18 May 2020, The Tablet

Leading Catholics warn of escalating crisis in Brazil

Leading Catholics warn of escalating crisis in Brazil

People from an indigenous Satere-Mawe family wear face masks to prevent infection with coronavirus. They live in Yapurari Satere, a Satere Mawe community in Manaus.
Lucas Silva/DPA/PA Images

REPAM, the Church Amazon Network which is responsible for the preparations and follow-up to the Amazon synod, is becoming increasingly forceful in its warnings about the situation in the Amazon region. 

A statement issued on 18 May signed by president and vice-president, Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes and the Peruvian Pedro Barreto, said: “A tremendous force, on a scale never seen before, is devastating Amazonia in two dimensions that combine in a brutal manner: the Covid-19 pandemic, which engulfs the most vulnerable, and the uncontrolled increase in violence in the territories.”

Listing intrusions into indigenous territories for mining or illegal logging, the cardinals said: “This is a decisive time for Amazonia and for the world, a time of gestation of new relationships inspired by integral ecology, or for the loss of the dreams of the Synod for the Amazon if fear, special interests and pressure from those who possess great capital impose with increasing force the model of an ‘economy that kills’ (Evangelii Gaudium 53)."

The statement follows the launch by REPAM of  a map showing the impact of Covid-19 on the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. The work is being done in collaboration with COICA, the Coordinating Committee of the Indigenous of the Amazon Basin.  The data are collected by the indigenous communities themselves and their organisations and cover the nine countries included in REPAM.  It is intended that the map will be updated weekly.

The initial version, launched in Quito, Ecuador, on 15 May, records 526 cases and 116 deaths. Brazil heads the list with 249 cases and 70 deaths, followed by Peru with 45 cases and 7 deaths and Colombia with 146 cases and 26 deaths. No indigenous deaths were recorded in Venezuela and no cases among indigenous in Guyana and Surinam.

In a launch statement, Mauricio López, secretary general of REPAM, and José Gregorio Díaz, general coordinator of COICA, said that the map was intended as “a call to the states for urgent and effective action and an instrument to help the indigenous peoples themselves and their allies find a response to this growing crisis”. Mr López told the Tablet that the map was "a work in progress".

Meanwhile in Brazil the response the pandemic has become even more chaotic after the resignation of the minister of health, Nelson Teich on 15 May after just under a month in the post. 

He is understood to have resisted President Bolsonaro’s calls for the relaxation of the lockdown and the use of the anti-malaria drug chloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. He has been replaced temporarily by the previous deputy minister, an army general with no medical experience. By Saturday 16 May the number of cases of the virus had reached 233,142 and the total of deaths was 15,633, according to government figures, widely believed to be an underestimate. Epidemiologist Paulo Loftus of the University of São Paulo commented that Brazil had an ascending curve and almost 1,000 deaths a day.

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