapa state in the Amazon.

BRAZIL: Cruzeirinho, a small indigenous village of wooden shacks deep in the Amazon, is nearly empty these days -- all but five of its 32 families have fled into the rainforest to escape the coronavirus pandemic.

A week’s trip by boat from there, the inhabitants of the Umariacu indigenous reserve are trying a different strategy against the virus.

“Attention: indigenous land. Closed for 15 days,” says a hand-painted sign next to a roadblock at the entrance to the reserve, a 5,000-hectare (12,000 acres) territory in northern Brazil near the Peruvian and Colombian borders.

As the new coronavirus has ravaged Brazil, the country with the second-highest death toll after the United States -- 51,000 and counting -- it has hit particularly hard among indigenous peoples, who have a tragic history of vulnerability to outside diseases.

Isolated tribes have been decimated in the past by diseases such as measles and influenza.

Now, there is widespread fear of the new coronavirus in the Amazon region, one of the areas hit hardest in Brazil.

More than 7,700 indigenous people have contracted the virus in Brazil, and nearly 350 have died, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association (APIB).

It accuses the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro of having “done nothing” to prevent the relentless spread of coronavirus among Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people.

Many indigenous groups are taking matters into their own hands.

At the Umariacu reserve, the Ticuna people banned outsiders and put up a makeshift roadblock at the entrance to their territory, which sits on the outskirts of Tabatinga, a border city of 65,000 people.

It was a difficult choice, but a necessary one, given the reserve sits near a triple frontier with heavy traffic, said its chief, Sildonei Mendes da Silva. On the reserve, however, masks are rare, and crowds of people could be seen before a mass at the local church, apparently unconcerned with social distancing.

Far up the Javary river, a tributary of the Amazon, the remote village of Cruzeirinho took a different approach.


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