Native Brazilians limit access to reserves in Roraima state

The move aims to prevent COVID-19 from reaching isolated communities

Published in 31/03/2020 - 11:37 By Alex Rodrigues - Brasília

Fearing the advance of the new coronavirus, native Brazilians in Roraima state are barring the access of vehicles of non-indigenous people to their territories. According to the Roraima Indigenous Council (CIR), at least 15 communities have blocked traffic and banned outsiders from coming near. Since part of the blocked roads leads to other settlements, the number of villages attempting to isolate themselves may be larger than what was counted by the body, which is said to be active in 241 indigenous communities in the northern state.

Civil servants heard by Agência Brasil confirmed the initiative, but said that the blockages have been set up on thoroughfares near the communities, and no reports have been made of state and federal roads closed.

One of the communities restricting circulation is Morcego, in the indigenous territory Serra da Moça, in rural Boa Vista, the state capital. In a note, community leaders announced the indefinite blockage, aiming to protect the health of residents. In addition to banning the entry of outsiders, they decided to limit the circulation of the residents themselves, not allowing them to leave, except for an emergency, with group leaders being notified in advance.

CIR Coordinator-General Enock Taurepang told Agência Brasil the blockages had been mounted by communities in several regions across the state, including the indigenous territory Raposa Serra do Sol, with 26 thousand native people of the ethnic groups Wapichana, Patamona, Makuxi, Taurepang, and Ingarikó. “This is because people from cities, especially Boa Vista, were going to the countryside as if going on vacation. They were often poorly informed people, who did not receive the due recommendations, which had us very much concerned.”

WHO recommendations

Aslo according to Enock, each community is outlining its own strategy to control the inflow of of people, thus attempting to prevent the disease from reaching the areas. The measure, the indigenous people say, is in line with the advise by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Brazilian health authorities, which recommend social distancing as the best way to prevent the virus from disseminating.

The Community Waimiri Atroari Association, for instance, decided to suspend its nocturnal traffic control for 15 days on the road crossing the reserve. In a note released on 24, the association explained that the decision was based on the “COVID-19 pandemic situation.” The access to unauthorized people to the villages as well as the control and support stations in the indigenous territory is still banned.

Indigenous land

Roraima, Brazil’s northernmost state, shares national borders with Venezuela and Guiana, and is home to some 450 thousand people, of whom 50 thousand identify as indigenous, according to a 2010 census. It is also the state with the most indigenous territories in the country—32, including the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve and Yanomami, which stretches over to the neighboring state of Amazonas.

The state has 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 13 in the capital Boa Vista, and three in the town of Bonfim. No case has been notified in an indigenous area so far.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Pedro Ivo Oliveira / Nira Foster

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