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Bishops of Brazilian Amazon raise ‘immense concern’ over Covid-19 impact and demand ‘greater attention’ from authorities

The bishops of the Brazilian Amazon have expressed ‘immense concern’ and demanded ‘greater attention’ from authorities in response to the ‘uncontrolled advance of Covid-19’.

In a recently released statement, signed by 67 bishops from all over the Brazilian Amazon, the Church leaders insist that the peoples of the Amazon demand special attention from authorities, warning that their mortality rate is one of the highest in the country at a time when society is witnessing the collapse of health systems in major cities.

They also strongly criticise statistics reported by the media, saying they ‘do not correspond to reality’, and warn that testing is ‘insufficient to know the real expansion of the virus’ with many people showing symptoms of the disease dying at home without medical assistance or access to a hospital.

‘It is up to public authorities to implement responsible policies that support the most vulnerable sections of the population. Indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and other traditional communities are at great risk. This risk also extends to the forest, given the important role these communities play in its conservation,’ the bishops say.

Citing ‘alarming’ date, they point out that the region has the lowest proportion of hospitals in the country and warn that large areas of the Amazon have no ICU beds, while only a few municipalities meet the minimum requirements recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), regarding number of beds and ICUs per inhabitant (10 ICU beds per 100,000 users).

They also raise concerns over further deterioration in living conditions; an ‘alarming’ increase in legal and illegal mining, as well as deforestation and cattle ranching; and an increase in violence in the countryside.

The bishops ‘call upon the Church and the rest of society’ to demand a number of ‘urgent measures from the Federal Government, the National Congress, the State Governments and the Legislative Assemblies’, including the strengthening of public policies, especially the Single Health System (SUS); the restriction of entry of people into all indigenous territories due to the risk of transmitting Covid-19; and guarantees of food security for the peoples of the Amazon.

Among the measures, the bishops also call for testing to be carried out on the indigenous population in order to adopt necessary isolation measures and avoid the spread of Covid-19 and for personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended by the World Health Organisation to be supplied adequately and with instructions for use and disposal.

‘We want to ensure urgent measures are taken to stop harmful activities and, at the same time, investments are made into alternative models of progress and development in the region. The model we currently have has failed: it continues to destroy the Amazon and put the lives of its people at risk,’ the bishops conclude.

The Statement in full:

NOTE FROM THE BISHOPS OF THE BRAZILIAN AMAZON ON THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND ITS IMPACT ON THE POPULATION AND THE RAINFOREST

“You must label the economic operations that damage the Amazon
with their proper name: injustice and crime”
“You must be indignant.”
(Pope Francis – Querida Amazônia)

We, the Bishops of the Amazon, in the face of the uncontrolled advance of COVID-19 across Brazil, especially in the Amazon, express our immense concern and demand greater attention from the federal and state governments to this disease that is increasingly spreading throughout the region. The peoples of the Amazon demand special attention from the authorities so that their lives are not further violated. The mortality rate is one of the highest in the country and society is already witnessing the collapse of health systems in major cities like Manaus and Belém. The statistics reported by the media do not correspond to reality. Testing is insufficient to know the real expansion of the virus. Many people with evident symptoms of the disease die at home without medical assistance or access to a hospital.

It is up to public authorities to implement responsible policies that support the most vulnerable sections of the population. Indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and other traditional communities are at great risk. This risk also extends to the forest, given the important role these communities play in its conservation.

The data is alarming: the region has the lowest proportion of hospitals in the country. Extensive areas of the Amazon have no ICU beds at all and only a few municipalities meet the minimum requirements recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), regarding number of beds and ICUs per inhabitant (10 ICU beds per 100,000 users).

Besides the forest peoples, urban populations, especially those in the peripheries, have their living conditions further degraded by a lack of basic sanitation, housing, food and employment opportunities. Migrants, refugees, urban indigenous people, industrial workers, domestic workers, and those who live from the informal economy are all crying out for better health protection. It is the State’s obligation to guarantee them the rights stated in the Federal Constitution by offering minimum conditions which will help them get through this difficult time.

Legal and illegal mining, as well as deforestation for soybean plantations and cattle ranching have been increasing alarmingly in recent years. According to the Deter-B system, developed by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon forest grew 279.9% in March 2020, compared to the same month the previous year. Contributing to this growth is the notorious loosening of land inspections and the continuous political discourse against environmental protection and indigenous areas protected by the Federal Constitution (Art. 231 and 232). The coronavirus has exacerbated the existing socio-environmental crisis, meaning we are now starting to see an immense humanitarian tragedy caused by a structural collapse. With the Amazon being more and more deforested each day, successive pandemics even worse than this one may come.

