NOVO PROGRESSO, Brazil
Dozens of indigenous people, many painted black to represent their pain and fighting spirit, blocked a major highway in the Amazon on Monday to pressure the Brazilian government to help protect themselves from COVID-19.
The Kayapo Mekragnotire people blamed the authorities for the deaths of four elderly people and the dozens of infections in their region in the southern state of Pará, near the city of Novo Progresso. The leaders said that people outside their territory spread the coronavirus among them because there were no restrictions on entering their land.
Approximately 400 mekragnotire kayapos live in 15 separate groups in the region.
They claim to have few doctors, little personal protective equipment, and no nearby intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients. They wore yellow, green and blue feathered headdresses, and carried bows, arrows and clubs. Some wore colorful beads, bracelets, and headbands from Brazilian soccer clubs.
“Medical care here is precarious. There are not enough healthcare employees to deal with the situation. We need urgent support in the midst of this pandemic, ”said Doto Takak-Ire, a Mekragnotire Kayapo leader. “We need more supplies of personal hygiene, more masks. If the government had done its job, we would not be here in the middle of the pandemic. ”
They said they would keep their logs and tires spread out on the road until federal authorities went to negotiate.
Protesters received some masks after blocking the highway, but few seemed to know how to use them. Alexandra Santos, an agent for the government’s indigenous health care system, SESAI, said the Kayapo Mekragnotire people are taught how to protect themselves from the virus. She took her temperatures, but at the moment she had no coronavirus tests available.
Brazil’s Health Ministry said the virus has infected nearly 20,000 indigenous people and killed at least 338 of them. Experts believe that both figures are far below the truth. A count by the APIB organization, based on official data and information from leaders, indicates that more than 25,000 indigenous people have been infected in the country and another 678 have died from the virus.