Key indigenous leader in Brazil’s Amazon dies from Covid-19

Brasilia, Aug 5 (efe-epa).- Chief Aritana Yawalapiti, a well-known indigenous leader in Brazil’s Amazon region, died Wednesday at age 69 from Covid-19, the illness that has killed at least 640 among the country’s so-called “first peoples.”

Aritana’s death was confirmed by relatives in a message posted on the social networks and came 15 days after he had been hospitalized in the city of Goiania, to which he was transferred on an urgent basis from the jungles of Alto Xingu, one of the indigenous zones hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chief was taken to Goiania, the capital of the central state of Goias, by ambulance, a journey that took 10 hours from his village and during which he was fitted with five oxygen tubes, according to the medical personnel in charge of his transfer.

“We’re going to get through this. We’re warriors,” the chief told reporters upon being admitted to the hospital where he ultimately died 15 days later and after being unconscious and on a ventilator for the past week.

According to the Apib, Brazil’s national indigenous grouping, among the roughly 900,000 indigenous people living in the South American giant some 22,325 have already been definitively diagnosed with Covid-19, and 640 of them have died.

The coronavirus, according to the same source, has been detected among 148 of the country’s 305 indigenous tribes, most of whom live on reservations or preserves located in Amazonia.

Brazil is the country that has suffered the second-highest total of coronavirus cases and deaths – behind only the United States – with some 2.8 million cases and 96,000 fatalities.

Aritana was one of the supporters and allies of Chief Raoni Metuktire in defending the Amazon – considered by many scientists and members of the lay public to be the planet’s green lung – from excessive development and spent his entire life in the village of Yawalapiti, in the heart of the Alto Xingu, one of the indigenous zones that has experienced the most violence due to the illegal activities of encroaching miners and loggers.

It was Aritana’s activism that inspired a “telenovela,” or dramatic television series, bearing his name broadcast by the now-defunct Tupi network in 1978.

In recent weeks, one of Aritana’s brothers and a niece both died of Covid-19, and the chief had warned about the danger the disease poses for indigenous peoples, who lack the appropriate health networks and are among the groups most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The indigenous leader’s death came just days after Chief Raoni, 89, was released from the hospital after being admitted for an intestinal infection.

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