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‘We are on the eve of a genocide’: COVID-19 could be the end of Brazil’s Amazon tribes

  • 05/07/2020 9:35 am ET Samantha Weller
image of elder brazil amazon tribes

Julio Pantoja / World Bank

The Amazon tribes have always battled deforestation and fires, but are now facing the threat of genocide from COVID-19.

A global coalition of artists that includes Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, and Brad Pitt, have sent a letter to Brazil’s President urging him to save the tribes from coronavirus as they warn they “may disappear completely.” If the coronavirus spreads through the tribes, the letter says it threatens their very existence. “They have no means of combating Covid-19,” says the letter. Sbastião Salgado, who warns that “we are on the eve of a genocide,” started a petition that says Brazil needs to take immediate action to save the tribes.

“Agents are keeping the communities isolated, distributing portions of pantry goods and doing whatever possible to impede both indigenous people from leaving their tribes and outsiders from entering the communities,” said Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who coordinates Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency. In addition to the threat from the global pandemic, there is more that threatens the tribes.

A 15-year-old boy was the first known indigenous person to die from the virus. Even before the coronavirus, Brazil’s indigenous people faced a “war for survival” from illegal invaders. But now, they could be even more of a threat if they spread the coronavirus to the tribes. This fear goes all the way back to when European colonizers brought diseases that wiped out 90% of the original inhabitants of the Americas. “Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonizers,” the letter describes. In the petition, Salgado is calling for trespassers to be immediately expelled.

Additionally, Salgado says the government does not do enough to support the tribes, as there have been massive budget cuts to protect them. A few of the top environmental officials who were in charge of illegal loggers were also fired recently. Salgado outlines the importance of saving the tribes. “Just in the Brazilian Amazon we have 103 indigenous groups which have never been contacted – they represent humanity’s pre-history,” he says.

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This petition is calling for immediate action to help prevent the Amazon tribes from being wiped out by coronavirus and is addressed to the three branches of the Brazilian State.

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