Brazil’s indigenous tribes could face “genocide” from COVID-19, say activists


Brazil’s indigenous tribes could face “genocide” from COVID-19, say activists
A global coalition of artists, scientists, activists and celebrities has urged Brazil's leaders to take action to save the indigenous population from a COVID-19 "genocide". 

Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Madonna and Paul McCartney are among the names who have signed the open letter to Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.

They warn the pandemic will have dire consequences for Brazil’s indigenous population.

“Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonisers … Now, with this new scourge spreading rapidly across Brazil … [they] may disappear completely since they have no means of combating Covid-19,” states the petition.

The letter calls out illegal mining, logging and land grabbing operations for accelerating the risk to these populations, due to the government’s lack of protection.

Photographer Sebastião Salgado, the organiser of the petition, has spent almost four decades documenting the Amazon and its indigenous inhabitants.

“We are on the eve of a genocide,” he told The Guardian. “Indigenous communities have never been so under attack … The government has no respect at all for the indigenous territories.”

“Without any protection against this highly contagious virus, the indigenous peoples face a real risk of genocide, through contamination caused by illegal invaders on their lands,” the letter continues.

The signatories, which also include artist Ai Weiwei, model Naomi Campbell and architect Norman Foster, call on President Bolsonaro to “adopt immediate measures” to protect the country’s indigenous populations, such as a task force to evict intruders from protected areas.

Brazil is currently in the top ten of countries with COVID-19 cases, with 7,025 deaths recorded so far.

The country’s worst-hit city is Manaus, which is the capital of the Amazonas state and part of where the indigenous Yanomami community is located.

“Just in the Brazilian Amazon we have 103 indigenous groups which have never been contacted – they represent humanity’s pre-history,” Salgado said. “We cannot allow all of this to disappear.”

“These peoples are part of the extraordinary history of our species. Their disappearance would be a great tragedy for Brazil and an immense loss for humanity. There is no time to lose.”


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