Category Archives: Latin America

Brazil’s top court orders probe into Facebook sale of Amazon land

FILE PHOTO: An indigenous child of Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe, looks on in an area deforested by invaders, after a meeting was called in the village of Alto Jamari to face the threat of armed land grabbers invading the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation near Campo Novo de Rondonia, Brazil January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

RIO DE JANEIRO, – Brazil’s top court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into how tracts of stolen land in the Amazon rainforest inhabited by indigenous tribes came to be put up for sale on Facebook.

Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso was responding to a lawsuit filed by charities and opposition parties that accused the Brazilian government of failing to protect indigenous peoples from the coronavirus.

In his ruling, he said some of the areas advertised for sale on Marketplace, Facebook’s classified ad space, belonged to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people, who had been exposed to the disease by illegal land-grabbers and left in a “critical situation”.

An undercover investigation by the BBC last month found dozens of plots of land in the Amazon occupied by indigenous groups advertised on the site. Many had been deforested.

Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Last week the tech firm told the BBC it was “ready to work with local authorities” on the issue.

“The decision is based on a documentary broadcast by BBC News last week, which denounced the use of Facebook for advertising and marketing land in the Amazon,” said the Supreme Court in a statement.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon surged to a 12-year high in 2020, according to government data published in November.

Environmentalists say Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened conservation efforts and raised hopes that new laws would legalise the claims of land-grabbers.

“Invasions and land-grabbing only happen because of impunity,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, from the Association of Ethno-Environmental Protection Kaninde, a non-profit organisation that assists the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau.

“So this decision from Barroso gives us hope that something will change, that the law will work.”

Barroso said the investigation should not be restricted to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, but should also cover “all other indigenous lands”.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210302182842-o72i1/

In Brazil’s Amazon, indigenous people fear surge in COVID-19 deaths

A gravedigger buries Joao Castro, 64, an indigenous man of the Satere Mawe ethnicity, after he passed away due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

RIO DE JANEIRO, – With hospitals overflowing and oxygen supplies running low, indigenous leader Joilson Karapana fears a second wave of COVID-19 deaths in the Brazilian city of Manaus could prove even more devastating for his tribal community.

When the coronavirus pandemic swept the Amazon metropolis last year, several of Karapana’s close relatives and members of his 50-strong tribe died from the disease and more have recently fallen ill.

“I lost my brother, my father, my cousin, my aunts and other people I knew,” said Karapana, whose community lives in Parque das Tribos – an indigenous urban settlement of about 3,000 people in hard-hit Manaus, capital of Amazonas state.

“Now we have about five or six people short of breath, with pain all over their bodies. It’s a worrying situation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Brazil’s Air Force flew oxygen cylinders into the jungle city last week as desperate relatives protested outside hospitals, saying patients had been taken off ventilators as oxygen supplies ran out.

Some of the sick were airlifted to other states as locals scrambled to buy oxygen on the black market to help their loved ones, according to media reports.

For the roughly 30,000 indigenous people who live in Manaus and rely on public healthcare, the situation is especially alarming, said Marcivana Satere-Mawe, head of the Coordination of Indigenous Peoples in Manaus and Surroundings (Copime).

“If we have to buy oxygen for our elders to survive, they will die. We have no income,” Marcivana said by phone.

The city’s government and the SESAI service, which provides health services in indigenous reservations, did not reply to a request for comment.

Amazonas’s government gave its first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Monday to an indigenous nurse in Parque das Tribos, saying frontline health workers and indigenous people in reservations would be the priority for vaccinations, a statement said.

‘MORE DIFFICULT EACH DAY’

Brazil has registered 210,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University, the second-highest toll after the United States.

The dead include 926 indigenous people, according to a tally by the indigenous umbrella organization APIB.

Grim headlines from Manaus mean some indigenous people living in reservations in the surrounding forest are unwilling to be taken to the city if they fall sick, preferring to take their chances with rudimentary local care.

“We had a case of an indigenous woman here with COVID, but she’s being treated here” said Maria Alice da Silva Paulino, an indigenous teacher at Yupiranga Village, near Manaus.

“She didn’t want to be transferred because of the deaths, the lack of oxygen.”

Sahu da Silva, a leader of the Sahu-Ape indigenous community near Manaus, said the only option was to treat people locally and hope for the best.

He said three members of his tribe were currently sick with COVID-19 symptoms.