We are immensely concerned about the increase in violence in the countryside, which is 23% higher than in 2018. In 2019 84% of the murders (27 out of 32) and 73% of the assassination attempts (22 out of 30) took place in the Amazon, according to data from the “Caderno Conflitos no Campo Brasil 2019”, a Pastoral Land Commission (CPT Nacional) publication. The causes of the increase in violence and deforestation of the Amazon forest are undoubtedly the extinction, scrapping, financial restructuring and political instrumentalization of agencies such as the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the Brazilian Institute of the Environment (IBAMA) and agricultural, environmental and labour inspection and control agencies.
We are also concerned about the Militarization of the Commission for the Amazon, which was transferred from the Ministry of Environment to the Vice Presidency of the Republic.

We, the Bishops of the Brazilian Amazon who have signed this note, call upon the Church and the rest of society to demand the following urgent measures from the Federal Government, the National Congress, the State Governments and the Legislative Assemblies:

• To save human lives, rebuild communities and relationships by strengthening public policies, especially the Single Health System (SUS);
• To reject discourse that discredits the effectiveness of scientific strategies;
• To adopt restrictive measures on the entry of people into all indigenous territories, due to the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, except for professionals of the Indigenous Special Sanitary Districts (DSEI);
• To carry out testing on the indigenous population in order to adopt the necessary isolation measures and avoid the dissemination of COVID-19;
• To provide personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended by the World Health Organization, in adequate quantity and with correct instructions for use and disposal;
• To protect health professionals who are working on the frontline both physically and psychologically
• To guarantee the food security of the indigenous communities, quilombolas, riverine communities and other traditional populations of the Amazon;
• To strengthen inspection measures against deforestation and artisanal mining especially in indigenous and traditional lands;
• To guarantee the participation of civil society, social movements and representatives of traditional populations in the spaces of political decision making;
• To reject Provisional Measure 910/2019, which proposes new land regularization in Brazil, as it eliminates agrarian reform and regularization of territories among original and traditional peoples. It favours land grabbing, deforestation and exploitative enterprises, regularizes illegal occupations made by agribusiness, promotes the liquidation of public lands at extremely low prices, authorizes the acquisition of land by foreign investors and the speculative exploitation of the forest, and encourages the invasion and devastation of indigenous lands and traditional territories;
• To reject PL 191/2020 which regulates Article 176.1 and Article 231.3 of the Federal Constitution establishing the specific conditions for research and extraction of mineral and water resources on indigenous lands.
• To revoke Decree nº 10.239/2020, returning the Commission for the Amazon to the Ministry of the Environment, with the participation of representatives of FUNAI and IBAMA and other civil society organizations, indigenous-led or supporting such as the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), which operates in the Amazon.
After a rich process of listening during the Amazon Synod, the Church in the region is attentive to the situation and its demands. We echo the cry of the Poor and the cry of the Earth. We want to ensure urgent measures are taken to stop harmful activities and, at the same time, investments are made into alternative models of progress and development in the region. The model we currently have has failed: it continues to destroy the Amazon and put the lives of its people at risk.

Our Lady of Nazareth, Queen of the Amazon, accompany us and help us in our desire to serve the poor and in the uncompromising defence of justice and truth.
Brasília, ……../April 2020.

Signatories:

Cardeal Cláudio Hummes, OFM – Presidente da Comissão Episcopal para a Amazônia

Regional Norte 1

Dom Adolfo Zon Pereira, S.X – Diocese de Alto Solimões

Dom Edmilson Tadeu Canavarros dos Santos, SDB – Arquidiocese de Manaus (Auxiliar)
Dom Edson Tasquetto Damian – Diocese de São Gabriel da Cachoeira

Dom Fernando Barbosa dos Santos, CM – Diocese de Tefé

Dom José Albuquerque Araújo – Arquidiocese de Manaus (Auxiliar)

Dom José Ionilton Lisboa de Araújo, SDV – Prelazia de Itacoatiara

Dom Marcos Marian Piatek, CSSR – Diocese de Coari

Dom Mário Antônio da Silva – Diocese de Roraima

Dom Mário Pasqualloto, PIME – Arquidiocese de Manaus (Auxiliar Emérito)

Dom Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, OFM – Arquidiocese de Manaus

Dom Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva, C.SS.R – Prelazia de Borba

Dom Sérgio Eduardo Castriani, CSSp – Arquidiocese de Manaus (Emérito)

