Centuries of epidemic disease, from smallpox and malaria to measles and influenza, have been imported into Brazil’s native communities by missionaries, colonists, and the mining, logging and ranching industries.
Now, these same invasive forces appear ready to bring the coronavirus pandemic to the deep reaches of the Amazon.
The missionaries are coming
One religious organization, Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, aims to bring Christianity to over 100 uncontacted indigenous groups in Brazil.
The group recently purchased a helicopter and, as the coronavirus pandemic rages around the world, its members plan to convert uncontacted groups in distant parts of the Brazilian Amazon.
The evangelical group is said to have previously brought malaria and influenza to one indigenous community in Brazil’s Pará state — and the diseases went on to wipe out one-third of the local population.
Their actions appear to be in violation of Brazil’s “no contact” policies to protect indigenous peoples.
But those policies are themselves threatened; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro recently appointed a former Ethnos360 missionary to lead one of its government agencies that deals with contacting isolated tribes.
Amazon’s plague — of industry
Brazil’s forests, long inhabited by native peoples, have been cut down for use as pasture, mining, air strips, and other extractive and exploitative purposes.
These industrious outsiders arrive by river, plane, and road, and their mark upon the land and its people is lasting.
Now, advocacy groups are calling for their wholesale expulsion.
This includes loggers, ranchers, rubber tappers, and drug traffickers.
Many of these operations are technically illegal, but are otherwise widespread.
In particular, indigenous advocacy groups want the tens of thousands of gold miners to stay out of indigenous areas.
Their concern is not just the integrity of the land — but also to avoid the spread of coronavirus.