“Whenever one gets better, another one falls ill,” he said. “We are in this fight, (but) it’s getting more difficult each day.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210119160425-37e03/

‘Nobody has done anything’: Amazon indigenous group decries illegal mining

Indigenous people of the Munduruku tribe dance during a press conference to ask authorities for protection for indigenous land and cultural rights in Brasilia, Brazil November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

SAO PAULO, – An Amazon indigenous group that earlier turned away a planned hydroelectric dam is now battling a surge of illegal gold mining in its territory during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tribal activist said.

The Sawré Muybu territory of the Munduruku indigenous people, in Brazil’s Pará state, has not been fully recognized as an indigenous reserve by Brazil’s government – one reason it is particularly vulnerable, she said.

But indigenous leaders say they have organized to try to expel those mining and logging the land, even as government officials have said they believe there is indigenous interest in mining going ahead.

Alessandra Munduruku, a law student at the Federal University of Western Pará, in the Amazon city of Santarém, and a leader of the Munduruku people, said a group of indigenous women managed to expel loggers from one village along the Jamanxim River last year.

But in late August fire destroyed part of Karo Ebak, a rural cultivation area along the river, she said, ruining houses and sheds that served as meeting points for the Munduruku community.

“We have been denouncing (the invasions) for a long time, and nobody has done anything,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The office of Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service said it had received the complaint and had launched an investigation at the Itaituba Attorney’s Office but noted “we cannot give more details because the investigation has just started”.

‘IRREVERSIBLE’

The latest damage comes a few weeks after Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, visited the municipality of Jacareacanga, one of the cities – along with Santarém, Itaituba, and Trairão – that edge the area where the Munduruku people live.

On August 5, Salles accompanied an operation by environmental protection agencies against illegal mining on Munduruku indigenous land, and met with a small group of indigenous residents in favor of mining.

In a video published online of Salles talking with indigenous mining supporters, one complains about the destruction of mining equipment.

After the meeting, the Ministry of Defense stopped operations against illegal mining in the area, though the ministry press office said they were resumed a day later.

Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service, however, last week appealed for the country’s Federal Court to require the government to urgently resume operations against illegal mining in Munduruku land, saying damage was ongoing.

“The situation is so serious that … if the rate of invasion observed since the beginning of 2020 continues without interruption, it is possible that the situation will collapse and become irreversible,” the service said in a press release.

The Ministry of Environment did not respond to repeated requests for its position on mining in indigenous territories and on Munduruku land.

Alessandra Munduruku said those in favor of mining did not represent the majority view of indigenous people in Munduruku territory.

“The minister says that he negotiated with the indigenous people. How can you say that, if we are almost 14,000 and he spoke with only a half dozen?” she asked.

A group of 18 Munduruku indigenous chiefs subsequently sent a letter to the Federal Prosecution Service saying they rejected gold mining in their territory, she said.

Luísa Molina, an anthropologist and researcher in the Sawré Muybu territory, said Salles’ trip to Jacareacanga suggested the government is “trying any way to regularize mining on indigenous land”.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has promoted plans to introduce or expand mining and farming in protected and indigenous land in the Amazon region, human rights defenders say.

Maurício Torres a geography professor at the Federal University of Pará, called the weakening of environmental inspections under the Bolsonaro government “a huge incentive for the looting of indigenous lands”.

He said rising gold prices, linked to economic downturns and stock market instability, had helped drive invasions of indigenous land by gold miners.

HYDROELECTRIC DAMS

The Sawré Muybu indigenous land, which covers about 178,000 hectares (440,000 acres) in the Tapajós River basin is recognized as indigenous territory by the government but has not been officially demarcated, which means it does not have legal protection as a reserve exclusively for indigenous people.

But the Munduruku have worked to defend it, including in 2016 helping to defeat parts of a plan for 43 hydroelectric plants in the basin.

In particular “mega projects like the São Luiz do Tapajós plant, which would directly affect the Sawré Muybu indigenous land,” were turned away, Molina said.

The project would have caused “monumental damage” to the Munduruku reserve, including destroying some of its sacred sites, she said.

Efforts to build the plant were suspended after the federal indigenous affairs agency called the project “impractical” due to its large-scale impact on Munduruku territory.

Munduruku people had protested the project for years, traveling to the capital Brasilia for government meetings and drawing national and international attention to the impact the project would have on their land.

But efforts to build hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós river basin continue.

In late May, the Brazilian government extended until the end of 2021 a deadline for studies on building three other hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós basin.

