An indigenous man from the Kaiowá tribe in Aldeia Tereguá, Brazil protests the Bolsonaro regime in 2021. Throughout 2021, citizens have mounted protests in all of Brazil’s 26 states, condemning government inaction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and declaring Bolsonaro responsible for mass homicide of the Brazilian people. The COVID-19 virus has infected large swaths of the Brazilian population, with current estimates suggesting at least 10% of Brazilians have contracted COVID and more than 600,000 have died.
Indigenous communities have been especially affected by the pandemic, though accurate statistics are unavailable, with many infections and fatalities underreported. Indigenous groups have been increasingly marginalized in Brazil since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, especially in the Amazon rainforest, which has seen a significant rise in deforestation, illegal logging, and resource extraction in indigenous territories, as well as violence against indigenous populations and land defenders.
Indigenous groups have asserted that the continuation of logging and extraction in indigenous territories has exacerbated infections among indigenous groups, as there have been few restrictions on who may enter their territories during the pandemic. This influx of outsiders has introduced new disease, which communities are ill-equipped to handle. Indigenous groups report that the rising death toll of their elders has been especially damaging to their communities, as the elders are “our history, our museums…they have all the stories of our people.”
President Bolsonaro has publicly minimized the COVID-19 pandemic, likening it to “a little flu”, ignoring public health interventions, and failing to secure vaccine doses. As a result of his administration’s handling of the pandemic, a Brazilian Senate committee undertook an investigation and recommended criminal indictments for Bolsonaro, including for crimes against humanity.