- A group of organizations has sent a letter to Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra asking for urgent support for Indigenous communities, which have been overlooked during the COVID-19 crisis, according to activists.
- The demands in the letter include the deliverance of food, medicine and medical supplies, as well as the cessation of extractive activities that are carrying the virus into traditional territories.
- It’s estimated that 125 Indigenous people have died from COVID-19 in the Ucayali region of the Amazon since the start of the pandemic. However, it’s difficult to get accurate numbers due to a lack of testing.
A group of more than 100 Peruvian and international non-profit organizations has written a letter to Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, asking him to deliver emergency support to the Indigenous communities of the Amazon during the COVID-19 crisis.
When the pandemic began its sweep through Latin America earlier this year, the Peruvian government introduced strict measures to try and contain the virus. Borders were closed. Police and military checkpoints were set up in towns and cities to monitor people’s comings and goings. Only one person from each household was allowed to go outside to shop or visit the bank, and these excursions were limited to three times a week.
While many Indigenous people tried to isolate their communities from the outside world, the virus found a way in. This incursion is largely due to extractive activities that have been allowed to continue near these communities, according to Julia Urrunaga, director of the Peru program at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), one of the organizations that signed the letter.
“[Th]e reopening of mining, logging, industrial agriculture, oil and infrastructure, means that high risk external people, people who come and go between towns and indigenous communities, are getting access to indigenous territories,” Urrunaga told Mongabay in an email.
“The government has defined protocols to make sure that these activities will be conducted in a sanitary responsible way, but who is going to make sure that those protocols are being implemented?” she added. “Just to talk about logging, according to the national forest authority, around 80% of the timber harvesting in the country is illegal. How can we trust that companies that do not care about following the law for timber harvesting? Will they be responsible about biosecurity protocols?”
In the Amazon region of Ucayali alone, it’s estimated that about 125 Indigenous people died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to ProPurús, a non-profit organization that is mapping out the virus cases in the region. However, there are no definitive numbers, mainly due to a lack of testing and other medical resources.
“In some cases where the situation was extremely dire, 50 or 60 people are presenting symptoms out of communities of 100 or 200 people,” Urrunaga said. “The government sent medical technicians just to apply a dozen tests. Most of the few people who got tested were positive for COVID-19, but the technicians could not prescribe or leave any medicines, not even paracetamol. The indigenous peoples have been treating the pain just with traditional medicine, hoping to not need oxygen, which has been hard to find even at the capitals of the Amazon regions.”
There has also been an increase in conflicts between Indigenous community members and outsiders. For instance, 70 Indigenous people from the Kukama-Kukamiria ethnic group traveled to the facilities of the PetroTal in early August to demand basic services such as health care. The confrontation resulted in a violent dispute, resulting in the deaths of three Indigenous people.
In the letter, the union of organizations asks the Peruvian government to provide urgent supplies of food, medicine, and medical supplies and care, such as oxygen, biosafety equipment, and consultations with doctors and nurses via telephone and radio. They also ask for the suspension of activities like logging and mining, which they say puts these communities at risk.
“Mr. President Martín Vizcarra, we understand that the situation is extremely complex at a global level and that it has exceeded the capacities of the State,” the group writes in the letter. “But, more than five months after declaring the emergency, it is unacceptable that the attention provided to the grave situation of Indigenous Peoples has been so limited. We appeal to your humanity and responsibility towards all Peruvians.”
As stated in the letter, these demands are a reiteration of a publicly released statement put forward by Indigenous communities via Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP), the largest national Indigenous organization of Peru, on July 10, 2020. However, there was no official response to either the AIDESEP statement or the newly addressed letter to President Martín Vizcarra, Urrunaga said.
“We would have hoped not to have written this letter,” she said. “We would have hoped that the Peruvian government had taken care of the humanitarian emergency that the COVID-19 has created among the indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon. Sadly, it has not been the case.”
Banner image caption: An Indigenous leader of a Peruvian Amazon community. Image by Daniel Pérez Peña / FENAMAD.
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.
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