Colombia: Death of an Indigenous Leader Reveals Vulnerability in the Triple Border

The death of Antonio Bolívar brings to light the vulnerability of indigenous communities settled on the triple border of Colombia, Peru and Brazil. The Red de Comunicación Indígena Internacional – RCII (International Indigenous Communication Network) reported in a collaborative contribution by communicators from Colombia and Peru.

RCII, May 6, 2020. – The death of Antonio Bolívar, star of “El abrazo de la serpiente” (Embrace of the Serpent), Colombian Academy Award-nominated film in 2016, brings to light the neglect indigenous peoples of the Amazonian Trapezium are suffering.

Bolívar, who was one of the last sages of the Ocaína indigenous people, lived much of his life in Leticia (Colombia), capital of the province of Amazonas and city that is part of the triple border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru.

Today he died, because of an alleged COVID-19 infection, and this leaves the door open to uncover the neglect indigenous communities settled in this area are going through.

If there is something that links the cities of Leticia (Colombia), Tabatinga (Brazil) and Santa Rosa de Yavarí (Peru) that make up the triple border, it is the precarious situation of their health systems, the same that is worsened now by the arrival of COVID-19.

Photo: The death of Antonio Bolívar has staged the precariousness in which the indigenous peoples of the triple border live, place where he lived / Source: Exclama Magazine

Colombia: Without a single intensive care be

According to official figures from the Colombian National Health Institute  (INS), there are 105 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Amazonas as of May 1, 2020, making it the province with the highest proportion of cases per million inhabitants.

All cases come from its capital Leticia, where seven deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic have also been reported.

Despite this situation, Amazonas does not have any intensive care beds and, as reported by the health workers in the area, the working conditions, equipment and protection elements are insufficient.

Epidemiologist Mónica Palma, coordinator of COVID-19 in Amazonas, alerted the Colombian newspaper El Espectador"If we don’t get help, there will be a catastrophe".

Leticia only has the San Rafael provincial public hospital, where a few days ago a massive resignation of medical personnel was reported, and a private clinic that only attends emergencies.

According to the newspaper, San Rafael has 68 beds for adults, 08 intermediate care beds and 08 ventilators.

However, the biggest problem is not only in Leticia it is in the entire province of Amazonas, the largest in Colombia, where the neglect and vulnerability of 26 indigenous peoples is enormous.

In Amazonas there are nine non-municipalized areas - former townships - where geographic access is very complex and difficult, and health services and infrastructure are almost non-existent.

Photo: The ancestral connoisseurs of the Colombian Amazon are those who are most at risk during the pandemic / Source: Ficamazonía.

Perú: El único centro de salud atiende sin implementos médicos

In the Peruvian area, the reality is no different. The Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the East (Orpio), reported that in Santa Rosa de Yavarí there is no medical equipment to care for those infected who have started to show up.

They recently warned: “Doctors work without protection and risk getting infected. The Peruvian area is abandoned, there is no government presence and the villages and indigenous communities live in constant risk of getting the coronavirus.”

The Ticuna and Yagua indigenous communities settled near the triple border fear for their lives. Caballococha, the only health center that is relatively close to them and that could serve them, does not have medical supplies.

A sign in the health center reads as a warning: "Due to quarantine we only attend emergencies. Stay home if you don't want to die of coronavirus.”

Photo: Caballococha Hospital only attends emergencies, does not serve people with COVID 19 because it does not have any safety equipment, or rapid tests (Image taken on April 14) / Source: Orpio

Brazil: The latent fear of expansion

On April 8, the Brazilian Municipal Health Secretariat confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Tabatinga, a Brazilian city on the triple border that belongs to the state of Amazonas.

The risk of the virus spreading started immediately because members of triple border communities often go across their territories to stock up on food.

The  latest official report indicates that Tabatinga registers 172 positive cases and 9 deaths as of May 1.

With all these figures, it is possible to see that the vulnerability of indigenous peoples on the triple border is at its most crucial moment.

The neglect that now becomes known due to the death of Antonio Bolívar evidences the indifference of the States and their authorities to help the various ancestral peoples of the area, which for many years and to this day are scarred by drug trafficking.

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