As well as hydroelectric plants, government and private investors are also planning other projects in the region, including a port on the Middle Tapajós River, agribusiness expansion and a railroad line to export soy from Mato Grosso state.

The government “has a series of projects (and) logistical and transport plans which are articulated, and are linked to large miners’ interest,” Molina said.

Alessandra Munduruku said her people should have the right to a say about proposed changes to the land that has been theirs for generations.

“What is a democracy like if you don’t have the right to express your opinion about the territory, the river, the forest?” she asked.

Brazil court decision sparks fears indigenous land could be handed to farmers

Ywyto’awa (woman in red shirt) stands near the Bom Jardim River, which passes the village of Paranopiona, in the Apyterewa indidgenous reserve, Brazil, 2014. HANDOUT/Carlos Fausto

SAO PAULO, – When Kaworé Parakana sees the smoke rising on the horizon, the indigenous leader knows that another part of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is gone.

For more than three decades, the Parakana people have been fighting to protect their land in the Apyterewa reservation, in the northern state of Pará, from illegal miners, loggers and farmers who clear large swathes of trees.

“With each day that passes there is a huge amount of deforestation. They create large fields. There has been a lot of smoke here lately at the bottom of the area,” Kaworé told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

He said the Parakana fear there will be many more burning trees after a Supreme Court decision that could allow the municipality that oversees the reservation to legalize the presence of farmers already encroaching on the land.

In May, Justice Gilmar Mendes opened the door to negotiations between Brazil’s government and the municipality of Sao Félix do Xingu, which wants to reduce the size of the indigenous territory on behalf of a local farmers’ association.

Land rights activists say the proposal, which would make indigenous protected areas available for development, is unconstitutional.

The negotiations – referred to by the court as a conciliation – could set a precedent for the reduction of other indigenous territories across the country, they warn.

“Rights to (indigenous) territories, as provided in the constitution itself, are non-disposable rights – they are not subject to any type of negotiation,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, a lawyer at APIB, Brazil’s main indigenous federation.

Eloy explained there are several other Supreme Court hearings set for the coming months to address similar land conflicts between indigenous communities and illegal miners, loggers and farmers.

Those hearings may be influenced by the result of the negotiations over Apyterewa, he added.

Eloy and other indigenous rights advocates say the Parakana were not initially asked to participate in the negotiations about their own land.

In June, the Attorney General’s office published a document criticizing the lack of indigenous representatives in the process.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation made several requests for comment to Mendes, the Attorney General’s office, the lawyer representing Sao Félix do Xingu and the farmers’ associations, but received no replies.

For the Parakana people, negotiations are not an option, Kaworé said – the only acceptable outcome for the community is the eviction of the invaders from their land.

“We don’t want to give them even a millimeter,” he said.

SOARING DEFORESTATION

Covering 730,000 hectares (1.8 million acres), Apyterewa had the second-highest level of deforestation amongst indigenous territories in 2019, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks deforestation in Brazil.

More than 85 sq km (32 square miles) of forest were cleared last year alone, the institute’s data shows.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an 11-year high last year and has soared a further 25% in the first half of 2020, according to INPE.

The tree loss is driven mainly by forest being cleared for cattle ranching, soy cultivation, and illegal gold mining and logging.

Forests are vital for curbing climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide.

The Amazon forest also plays a crucial role in producing moisture that falls as rainfall in the southern agricultural heartlands of Brazil and Argentina – areas hit by heavy drought in recent years as the forest disappears.

Under Brazil’s current constitution, enacted in 1988, indigenous lands belong to the state, which grants indigenous peoples the permanent right to live and work on them.

Indigenous reservations, which the federal indigenous affairs agency Funai says make up more than 12% of Brazil’s territory, have long been targeted by outsiders looking to tap their natural resources.

Human rights groups say invaders have been stepping up their activities in recent years, emboldened by Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his plans to introduce mining and farming in protected and indigenous lands in the Amazon region.

“The government wants to exchange indigenous people for cattle. That is the government’s main interest – to transform the forest into farmland and put cattle on indigenous land,” Kaworé said.

‘CLEARLY A THREAT’

Carlos Fausto, an anthropologist and lecturer at the National Museum, a leading research institution in Brazil, said the Supreme Court’s decision could have long-lasting implications for indigenous land rights and for the Amazon.

