Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The nationwide death toll in Brazil has soared above 11,000 amid growing anger at President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissive response. The situation is particularly bad in the Amazon gateway city of Manaus, where the number of fatalities is feared to be many times the official 500 to 600. Peru and Ecuador also have large outbreaks and significant Amazonian indigenous populations.
More than 20 land rights activists have been killed in Brazil so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness—ongoing terror amid the Olympics spectacle. According to data from Brazil's Pastoral Land Commision (CPT), 23 activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. Released as the Olympic Games opened in Rio de Janeiro, the figures indicate a crackdown on land rights campaigners in South America's biggest country, with indigenous people particularly affected. "For many visitors to the Rio Olympics, Brazil is synonymous with its vast, plentiful rainforests and traditional ways of life," said Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte in a statement. "Yet the people who are trying to protect those things are being killed off at an unprecedented rate."
UK-based indigenous rights advoacy group Survival International has launched a campaign to prevent the annihilation of tribal peoples in Brazil, to coincide with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the political chaos currently engulfing Brazil, the campaign aims to bring attention to serious human rights issues and threats facing the country's indigenous peoples. Survival states: "These threats persist regardless of the political turmoil in the country." The campaign, "Stop Brazil's Genocide," focuses on protecting "uncontacted" tribes of the Amazon such as the Kawahiva people; ending violence and land theft directed against the Guarani in southern Brazil; and stopping PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would undermine indigenous land rights and spell disaster for tribes nationwide.
The Guaraní People's Assembly (APG) local chapter at Itika Guasu Original Communal Territory (TCO) in Bolivia's Tarija department on Oct. 4 issued a statement protesting the eviction of their leaders from the organization's offices by a new "parallel" leadership they say has been imposed by the national government and ruling party. APG spokesman Henry Guardia said the move was instrumented "in an illegal manner" by administrative authorities of the local O'Connor province, with the complicity of the National Police detachment in the area. He said some 40 followers of the "parallel" faction seized the offices and blocked the entrance. Under Bolivian law, the APG local is the political authority over the TCO, which has been the scene of conflicts over hydrocarbon exploitation in recent years. The Itika Guasu APG is the first indigenous governance structure in South America to establish an investment fund for community development from oil and gas revenues within the territory, which covers some 200,000 hectares. The fund now stands at nearly $15 million, and control of the revenues was cited as a factor in the factional split. (ANF, Oct. 5; ANF, Oct. 4)
A Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous leader was shot dead Aug. 29 at Douradina municipality in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state, one week after his community occupied part of their ancestral lands. Community leaders had warned of an imminent attack, after their encampment was surrounded by gunmen in 30 vehicles. Semião Vilhalva of the Nanderu Marangatu community was killed when the gunmen, hired by local ranchers, finally stormed the encampment—reportedly in the presence of government agents. The encampment was re-established after the attack, but suffered a second assault on Sept. 3. "They came in and began to shoot everywhere," said one Guarani leader.
Bolivian National Police on Aug. 18 used batons and tear-gas to break up a road blockade launched a week earlier by Guaraní indigenous residents—and then raided the homes of several people thought to be organizers of the action. At least 10 people were detained on the highway and in the subsequent raids at Yateirenda community, Cabezas municipality, Santa Cruz department.Community leaders accused the police of "disproportionate" force in the raids, terrorizing women, children and elders. and filed a complaint with the Bolivian Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB). Local Guaraní from Takovo Mora Original Communitarian Territory (TCO) began blocking the Santa Cruz-Camiri highway to demand the right to "prior consultation" on the development of wells at the Chaco gas-fields, run by the parastatal YPFB. The company maintains that the four wells in question are all on private lands and therefore not subject to prior consultation with the TCO. The TCO, in turn, maintains that the wells are within its traditional territory and will impact their lands. (Eju!, Aug. 18; FM Bolivia, Aug. 14; Entorno Inteligente, Aug. 11)
Some 100 Guarani activists on Aug. 13 launched an occupation of an auditorium at the Justice Ministry building in Brasilia, demanding a meeting with the minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, as well as cabinet chief Miguel Rosseto and the head of the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, João Pedro Gonçalves. The protesters, joined by lawmaker Paulo Pimenta of the ruling center-left Workers Party (PT), are demanding urgent demarcation of their ancestral lands. (CIMI, Aug. 13) In one of several ongoing land conflicts involving the Guarani, on June 24 the indigenous community of Kurusu Mba in Mato Grosso do Sul state was attacked by gunmen after re-occupying traditional lands that had been usurped by local ranchers and soy growers. Huts were put to the torch, and an infant was burned to death. Brazil's high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, ruled in April that the community should not be evicted from the re-occupied lands until its traditional territories have been demarcated. The demarcation process remains stalled, while attacks on the Guarani continue. (Survival International, June 26; Survival International, April 3)
Public prosecutors in Brazil have called on the government to pay 1.4 million reais ($ 630,000) in compensation to a Guarani indigenous community and to install road signs, after eight Guarani were run over and killed. For decades the Guarani of Apy Ka'y community in Mato Grosso do Sul were forced to camp on the side of a perilous main road after they were evicted from their land, which is now occupied by a vast sugar cane plantation. Last year they reoccupied a part of their territory, but the road remains a serious threat. Five of the hit-and-run victims were relatives of the community's leader, Damiana Cavanha, who has been campaigning for the’ ancestral land to be returned. The youngest victim was four years old. Damiana believes they are being deliberately targeted by vehicles belonging to the ranchers occupying their land.