corona perspectives

Corona perspectives: Covid-19 and indigenous communities in South America

In response to the lack of clear governmental information and a strategy to prevent the spread of Covid 19, several indigenous communities in Latin America are locking down their territories to reduce the risk of contagion. Historically marginalized, living below the poverty level and having limited or no access to health services, indigenous organizations such as the National Organization of the Arahuco People (Colombia), the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon (Peru), the Union of Organizations of Chibuleo People (Ecuador) have prohibited foreigners from entering their communities and have implemented quarantine rules for returning neighbors.

The Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee and General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation issued a press release last week declaring a red alert in all communities, towns, barrios, and Zapatista organizational bodies, and the closing of the Caracoles (autonomous municipalities). The following article, translated below, illustrates the challenges that indigenous communities are facing in the Peruvian Amazonia:Coronavirus: Indigenous communities are 3 days from the nearest hospital and without drinking water

Luis F. Rodríguez Jiménez (Wayka)…/

The presence of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in our country (Peru) has forced us to abide by a series of drastic containment measures. However, one of the most vulnerable populations facing the pandemic is the native communities. Many of them do not have quality access to the public health system and live in really precarious conditions.

Due to this situation, various Amazonian organizations have arranged emergency measures to protect their communities. One of them is the Central Ashaninka del Río Ene (CARE) which, through a statement, has announced "the total shutdown of the Asháninka territory." This implies that any foreign person who fails to comply with the measure will be "handed over to the National Police or the Armed Forces" by the self-defense committees.

However, Ruth Buendía, president of CARE, knows that this measure is insufficient to protect communities in the central Peruvian jungle. Even more so when the closest hospital is 7 hours away from the river.

“It seems good to me that the central government has funds for the implementation and strengthening of the health system. [But] in Junín they are only considering Huancayo, Tarma and Chanchamayo […] But to get to Satipo it is 7 hours. And now that there is no transport, how are we going to bring our patients? ” Buendía pointed out.

According to what he said, the next best-equipped hospital is in Chanchamayo, 3 hours from Satipo. In total, the journey in search of a properly implemented hospital is approximately 9 hours.

Furthermore, diagnosis of the disease in the communities would not be possible since the health centers do not have equipment or personnel to detect the disease.

"Health center professionals have been out since the National Emergency was decreed. In the community there are none […] Nor do we have the economic capacity to set up check pints since the government does not provide them,” said the president of CARE.

On the other hand, providing drinking water to wash hands as protection against the COVID-19 virus is impossible, according to Ruth Buendía.

"The communities do not have potable water, they are supplied by the Ene River. The Mantaro and Apurímac rivers that make up the Ene river contain solid waste from large cities and mining and oil activity. All the small rivers, streams […] carry all this sediment [to] the big rivers and that takes the population. This is where our people take their water," he assured.

The Amazonian communities grouped in the Machiguenga del Río Urubamba Council (COMARU) are experiencing a similar situation. According to their president, Agilio Semperi, they have also ordered to close their borders but they face the same problem of lack of health centers.


Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies monitors the Covid-19 pandemic

There is little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic affects communities and nations across the world in different ways, and that the world’s poor are going to experience this crisis much more keenly than people belonging to affluent communities. As a postcolonial research centre, Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies will help monitor the development of the crisis. At the centre's web page above, you will find research and opinion pieces that highlight the dispersed and uneven impact of the crisis in Swedish and global society.

Our aim is that articles that we refer to should be open to the public. However, we cannot guarantee that all articles will be, as media companies' policies and the availability of individual articles may change over time.