“It means all indigenous land will be a target from now on,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In destroying large swathes of forest cover, the illegal miners and loggers are also impacting water sources vital to the animals that the Parakana hunt for food, he added.

“Worst of all, we are talking about an area where springs that serve as subsistence to the Parakana people are located,” said Fausto, who carried out his doctoral research among the indigenous community.

“One of the greatest threats caused in the process of forest clearing is to the area where game breeds,” he noted, adding that the community relies on the springs for fishing and hunting.

As the Parakana wait to hear the government’s position on the reduction of their territory, Aluísio Azanha, the lawyer representing the community, noted that Brazil’s constitution “imposes a duty on the Union to demarcate and protect (indigenous lands).”

Kaworé said the negotiations are “clearly a threat”.

“It’s nothing more than that: the government is threatening our territory,” he said.

“If this happens to the Parakana people, the people will die together with the land, because how will we practice our culture? It could suddenly die. We don’t want that.”

Peru update: Covid-19 intensifies already extreme poverty

It certainly feels like a second plateau, without a down slope, three times as high as the first. The total number of cases of coronavirus tallied on 19 August in Peru was 558,420, with 53.8% in Lima and Callao, and 26,834 deaths. Gradually, with an increase in the Jungle and the mountains, the number of cases and deaths are almost equal between the capital and the rest of the country. For population size, we have the second highest death rate in the world! 25,500 children and adolescents have been affected, with 106 deaths and some children under five. The medical opinion here is that a child can spread the virus with much more impact, up to 100% more, so beware with the opening of schools!

We are now in a situation where we have to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, it looks as though it is going to last well into next year! The medical facilities available are overrun and the medical staff are exhausted. Covid-19 has increased to above 9,000 new cases daily. The number of deaths now averages 200 daily.

Those under 14 can go out for half an hour a day, accompanied by an adult, but those over 65 continue in lockdown. The curfew in Peru is from 10pm to 4am. Sundays have again been declared lockdown days and 6 departments (Arequipa, Ica, Junin, Madre de Dios, Huanaco and San Martin) are in full-time lockdown along with 34 provinces in other departments of the country. Family and other social gatherings have been banned and sporting events, which were to start, have been banned as are all religious ceremonies.

The cities in the Andes were not so badly hit until the inter-provincial bus services opened up in mid-July, and since then there has been a dramatic increase in cases. For example, in Cajamarca around 90,000 people returned there from Lima and Chiclayo. In the last two weeks the number of cases have doubled there and this is being repeated in many regions of the country, especially Loreto, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno and Ancash.

I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers are in virtual contact with the parents and through them with nearly 400 children. We have helped 44 families on two occasions, as they have little to no income and are desperate. The teachers are exhausted and worried. Last week two fathers of our Manuel Duato’s Friends over-18 Club, died of covid-19, leaving their adult children without the support and love they need. Five students have had covid-19, with one still in danger. 26 parents have had covid-19, two fathers have died, two more are in intensive care, four have had relapses and the other 18 have recovered. 13 teachers have had covid-19, of whom two have had relapses and the remaining 11 have recovered.

The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in both San Benito, in the district of Carabayllo, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. The Province of Paucar de Sara Sara is getting its first cases of covid-19, about 10 in all.

In Ayacucho, our Warmi Huasi team is in touch constantly with the parents, teachers and municipal officials about the welfare of the children. We have just spent two weeks with a virtual training program for all teachers of the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara on bio-security for themselves and in turn for them to communicate the same message to all their students, mostly by whatsapp. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that the children have the books to read at home. We also have radio with the children, telling stories and getting them to send in their stories.

In San Benito, the mothers of the four homework clubs have started communal kitchens and a key local community leader started another communal kitchen. The number of families helped in the five communal kitchens has increased to 190, with an average of five per family, so you have 950 people receiving a meal each day. In the communal kitchen run out of the chapel in San Benito, they have a number of social cases: 10 elderly people and a single mother with her five children. There are a number of cases of covid-19 in San Benito – four of the parents of the children in the homework and reading clubs have recovered.

We are in the middle of winter and with the help of friends, we have managed to distribute second-hand clothes to families in need in San Benito and a bed to one family who were sleeping on the floor. Often, I am told, that the children there are the ones reminding their mothers to put on their masks before going out, so our training through WhatsApp is working!

