Brazil indigenous chief Aritana badly ill with virus

Indigenous chief Aritana explains how native handicrafts are made on a 2003 visit by Spain's Queen Sophia to Brasilia. AFP/EVARISTO SA

One of Brazil’s leading indigenous chiefs, Aritana Yawalapiti, is battling a severe case of the new coronavirus, which has devastated native communities in the Amazon region, his son said Tuesday.

Chief Aritana, who is about 70 years old, tested positive for the virus after having trouble breathing in his village in the Xingu indigenous reserve, his son Tapi told AFP.

He was taken to a hospital in the town of Canarana, in the west-central state of Mato Grosso, then transferred Tuesday to another hospital in Goiania, capital of the neighboring state of Goias, that had an intensive care bed available, Tapi said.

“His condition is still serious. They’re transferring him to the hospital in Goiania right now,” Tapi said by phone.

Aritana, who is known for fighting to protect the Amazon rainforest and indigenous rights, had been raising funds to help indigenous communities deal with coronavirus when he got sick, he added.

Indigenous peoples in the Amazon region, who have a history of vulnerability to outside diseases, have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.

Health concerns for Brazilian indigenous leaders. AFP/Patricio ARANA
Health concerns for Brazilian indigenous leaders. AFP/Patricio ARANA

In Brazil, more than 17,000 have been infected and 544 have died, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association (APIB).

The virus claimed the life of another top indigenous leader, Paulinho Paiakan, last month.

“We are terribly worried for chief Aritana, who is the leading ‘cacique’ of the peoples of the Upper Xingu region,” said Gert-Peter Bruch, president of French environmental group Planet Amazon.

“All the iconic chiefs of the past 50 years appear to be threatened by the scourge of this disease.”




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