Who protects the vulnerable and disadvantaged indigenous population during the COVID-19 quarantine?

Author: Rember Yahuarcani                                                                                        Translation: Nicholas Bruce

Remember Yahuarcani, the painter. He’s given a chronicle of the circumstances in which he is living in currently, in quarantine, in his home district of Pebas, Loreto. It is one of several places in Peru where cash-strapped residents cannot collect the government bonus because there is no money, a cruel irony.

A woman and her daughter carrying log of wood. (Photo: Rember Yahuarcani)

A man carries a log of wood on his shoulder. A fisherman swiftly paddles his home. Girls look fearfully at the military from their windows. About thirty women queue at an agent of the Banco de la Nación. A lady goes to the Health Center for dengue and cannot be treated. Uncertainty and anxiety have fallen on the town like a torrential rain that does not know when it will end. With faces overwhelmed, many listen to the loudspeaker for the latest report of infected by Covid – 19 in Iquitos . There is a funeral silence in the small port and market, once bustling. Rice, sugar, oil have risen in price, an egg costs one sun and fish is scarce. The discomfort is visible on the faces.

Some arrived the night before from Iquitos , fleeing in a boat or hiding among the products of the motor ship that has the exclusive permission to only transport cargo. The people fear the worst: an infected person.

Two agents without funds

Pebas is one of the four districts that make up the province of Ramón Castilla, in Loreto and integrates 60 communities into its territory. It is located at the mouth of the Ampiyacú river in the Amazon and has a population of 12,694 people, according to the 2017 census. It has two agents from the Banco de la Nación who always lack funds. Many people have benefited from the 380 soles voucher announced by the Government, and the queues were immediate. They start at six in the morning and last a little beyond nine. The withdrawal of money is basically conditioned on whether there were deposits on the previous day. Otherwise, there will be no withdrawals.

The communities have been demanding for many years the opening of an office of the Banco de la Nación , since that would mean economic savings and would alleviate a long trip of 13 to 18 hours to the provincial capital or to Iquitos. In writing this note, many people tell me that the president’s announcements are useless if there is no place to collect the 380 soles.

Empty Pebas market. (Photo: Rember Yahuarcani)

Structural pathologies

Pebas also has a health center and 12 health posts, the service is not optimal, professional staff and modern equipment are required. For some reason that no one explains, the doctor always ends up prescribing paracetamol or ibuprofen for all illnesses. If COVID-19 arrives, it will be an unprecedented catastrophe. Electric power is provided from six in the afternoon to eleven at night, so the aforementioned education on television, radio and internet will be impossible.

Pebas is also the gateway to the native communities of the Uitoto, Bora, Ocaina and Yagua nations, located along the Ampiyacú and Yaguasyacú rivers. The yaguas have been settled there for hundreds of years and with respect to the uitotos, boras and ocainas, their recent history is linked to the dark rubber era and if we talk about diseases, let’s not forget that these three nations were devastated at the beginning of the last century by measles.

COVID-19 reaches the indigenous world at its worst: extreme poverty, anemia, hepatitis B and C, diabetes, malaria, dengue, oil spills, assassinations of social leaders and historical abandonment by the State, are just some of the pathologies that afflict and take their toll on indigenous people.

Streets of de Pebas empty. (Photo: Rember Yahuarcani)

The native communities have taken their own measures regarding the pandemic, have closed their borders, are monitoring their rivers, which has led to a shortage of essential products such as medicines, food and the trade of local products. State intervention at the moment is crucial for the survival of the communities that have their rivers and polluted lands, where there are no fish to fish, no products to harvest, or animals to hunt, where the S / 380.00 bonus is insufficient to feed a family and where health centers lack essential medicines. There is also an urgent need for strict surveillance of foreign vessels and people towards indigenous territories. A true rapprochement of the State towards the indigenous is urgent.

This chronicle was published in El Comercio on April 15th, 2020.                             Find the original publication here        

 

 

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