I am in touch with groups of Venezuelan families, and one of these – a family of six – is in desperate straits. They lost their accommodation and have been sleeping on the floor, a third storey flat roof, with just a plastic covering and some old blankets to keep them dry and warm. With friends, we are trying to find them somewhere to stay. I have been able to offer them three months’ rent, hopefully to tide them over this difficult moment.

The people try to be resilient; they keep going and many share what they have with others when the need arises. Many Peruvians started their lives in poverty and gradually improved their lot, but now many of the 70% whose work is in the informal sector, are destined to return to poverty.

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40335

How to help the pandemic-stricken Amazon? ‘Amazonize yourself,’ says new campaign

A file photo shows smoke billowing from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Brazil. (CNS/Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

Catholic groups and bishops in the Amazon have teamed with actors, academics and indigenous communities to call for attention, as well as action, to the growing threats to life in the region, as they say illegal mining and land grabbing have only intensified with the coronavirus pandemic.

A new campaign, called “Amazoniza-te,” or “Amazonize yourself,” seeks to raise awareness of the many ways that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, endangers communities and forests in the globally critical biome. It brings together a coalition of Catholic groups, indigenous peoples, scientists, researchers, actors and artists in defense of the Amazon. 

The goal of the campaign, Fr. Dário Bossi of Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) Brazil told EarthBeat, is to sensitize the public, both in the Amazon and internationally, to the present reality in the Amazon — a place threatened both by the surging pandemic and continued rises in industrial activity and government deregulation.

“We are facing a situation where deforestation and land grabbing, fires, legal and illegal mining are being intensified, becoming agents of proliferation of coronavirus in the Amazon region communities,” organizers said in a press release.

Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, said the campaign is an opportunity for people worldwide to express solidarity with the rainforest and its peoples at a crucial moment.

“In this invitation to ‘Amazonize,’ we want to overcome the systematic violation of environmental protection legislation and the dismantling of public bodies by government action to deregulate and illegally expand the activities of mining companies, agribusiness, loggers and ranchers in the region,” the archbishop of Brazil’s Belo Horizonte Diocese said in a statement.

The campaign is the latest initiative by the Amazon church to act on the special synod on the Amazon, held in October 2019 at the Vatican. The synod, called by Pope Francis, drew worldwide attention to the plights facing the people and natural resources of the Amazon Basin.

The Amazon has become an epicenter of the pandemic in South America.

Across the nine-country region, there have been more than 27,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among their indigenous populations, and 1,108 people have died, according to data from official sources compiled by REPAM. Many believe the actual figures are much higher, as testing has been insufficient and people with symptoms of the virus die at home rather than a hospital.

In a May 4 letter, more than 60 Brazilian bishops, including Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, expressed their “immense concern” with the spread of the virus and the responses from the federal and state governments. The prelates said limited access to hospitals and the lack of intensive care unit beds has made COVID-19 more deadly to indigenous peoples — already more vulnerable from lower immunity to infections, especially within intentionally isolated tribes. Reports have also linked government health workers with inadvertently spreading the virus among indigenous populations in Brazil, as has transportation along the Amazon River itself.

The pandemic’s spread in the Amazon puts at risk the rainforest as well, as indigenous people have long served as its primary protectors and conservationists. Organizers with the “Amazonize-te” campaign say that the increased presence in the region of miners, loggers, ranchers and farmers has also contributed to the coronavirus’ spread.

“The coronavirus has exacerbated the existing socio-environmental crisis, meaning we are now starting to see an immense humanitarian tragedy caused by a structural collapse. With the Amazon being more and more deforested each day, successive pandemics even worse than this one may come,” the bishops said in their letter.

Although the bishops did not name specific government officials, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been the target of national and international criticism for his downplaying of the pandemic. In early July, Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19.

In a separate letter, leaked to Brazilian media July 26, almost one third of the country’s 450-plus bishops criticized Bolsonaro and his government’s “inaction and omission” in responding to the pandemic, along with their handling of the rash of crises facing its citizens and lands.

As the coronavirus has spread, Bolsonaro has continued steps to block indigenous people from their traditional lands and has loosened environmental and economic regulations in the Amazon. Critics have accused the Brazilian government of using the pandemic as cover for development encroaching farther onto indigenous lands, including recent efforts to sidestep required consultations with local communities to build electrical lines through the rainforest to power mining operations.

