Four months after COVID-19 was first suspected of spreading to indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, said at a press conference that the WHO is "deeply concerned" by the pandemic's impact on native populations. He singled out the recently contacted Nahua people in Peru, six of whom have caught the virus. Poverty, malnutrition, and the prevalence of communicable diseases put indigenous people at greater risk from coronavirus.
A revered leader of Peru's Awajún indigenous people, Santiago Manuin Valera, 63, died July 1 of COVID-19 at a hospital in the coastal city of Chiclayo. He was first taken from his remote community of Santa María de Nieva in Amazonas region to a hospital in the closest city, Bagua; then transferred over the mountains to Chiclayo as his condition worsened. His daughter, Luz Angélica Manuin, warned of a dire situation in the Awajún communities and across the Peruvian Amazon, with COVID-19 taking a grave toll. "There are many dead," she said. "We keep vigil over them and we bury them. The government has forgotten us."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) formally agreed June 22 to hear a complaint filed by 64 indigenous communities in Bolivia's eastern rainforest, accusing the Bolivian state of violating their territorial rights under the administration of ousted president Evo Morales. "The proposal and actions by the Bolivian government to build the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway, whose central section (section II) crosses the heart of the Isiboro-Sécure National Park & Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), have generated multiple violations of the rights of indigenous peoples by the Plurinational State of Bolivia," according to a statement by the advocacy group EarthRights International. The complaint charges that the Bolivian state undertook to build the highway through the territory without consulting or obtaining the consent of indigenous inhabitants. It also alleges that the government illegally used force to break up the cross-country "VIII Indigenous March" that was called to protest the road construction in 2011. (Agencia de Noticias Fides)
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.
As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, with more than 200 deaths already reported in Brazil, an evangelical Christian organization has purchased a helicopter with plans to contact and convert isolated indigenous groups in the remote Western Amazon. Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, is notorious for past attempts to contact and convert isolated peoples, having spread disease among the Zo’é living in northern Pará state. Once contacted in the 1980s, the Zo’é, lacking resistance, began dying from malaria and influenza, losing over a third of their population. Ethnos360 is planning its conversion mission despite the fact that FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has a longstanding policy against contact with isolated groups. The so-called "missionary aviation" contact plan may also violate Brazil's 1988 constitution and international treaties such as the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
More than 10 years after the Bagua massacre in the Peruvian Amazon, sparked when National Police troops attacked a roadblock by indigenous protesters, a magistrate at the penal chamber of Peru's Supreme Court of Justice on Jan. 31 absolved 53 of the protesters, who had faced criminal charges. A lower court had cleared the accused protesters, all indigenous Amazonians, in September 2016. Last year, the high court confirmed this ruling on charges of homicide, assault and theft of police firearms. But charges of riot, disruption of public services and illegal firearm possession remained outstanding until this second decision.
A court in Peru's Loreto region on Jan. 22 issued an order blocking all oil exploration or exploitation within a vast area of the Amazon rainforest along the Brazilian border, citing the presence of isolated or "uncontacted" peoples in the zone and the impossibility of obtaining their "prior consultation." The order affects Lots 135, 138 and 31B, which lie within Sierra del Divisor National Park, straddling the regions of Ucayali and Loreto. The case was brought in 2017 by the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Oriente (ORPIO), challenging the move by state agency PeruPetro to auction leases for the designated blocs.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro met in New Delhi Jan. 26, pledging a "new chapter" in cooperation between their two countries, especially naming counter-terrorism and exploitation of minerals, hydrocarbons and other natural resources. (India Today, PTI) The juxtaposition of security concerns and extractivism is telling, as both leaders prepare to repress opposition to their plans to open the traditional territories of indigenous peoples to industrial interests.