Regional Norte 2

Dom Alberto Taveira Corrêa – Arquidiocese de Belém

Dom Alessio Saccardo – Diocese de Ponta de Pedras (Émerito)

Dom Antônio de Assis Ribeiro, SDB – Arquidiocese de Belém (Auxiliar)
Dom Bernardo Johannes Bahlmann, OFM – Diocese de Ôbidos

Dom Carlos Verzeletti – Diocese de Castanhal

Dom Erwin Krautler, CPPS – Diocese do Xingú (Emérito)

Dom Evaristo Pascoal Spengler, OFM – Prelazia do Marajó

Dom Irineu Roman, CSJ – Arquidiocese de Santarém

Dom Jesus Maria Cizaurre Berdonces, OAR – Diocese de Bragança
Dom Jesús María López Mauleón, OAR – Prelazia Alto Xingu /Tucumã
Dom João Muniz Alves, OFM – Diocese do Xingú

Dom José Altevir da Silva, CSSp – Diocese de Cametá
Dom José Azcona Hermoso, OAR – Prelazia do Marajó (Emérito)
Dom José Maria Chaves dos Reis – Diocese de Abaetetuba

Dom Luís Ferrando – Diocese de Bragança (Emérito)

Dom Pedro José Conti – Diocese de Macapá
Dom Teodoro Mendes Tavares, CSSp – Diocese de Ponta de Pedras
Dom Vital Corbellini – Diocese de Marabá

Dom Wilmar Santim, Ocarm – Prelazia de Itaituba

Regional Norte 3

Dom Adriano Ciocca Vasino – Prelazia de São Félix do Araguaia

Dom Dominique Marie Jean Denis You – Diocese de Santíssima Conceição do Araguaia
Dom Giovane Pereira de Melo – Diocese de Tocantinópolis

Dom Pedro Brito Guimarães – Arquidiocese de Palmas

Dom Philip Dickmans – Diocese de Miracema do Tocantins

Dom Romualdo Matias Kujawski – Diocese de Porto Nacional

Dom Wellington de Queiroz Vieira – Diocese de Cristalândia

Regional Noroeste

Dom Benedito Araújo – Diocese de Guajará-Mirim

Dom Flávio Giovenale, SDB – Diocese de Cruzeiro do Sul

Dom Joaquín Pertiñez Fernández, OAR – Diocese de Rio Branco

Dom Meinrad Francisco Merkel, CSSp – Diocese de Humaitá

Dom Mosé João Pontelo, CSSp – Diocese de Cruzeiro do Sul (Emérito)

Dom Roque Paloschi – Arquidiocese de Porto Velho

Dom Santiago Sánchez Sebastián, OAR – Prelazia de Lábrea

Pe. José Celestino dos Santos – Diocese de Ji-paraná (Administrador Diocesano)

Regional Nordeste 5

Dom Armando Martín Gutiérrez, FAM – Diocese de Bacabal
Dom Elio Rama, IMC – Diocese de Pinheiro

Dom Evaldo Carvalho dos Santos, CM – Diocese de Viana
Dom Francisco Lima Soares – Diocese de Carolina
Dom João Kot, OMI – Diocese de Zé Doca

Dom José Belisário da Silva, OFM – Arquidiocese de São Luís do Maranhão
Dom José Valdeci Santos Mendes – Diocese de Brejo

Dom Rubival Cabral Britto, OFMCap – Diocese de Grajaú

Dom Sebastião Bandeira Coêlho – Diocese de Coroatá

Dom Sebastião Lima Duarte – Diocese de Caxias do Maranhão

Dom Vilsom Basso, SCJ – Diocese de Imperatriz

Pe. Nadir Luís Zancheti – Diocese de Balsas (Administrador Diocesano)

Regional Oeste 2

Dom Canísio Klaus – Diocese de Sinop

Dom Derek John Christopher Byrne, SPS – Diocese de Primavera do Leste-Paranatinga
Dom Jacy Diniz Rocha – Diocese de São Luís dos Cárceres

Dom Juventino Kestering – Diocese de Rondonópolis-Guiratinga

Dom Milton Antonio dos Santos, SDB – Arquidiocese de Cuiabá

Dom Neri José Tondello – Diocese de Juína

Dom Protogenes José Luft, SdC – Diocese de Barra do Garças

Dom Vital Chitolina, SCJ – Diocese de Diamantino

Picture: Indigenous people are seen on the banks of the Xingu River during a media event in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park on 15th January 2020. (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters).

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