“At a time when governments should be looking to protect the most vulnerable, the Brazilian leadership is using it as an excuse to bulldoze through actions which will have a devastating impact on people and the planet,” Moises Gonzalez with the U.K.-based Christian Aid said in a statement July 16.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/how-help-pandemic-stricken-amazon-amazonize-yourself-says-new-campaign

Brazil’s Indigenous communities are being devastated by COVID-19

A young Yanomami is examined by a member of a medical team with the Brazilian army in the state of Roraima July 1, 2020. (CNS/Reuters/Adriano Machado)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, Catholic organizations have warned that protective measures should be taken to keep the virus away from the country’s Indigenous population — or the consequences would be disastrous.

The surge in the number of cases among Indigenous since the end of May appears to demonstrate that the worst has happened.

With at least 367,180 cases of infection and 12,685 deaths, the Amazonian region is one of the epicenters of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic. The disease is not only impacting large cities such as Manaus and Belém but has also infiltrated many communities in the countryside, including the villages of traditional peoples that live in the rainforest.

The coronavirus has infected at least 6,626 members of Indigenous groups in the region and killed 157 of them. In the whole country, there are at least 9,500 cases involving Indigenous persons, with about 380 deaths, according to the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

The spread of COVID-19 among Indigenous groups reflects a general lack of governmental protection of their rights, said Antônio Cerqueira de Oliveira, executive secretary of the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council (known by its Portuguese acronym CIMI).

“In previous administrations, Indigenous rights were not fully secure … but at least there was some kind of dialogue with those peoples,” Oliveira told NCR. “President Jair Bolsonaro has closed all doors and established an anti-Indigenous policy.”

Since his 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the policy of establishing land reservations for Indigenous groups that are able to prove their historic ties with the territory they are claiming. Although it’s mandated by the constitution, Bolsonaro has claimed that Indigenous peoples already have too much land in Brazil, and promised that he wouldn’t grant any new territory to them.

At the same time, Bolsonaro has declared on various occasions that he would loosen the environmental and legal restrictions for economic activities in the country — especially in the Amazon.

Since he took office in January 2019, there has been an intensification of land invasions and destruction of the rainforest, perpetrated by illegal loggers and miners and by ranchers who want to expand their farming areas. The process often involves violence against Amazonian laborers and Indigenous.

Bolsonaro has also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, even as Brazil has the second-highest number of cases, nearly 1.7 million as of July 8, after the U.S. He tested positive for the disease July 6.

“With the pandemic, the already insufficient number of monitoring agents in the Amazon almost disappeared and invasions quickly increased,” said Oliveira. “The intruders are not only destroying the forest and threatening the Indigenous peoples, but they’re also taking the virus with them.”

Porto Velho Archbishop Roque Paloschi, CIMI’s president, said that wildfires set by invaders also have the potential to increase the dissemination of respiratory diseases. “The removal of such intruders from the Indigenous lands is urgent,” he told NCR.

But the governmental agency for Indigenous affairs, the National Indian Foundation, seems to be going in the wrong direction. According to Oliveira, the foundation has removed its agents from Indigenous lands that are awaiting official recognition from the government, leaving many peoples unassisted.

The protection for isolated Indigenous groups — which live in the rainforest and avoid any contact with non-Indigenous people — has also been severely weakened, said Oliveira. “The doors are wide open for invaders,” he said.

Catholic missionaries — at least the ones connected to CIMI — stopped visiting the rural villages at the beginning of the outbreak. They advised Indigenous groups to avoid contact with people from the outside and to remain in their reservations as much as possible.

But eventually, some of the members of the communities go into the city in order to receive their salaries or governmental assistance and to buy groceries. That’s when spread of the virus might occur.

“People have not been properly oriented to use hand sanitizers after leaving a store, for instance, or to always wear face masks, at least when they leave their villages,” said Fr. Aquilino Tsiruia, a member of the Xavante people in Mato Grosso State.

“The healthcare authorities should have told the Indigenous peoples about it, but they failed to do it,” said Tsiruia.

At least 32 Xavante people died from COVID-19, most of them in June. “The local healthcare system is very precarious, with only a handful of ICU beds available,” said Tsiruia. “Our people has a considerable population of elders, many of whom with diabetes. Everybody is very frightened.”

Reports of a lack of physicians and equipped hospitals abound among the Amazonian Indigenous peoples. According to Oliveira, the healthcare situation has deteriorated since Bolsonaro canceled an agreement with Cuba that allowed hundreds of Cuban doctors to work in remote areas in Brazil.

