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News > Brazil

Brazil: Indigenous Leaders Denounce COVID-19 Risk From Military

  • Members of the Yanomami community arrive at a military brigade, Surucucu, Brazil, 2020.

    Members of the Yanomami community arrive at a military brigade, Surucucu, Brazil, 2020. | Photo: EFE

Published 3 July 2020

“We don’t want to be used as government's propaganda,” Indigenous leader Parana Yanomami said.

Indigenous leaders from the isolated Brazilian Yanomami community complained that a military mission sent to protect them from the coronavirus brought instead a risk of infection to their people through contact with journalists among other outsiders.


Brazil: Contagion Toll Would Be Higher Than Official

Federal prosecutors said they were investigating the visit for ignoring the wishes of Yanomami communities to remain isolated from society, violating rules of social distancing, and distributing chloroquine to Indigenous people.

Earlier this week, soldiers brought medical supplies by helicopter to outposts on the border with Venezuela and assembled Yanomami families to be tested for the new coronavirus, while they were filmed by journalists.

“We don’t want to be used as government's propaganda,” said Indigenous leader Parana Yanomami. “We don’t want outsiders coming here to take photos of our children. The visit took us by surprise.”

The Yanomami, who is the last major tribe to live in relative isolation on a vast reservation about the size of the U.S. state of Indiana, have been invaded for decades by gold miners who have brought diseases fatal to their people.

The Surucucu community head Roberto Yanomami said Jair Bolsonaro's administration organized the trip without consulting Indigenous leaders.

“We are worried strangers came here and left the COVID-19. The Yanomami people were called into the garrison with no explanation,” he said in a video message.

Leading the mission, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo told reporters Wednesday the pandemic was under control among the Yanomami, as medics had detected no cases.

Yet, his comment was rejected by the Yanomami health council CONDISI which says there have been more than 160 confirmed cases and five deaths among the tribe of about 27,000 people.

Azevedo said all members of the mission were tested for COVID-19 beforehand and that chloroquine has been used for more than 70 years for malaria, which is prevalent in the Amazon region.

The council asked the public prosecutor to investigate the visit and the delivery of chloroquine, the anti-malarial drug of controversial use in treating COVID-19 patients. 

The prosecutor’s office added the military was not protecting the Yanomami from their main risk of contagion: the estimated at more than 20,000 gold miners illegally on their land.

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