Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado has published an open letter and petition calling on more to be done to protect the country’s indigenous communities from the COVID-19 virus. Salgado’s letter, which is addressed to Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, comes with the support of celebrities including Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey, among 176,000 further signatories.
Recalling the historical colonial genocide of the indigenous people, often caused through the spread of disease, Salgado also cited the continuring injustices of ‘deforestation, forest fires, poisoned rivers and invasion of their lands’. Recent incursion into indigenous lands in the Amazon region by illegal mining and farming operations, which have had the tacit support of Bolsonaro, have put these communities at particular risk of the new coronavirus.
Bolsonaro has repreatedly downplayed the dangers of the pandemic and criticised lockdown and social distancing measures put in place by state governors. The country has over 100,000 cases of COVID-19 so far, and more than 7,000 people have lost their lives.
Salgado ended the letter on an urgent note, emphasising that there was no time to lose and that the extinction of indigenous people ‘would be a great tragedy for Brazil and an immense loss for humanity’.