The program had been created during the administration of left-wing former President Dilma Rousseff and was ideologically targeted by the far-right Bolsonaro.

“In many Indigenous reservations, the Cuban doctors were the only professionals available. Now, there’s a total absence of healthcare specialists,” said Oliveira.

This is one of the reasons why many Indigenous people report that they have been treating COVID-19 cases with traditional healing herbs and teas.

“If we only count on regular medicines, there won’t be enough for everybody,” said Fr. Justino Rezende, a member of the Tuyuka people who lives in the city of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, in Amazonas state.

Rezende came down with COVID-19 in June. “The number of cases here is going up,” he said. “Many elderly people are dying.”

Given that most villages are near small cities, the most serious cases are often taken to the state capitals, where the hospitals are a little better. Deaths occurring so far away from patients’ families lead to other complications.

“The disease is disrupting millennium-long life systems, given that it impedes the practice of very important rituals — especially the funereal ones,” explained Sr. Laura Vicuña Manso, a CIMI missionary. “The Indigenous groups feel deeply like they are doing something wrong when they can’t perform their traditional rites.”

Manso described the despair of a few leaders of the Karitiana people from Rondonia State when the first COVID-19 victim of their village died.

“The healthcare authorities wanted to bury the body in the city,” she said. “In the end, after much discussion, we were able to take the body to the village, but they couldn’t perform the whole traditional ritual.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/brazils-indigenous-communities-are-being-devastated-covid-19

‘Pope Francis’ hospital boat delivers aid to pandemic-hit Amazon

Pope Francis hospital ship. Credit: Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, – A hospital boat named after Pope Francis has been delivering medical aid along the Amazon River as rural communities struggle amid Brazil’s devastating coronavirus outbreak. 

“This vessel has already done great miracles in the lives of our riverside people, bringing health and hope,” Franciscan Brother Joel Sousa told the Brazilian bishops’ conference news portal.

Since the boat was inaugurated in July 2019, the medical crew has carried out 46,000 medical consultations in the communities along the Amazon River. However, in the face of Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak, the crew has shifted its focus to prevention and testing.

“We couldn’t be out of this fight. We got together, reorganized ourselves in our service so that together we could also fight against COVID-19,” Sousa said.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Brazil hard. With nearly 1.9 million COVID-19 cases, Brazil has the second highest number of recorded pandemic fatalities in the world after the United States. 

At least 72,833 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil as of July 14, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced July 7 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Vatican News reported July 14 that Pope Francis has donated four ventilators to Brazil to treat those who have contracted the virus. One of them, sent to a hospital in Marabá, a municipality in the state of Pará, will be “used especially for the Indigenous peoples,” according to the local bishop.

Despite their isolation, communities along the Amazon River have not been shielded from the outbreak. The virus has spread after two cities along the mouth of the river, Belem and Macapa, experienced outbreaks in the spring.

“We are mainly treating flu-like symptoms and mild, outpatient COVID-19 symptoms. The doctor performs the consultations and we also deliver medicines to the local health department,” Sousa said.

The hospital boat is staffed by medical volunteers, crew members, and Franciscan friars. It was founded by the Fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi in the Providence of God, in partnership with their local diocese and the Brazilian government.

The Brazilian Franciscans were inspired to create the floating hospital when Pope Francis visited their healthcare facility during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. During the visit, the pope encouraged Friar Francisco Belotti to expand his religious order’s charitable works into the Amazon region.

The boat, 105 feet in length, contains an operating room and analysis laboratory, and is able to provide a range of medical services, including X-rays, vaccinations, electrocardiogram, mammograms, and ultrasounds. The hospital began treating its first patients Aug. 18.

In a letter marking the boat’s launch on Aug. 17, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the Church as a “field hospital,” said that the Church can also now be seen as a “hospital on the water.”

“Just as Jesus, who appeared walking on water, calmed the storm and strengthened the faith of the disciples, this boat will bring spiritual comfort and calm to the worries of needy men and women, abandoned to their fate,” Pope Francis said.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-hospital-boat-delivers-aid-to-pandemic-hit-amazon-43303

Women, migrants, minorities to suffer most in Latin America as coronavirus rages -UN agency

Screenshot_2020-05-13 Women, migrants, suffer most in Latin America as coronavirus rages
People line up outside of a pharmacy amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Guayaquil, Ecaudor April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Santiago Arcos

SANTIAGO, – The coronavirus pandemic will make a bad economic situation worse for women, indigenous people, migrants and people of African descent in Latin America, a region already plagued by deep-rooted inequality, a United Nations agency said in a report issued on Tuesday.

