Brazil indigenous protesters demand help against virus

Novo Progresso (Brazil) (AFP) –


Brandishing bows and arrows, dozens of indigenous protesters blocked a main highway through the Brazilian Amazon Monday, demanding help against the new coronavirus and an end to illegal mining and deforestation.

Members of the Kayapo Mekranoti ethnic group set up a road block across highway BR-163, the main artery connecting Brazil's mid-western agricultural heartland to the river ports of the Amazon, AFP correspondents said.

The blockade caused a long line of semi-trucks hauling corn and soybeans to form outside the town of Novo Progresso, in the state of Para.

Wearing traditional feather headdresses and body paint, the protesters blocked the road with tires, wielding sticks, machetes and bows to discourage drivers from attempting to go around.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit especially hard among indigenous people in the region, who have a history of vulnerability to outside diseases.

In Brazil, 21,000 have been infected and 618 have died, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association (APIB), which accuses far-right President Jair Bolsonaro of turning a blind eye to the problem.

"This sickness is getting worse by the day," chief Beppronti Mekragnotire said at the roadblock, through an interpreter.

"That's why we are protesting, so that the government will look at indigenous people, not just here but across Brazil."

Brazil has the second-highest number of infections and deaths in the pandemic, after the United States: more than 3.3 million and 107,000, respectively.

The Kayapo Mekranoti live on two reservations, the Bau and Menkragnoti, that together span 6.5 million hectares (more than 25,000 square miles), an area larger than Croatia.

Of the 1,600 inhabitants in their 12 villages, around 400 have caught the virus and four have died, according to the rights group Kabu.

The virus is believed to have arrived in the region with illegal miners operating on the reservations.

The protesters demanded the government act to stop such encroachments by gold miners and deforestation in the Amazon, blamed mainly on illegal farming and ranching.