Rise in contagion of indigenous people due to illegal logging worries actvists

Reports and data show land invasions heighten the risk of a “new genocide”

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (DF) |
According to leardership land invasions of indigenous territories have worsened during the pandemic - Lidiane Ribeiro/Ibama

The comings and goings of land invaders on indigenous lands has exposed tribes to the novel coronavirus, creating a wave o infections and deaths according to data from the Free Land Settlement (ATL) gathering.

The event discusses the major challenges that indigenous communities and indigenism as a movement face at the moment because of the arrival of the new disease, as well as what vulnerabilities and impacts it is generating.

While indigenous populations try to maintain social isolation against covid-19, loggers, miners and religious zealots are exploiting the loosening of oversight to push forth their destructive work, says Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of the Indigenous People’s Association of Brazil (Apib), who organized the event.

“While we are in quarantine, fighting so that indigenous people can stay on their land, we are seeing a rise in invasions. In one month, there was a 29,3% increase in deforestation. These are numbers from the National Research Institute (Inpe)”, she relates.

Sonia reinforced the notion that unless measures are implemented against these trespassers, the tendency is that a new genocide of native populations will come to pass.

“It’s a perid that demands we keep an eye on this pandemic, to avoid further contagion – the forced entry into our lands represents a new genocide of our peoples – and we need to keep the other eye on the other issues that have never been resolved, that the Brazilian State has never been committed to addressing, like invasions, violent attacks, the murders”, says Guajajara.

Researcher Antonio Oviedo, from the Eco-Social Institute, has analyzed past epidemics on lands belonging to the Yanomami tribe. He discovered that one land invader could be the cause of up 1,600 cases of a disease like covid-19. The analysis takes into account the actions of 20,000 loggers on Yanomami land. 

“We can see that there is a difference, over 30 days, considering that from a single case in the logging population we can expect 1,600 cases here, our isolation measures have been working. By reducing people’s movement by 50%, we’ve only had 2 cases that stemmed from an original one”, he explained.

Professor Marta Azevedo, from the Federal University of Campinas (Unicamp), published research in which she analyses how vulnerable indigenous lands are when taking into account demographics, and infrastructure like access to water, sewage and proximity to hospitals with ICU units.

The data compiled shows that 13 indigenous reservations have what may be considered critical vulnerabilities, while 85 have intense vulnerability.

Marta also points out that beyond the health risks, covid-19 also puts the cultural heritage of native peoples at risk, seeing that elders, considered the wisest, are the most vulnerable.

“For indigenous societies, it’s something that impacts their cultural continuity. These communities already have a reduced number of elderly members, due to all the epidemics and all the wars they have been through. These elders are the wise ones, the masters. As they say in Japan, they are the living treasures of indigenous peoples”, she commented.

Researcher Andrey Cardoso, linked to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, alerted to the fact that the indigenous lands most at risk to covid-19 are close to large urban centers like Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas. She related yet another worry: “As the epidemic moves further into the interior, which is what we are seeing, there will be a considerable rise in the number of indigenous people in immediate risk of getting the disease”, said Cardoso.


In response to the Brasil de Fato article, researcher Antonio Oviedo decided to rectify his discourse through the public relations department of the Eco-social Institute. According to him, the studies mentioned in the piece are yet to be validated and were used as “mere examples”. Because of this, the information is incorrect and doesn’t show up in the studies done by ISA. 

According to the press release, “the study undertaken by ISA and presented at the seminar, “Impacts, vulnerabilities and the fight against covid-19 in Brazil’s indigenous lands”, showed some of these vulnerabilities faced on indigenous territories, where the Yanomami tribe is faced with one of the highest levels of risk (0,7 with 1 being the highest grade of vulnerability). The research takes into account social vulnerability indicators determined by FioCruz, data about covid-19 in Brazil and the healthcare infrastructure in Brazilian municipalities. In regards to the Yanomami Indigenous Land, the study concludes that the region where the territory is located has the lowest number of hospital beds, and the biggest distance between healthcare facilities. This is the information the study done for the Yanomami Indigenous Land validates”. 

The organization adds that: “During the debate between the lecturers, the issue of deforestation and illegal logging was addressed, and how these issues can create more vulnerability for indigenous people. It was mentioned by the participants that future studies should evaluate the possibility of incorporating these variables in them. However, up till now, such studies do not exist. A figurative graph was presented, merely as an example of how these results may be validated, and how these studies can be undertaken. During the presentation it is clear that these are hypothesis to be tested in studies that we would like to do in the future, which will try to evaluate things like how the disease is disseminated”. “The press release of the study showcased during the seminar is available on the ISA monitoring platform ( and does not contemplate quantitative data about infections in loggers or the indigenous Yanomami population, and cannot be taken as true, as it was expressed by the article in question”.

Edited by: Rodrigo Chagas