Guarani Kaiowá from Mato Grosso do Sul receive emergency aid to combat the coronavirus

The most recent report of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil: APIB) (2 October) contained records of the deaths of 837 indigenous people as a result of COVID-19, while 34,608 thousand people from 159 peoples have been infected.   Mato Grosso do Sul, which has the second highest population of original peoples in Brazil, includes another feature that threatens the existence and health of these communities: agribusiness (the main source of income for the indigenous who move to the city, but also the main source of contact with the coronavirus).

Agribusiness was the principal means through which the virus entered a number of villages in the state.  In the Dourados Indigenous Reserve, the disease entered in the form of an indigenous worker from the JBS meat processing company.  According to the NGO Repórter Brasil, the first two people to be infected in the Teý’ikue village in Caarapó were sugarcane workers.

The perfect scenario for the rapid spread of coronavirus infections was provided by populous villages, without the rapid withdrawal of the indigenous who make up the agribusiness workforce in Mato Grosso do Sul.  Unlike the villages in the Amazon, the Guarani and Kaiowá communities are situated near urban centres or plantations and meat processing companies.  Many of them work in activities that are considered essential, such as garbage collection, health and agribusiness.

The Dourados region has become the state’s pandemic epicentre, with almost 2,000 people infected, of whom 136 are indigenous, according to data from the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena: SESAI).  Of the total number of indigenous infected, 33 are employed by the JBS meat processing company, according to information from the Labour Prosecution Service (Ministério Público do Trabalho: MPT) “Ninety percent of the cases in Dourados are [directly or indirectly] related to JBS,” declared Public Prosecutor Delfino de Alemeida.

This disastrous rapid infection, associated with the historical struggle for the demarcation of territories and the absence of public policies, makes the existence of the peoples of the region even more precarious.  The Regional Justice and Peace Commission (Comissão Regional de Justiça e Paz: CRJP) of Mato Grosso do Sul requested and received emergency aid from CESE to support the Guarani Kaiowa indigenous people affected by COVID-19.

The support was aimed at about 200 families from this ethnicity, to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus to indigenous communities in the Grande Dourados region.  The distribution list contained hygiene items, hand sanitizer and products for making masks.

“Here in Mato Grosso do Sul, the Guarani Kaiowa are facing a difficult situation”, noted Edivaldo Bispo, the CRJP’s Executive Secretary.  The vulnerability of the indigenous is related to hunger and COVID-19 has accentuated this problem and affected the peoples’ health.” In this sense, through joint action with the regional Centre for Bible Studies, parallel campaigns were held to collect food, warm clothing, blankets and money to purchase food and hygiene materials.

However, Edivaldo notes that this hunger has several causes.  One of these is the demarcation of indigenous territories. “The main violation of human rights refers to the constitutional guarantee of their territories, the recognition of demarcations.  When this right is not guaranteed, one consequence is the violation of several others, such as the right to food, health, education, to their religiosity.  Here, we have even seen attacks on their prayer houses.  The land is everything to them,” said the CRJP’s Executive Secretary, working with hope and action to strengthen these peoples during the global pandemic.

(With information from Repórter Brasil)