The disturbingly scarce amount of information that arrives from the Amazon indicates that medical treatment of indigenous communities is close to collapse. A national and international coalition for the health and safety of indigenous peoples and territories is urgent, in order to avoid a genocide.
This coalition should have the central objective of addressing the causes that exacerbate the manifold vulnerabilities of native peoples. These include violent incursions into indigenous territories, entailing massive and perhaps enduring disruptions to the delicate mesh of biological, ecological, economic, and cultural relations, human and nonhuman, which in turn may well result in annihilation of the peoples of the forest and riparian communities.
It is also necessary to formulate guidelines for an indigenous healthcare policy that reclassifies the material conditions of health districts and their relations with the healthcare agencies of the states, municipalities, and the federal government. All levels of government should be engaged in the protection of indigenous lives, as well as those of healthcare personnel treating these populations.
It is urgent to rethink indigenous healthcare practices to consider the social, cultural and economic contexts of the forest people. Such guidelines should direct healthcare policies so that, based on care during the pandemic, centers for the resolution of health problems are created and strengthened within the indigenous territories themselves. Unfortunately this is not happening at this crucial moment in the history of the Amazon.
A catastrophic event of this magnitude—especially amidst a moment of climate breakdown, as well as the likelihood of more frequent pandemics during this century and beyond, assuming humanity makes it this far—cannot have national limits or be construed narrowly as local, isolated, and therefore irelevant disputes, somehow disconnected from how we live as consumers of what ought to be legally conceptualized and codified as a shared planetary inheritance, by no means necessarily limited to humans. This mobilization ought to take place at several scales — local, regional, national and international. It must originate in the startled consciences of individuals moved to action by their dawning awareness of the situation of the forest peoples, then move like a wave throughout international civil society, producing the moral and political authority to put the major governing bodies of the Brazilian State on notice. Everyone should be crying out for justice, rights, and the protection of the lives of indigenous peoples, both in the Amazon and throughout the planet.
Without access to proper healthcare, already brutally traumatized by the territorial invasions of criminals that profit from the destruction of the forest and its peoples, various indigenous ethnicities are once again facing the risk of genocide. This situation requires an escalation of activism within the scope of “local” affairs to demand for justice at an international level.
Efforts on the part of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab) to protect indigenous communities and advocate for their rights, as well as various grassroots indigenous organizations, such as the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), scientific institutions like the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, and Brazilian Universities, are not enough. They reveal the necessity of robust international support, without which indigenous lives are given over to a cruel fate, clamoring for protection of the living, as well as justice for those already gone. International organizations and humanitarian institutions—along with the financial, technical, and logistical support they provide—are absolutely indispensable.
The Brazilian State’s longstanding efforts to silence and marginalize indigenous voices has been sharpened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever it is necessary to plead for reparations for the lives lost, and blunt neoliberal predatory practices suffered by indigenous peoples, the forest, and its nonhuman inhibitants.
In other words, we are asking for political support for the present and future sustenance and survival of indigenous social life, as well as the necessary conditions for the protection of the health and demographic reproduction of the various ethnic groups that live with and depend on the forest. For example, it is vitally important to recall the role international human rights organizations played to protect the Waimiri Atroari from a massacre promoted by the state to move forward with the construction of the BR-179 highway and the hydroelectric power plant at Balbina.
The increasingly flagrant disregard for the health of the Amazonian population exemplifies the spurious relations between the federal government and the North of Brazil, which is the most affected part of the country, proportionally speaking. To make the situation worse, there is also the problem of underreporting the state and degree of vulnerability of local indigenous communities facing the coronavirus. Coiab, which keeps a count independently of the Special Secretary for Indigenous Health (Sesai), states that up to June 15th a total of 249 deaths from Covid-19 and 3,662 confirmed cases of the disease had been recorded among native peoples in the region. Sesai officially records 101 deaths and 3,013 infections for the same period.
The pandemic also affects the daily lives of non-indigenous individuals, who, in some cases, migrate to riparian communities seeking health security in smaller settlements with less circulation and agglomerations of people. Moreover, irregular river transport has been indicated as one of the factors in the spread of COVID-19 in the interior.
The spread of contagion ravaging rural communities has led to the advance of the illness in the Javari Valley, despite the warnings of indigenous leaders. It is the region with the highest density of isolated communities on the planet, with more than 2,000 square kilometers and over 6,000 inhabitants, most of which live in voluntary isolation. We have a moral duty to protect their health and their choice to live without contact with modern society. The Javari Valley is now at a dangerously high level of risk.
Through a broad, diverse and inclusive coalition of concerned Brazilian citizens, coupled with the solidarity, creativity, and resources of international organizations and institutions, the policies of death that stalk indigenous communities can be stopped. We have no time to lose.
In this link you can find 37 initiatives to help indigenous and forest peoples combat coronavirus.
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Marcos Colón é doutor em estudos culturais pela Universidade de Wisconsin-Madison, professor do Departamento de Línguas Modernas e Linguística da Universidade Estadual da Florida e diretor do documentário “Beyond Fordlândia”.