By Leonardo Benassatto
BOA VISTA (Reuters) – Soldiers distributed masks to barefooted Yanomami Indians, including warriors with paintings, spears, bows and arrows, on Wednesday, the second day of an armed forces operation to protect isolated people from Covid-19.
The Yanomami are the last large isolated people in the Amazon, where dozens of indigenous communities have been infected by the most recent disease to come from the outside world to threaten their existence.
“Everything is under control. We have had no case detection here,” Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo, a retired army general, told reporters at the Surucucu post on the border with Venezuela.
Azevedo said the death of two Yanomami allegedly shot by gold miners in the vast reserve was an isolated case that is being investigated by the Federal Police.
A gold rush that took about 20,000 prospectors to invade Brazil’s largest reserve has contaminated rivers and destroyed forests, and the Yanomami said the prospectors also brought the new coronavirus.
Indigenous leaders appealed to the Supreme Federal Court (STF) on Wednesday for the court to order the federal government to protect isolated people by barring outsiders on reserve land and expelling poachers, loggers and gold miners who are thought to bring fatal diseases.
The Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib) asked that the invaders be removed – with the sending of military forces, if necessary – from the reserves of the Yanomami, Karipuna, Uru-Eu-Uau-Uau, Caiapó, Arariboia and Mundurucu peoples. .
Apib said that 405 indigenous people died from Covid-19 until June 27, and that 112 different people have 9,983 infected.
In Surucucu, Yanomami families were initially frightened by the arrival of medical personnel, supplies of protective equipment and medicine in noisy military helicopters.
The men fumbled with the masks as they covered their faces painted with red paint extracted from tree bark.
“Indigenous Health is good for us, it helps us. We came here to ask for help, to see if we are well. We walked four hours to get here,” said an Yanomami elder through a big white mask through an interpreter.
Nurses took temperatures and did quick tests of Covid-19.
“When we arrive, they are a little bit afraid, watching us from afar and then we gain confidence and with that everyone gets closer and everything ends up going well,” said Fernanda Ribeiro, lieutenant and doctor of the Brazilian Air Force. “They end up liking it. It has been very rewarding!”