'On the eve of genocide': Chilling theory emerges around Amazon tribe amid virus

·3-min read

Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado has sent an open letter to President Jair Bolsonaro calling for "urgent measures" to save the indigenous peoples of the Amazon from the coronavirus pandemic.

"The indigenous peoples of Brazil face a serious threat to their own survival with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter, backed by an online petition which has so far gathered more than 200,000 signatures, said.

"Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonisers.”

The letter was signed by a list of celebrities – including Paul McCartney, Richard Gere, Madoona, Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep.

"Today with this new scourge spreading rapidly throughout Brazil", the Amazon's indigenous people “may disappear completely since they have no means of combating COVID-19”.

Two Satere-mawe indigenous men wear face masks while using a smartphone.
Satere-mawe indigenous men use a smartphone to contact a doctor in Sao Paulo State to receive medical guidance amid the coronavirus pandemic. Source: Getty Images

The stars appear in a video by Brazilian director Fernando Meireles, which features Salgado calling on Mr Bolsonaro to put an end to economic intrusion into the lives of the Amazon peoples, and to "guarantee their protection".

"Brazil owes a debt to its first inhabitants. It is time to do what should have been done a long time ago," Salgado said.

“We are on the eve of a genocide,” Salgado told The Guardian.

The 76-year-old has won numerous international awards for his portrayal of the poor across the world, most recently turning his focus on the peoples of the Amazon rainforest basin.

A member of the Satere-mawe indigenous people is seen using a smartphone to contact a doctor while wearing a face mask.
Photographer Sebastiao Salgado has won numerous international awards for his photographs of the poor across the world, most recently turning his focus on the peoples of the Amazon. Source: Getty Images

‘We are in danger of extinction’

The mayor of Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon rainforest region, asked world leaders on Tuesday (local time) for help fighting the novel coronavirus, which has brought his city's health system to the brink of collapse.

Manaus is the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, which has been devastated by the pandemic.

Mayor Arthur Virgilio sent video messages and letters pleading for funds and medical equipment to 21 world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.

With only one intensive care unit to serve a state more than four times the area of Germany, Manaus has been overwhelmed by the outbreak, leaving hospitals to store cadavers in refrigerator trucks.

Amazonas state has registered 649 deaths from COVID-19 so far.

"For decades, we have played an important role for the health of the planet, keeping 96 per cent of our original forest," Mr Virgilio said in his video to Mr Macron, speaking in French.

"Now, in return, we need medical personnel, ventilators, protective equipment, anything that can save the lives of those who protect the great forest."

Satere-mawe indigenous men navigate the Ariau river during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic at the Sahu-Ape community, 80 km of Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on May 5, 2020.
Satere-mawe indigenous men navigate the Ariau river during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Sahu-Ape community, 80 km of Manaus, Amazonas State. Source: Getty Images
Satere-mawe indigenous people are seen using a smartphone to contact a doctor in Sao Paulo state amid the coronavirus pandemic at the Sahu-Ape community, 80 km of Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on May 5, 2020.
Coronavirus has already infected 180 of the 600 indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin and killed 33 of their members in a single month. Source: Getty Images

Though not densely populated, the Amazon region is home to indigenous groups particularly vulnerable to outside diseases and has limited public health infrastructure.

Brazil is the Latin American country hit hardest by the pandemic, with 7,921 deaths so far

“We cannot wait any longer for our governments ... We are in danger of extinction,” José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA and a member of the Wakuenai Kurripaco people of Venezuela, said.

COVID-19 has already infected 180 of the 600 indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin and killed 33 of their members in a single month, he said.

—With AFP and Reuters

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