Unequal access to potable water, sanitation, healthcare and housing could also mean higher rates of infection and death among these higher-risk populations, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said in the report.

Women are in a “particularly vulnerable situation,” the report said, because their work is more often informal, with few guarantees, leaving them more exposed to the risk of unemployment.

Domestic workers in Latin America, who account for 11.4% of employed women in the region, will be especially hard hit by the virus and economic downturn, with limited access to an already tenuous social safety net in many countries.

Many domestic workers are migrants, or of indigenous or African descent, compounding the discrimination, the agency said.

Women are also most likely to be saddled with the responsibilities that come with quarantine and the closure of schools, increasing stress at home and the potential for domestic violence.

“The burden of unpaid domestic work assumed by women, adolescents and girls, as well as cases of violence against them, are significantly increased,” the agency warned.

Although the UN report focused partly on women, data from around the world has shown that men are dying at a higher rate than women from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Latin America has more than 369,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and more than 20,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to a Reuters count based on official data.

The region’s economies are set to contract by a record 5.3% in 2020, unleashing the worst social and economic crisis in decades, the agency said in a prior report in April.

The crisis is expected to exacerbate festering social and labor discrimination suffered by the indigenous and African-American populations, who already face greater wage gaps compared to other groups, ECLAC said.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200512171007-8v6yv/

 

Farming Families Search for Land

Brazil-farm
Sr. Maria Vagner Souza Silva teaches Biblical Studies in the community of Sâo Joâo Batista in Anapu.

By Sisters Jane Dwyer and Kathryne Webster, SNDdeN

We, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN), follow and walk with the people in Anapu, Brazil. From 1982 until 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang was herself the Pastoral Land Commission in Anapu. Since her brutal murder, we have been coordinating this work. We accompany farming families as they search for land, respect nature, improve their production and life and their own organization. The right and responsibility to initiate belong to the people with whom we journey.

Since 2005, we have created the Committee in Defense of Anapu (CDA). For the last fifteen years, we have met with this Committee for the entire day on one Saturday each month, to address issues pertaining to the farming families, their needs, problems and threats. The people share their difficulties, reflect together on the causes, make collective and group decisions to change attitudes. Opening each meeting, our SNDdeN role is to provide an initial reflection; we call it a mística. This ecumenical experience helps the people to deepen their values and motivation for sustaining them on this journey.

Workshops in 2020

During 2020, we intend to offer practical workshops, requested by the families, on various ways of planting and cloning cacau in the forest, preparing and planting crops without burning, land homeopathy, the extraction of oils and essences from the forest, economic organization of the rural family, and other activities depending on the year’s
journey. We offer Biblical studies, continually providing spiritual resources for motivation on the journey. We aim to decentralize these workshops by offering them in various sectors of the municipality. There are more than 100 communities and conflict areas in Anapu.

Land Conflict and Organization of People

The land in Anapu is all public and destined for Agrarian Reform. We do not encourage people to occupy new lands but to take back lands that have been usurped, bought and sold illegally. The people work together within the judicial system with the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA). After Sister Dorothy’s assassination, the creation of the defense committee, the CDA, helped families with land conflicts, to settle and win in court. The people occupy the usurped lands or organize groups with clear objectives. This organizing does create a lot of tension, violence and imprisonment in Anapu. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) defends families against slaughter, murder and violence. At first, the people needed help with everything, from typing letters, reports, petitions to discovering where to get required help. Today they take the responsibility for organizing themselves, finding the information for their defense, approaching INCRA, and all for public defense.

SNDdeN Presence and Ministry

We continue formation and follow-up through workshops, visits, and seeking financial assistance and defense in the face of threats to life, murders and the constant presence of gun and militias. Since 2015, 19 people in Anapu have been brutally murdered, with three killed in 2019, over land conflicts. Several individuals and many families have fled from Anapu, to escape being murdered. People face the threat of gunmen who have murdered companions and family members and intend to kill others. Farm families and their organization have not yet been able to achieve their goal. Our journey with them in Anapu and the wider Brazilian community becomes clearer to us with time. Our Notre Dame de Namur presence in Anapu is more to inform, influence and open channels against isolation from the outside world.

 

 

 

Good Works March 2020: https://www.sndden.org/who-we-are/good-works-international-magazine/