In Brazil, the once-thriving villages of indigenous tribes are now struggling to survive amid Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's term. 

The billboard at the entrance of a small village located in the Amazon has become a relic of the past. The sign, which was erected in 2012, is now covered in fallen palm trees. 

Alto Jamari is a tiny hamlet in Rondonia state. It is home to about ten families of the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous tribe. It is also one of the many villages fighting for survival as their forest slowly diminishes due to illegal logging and deforestation in Brazil.

More and more outsiders are invading tribal territories, eager to exploit the forest's resources. The COVID-19 crisis also poses a deadly threat to the communities. 

Coronavirus Pandemic

The people who live deep within the Amazon are very vulnerable to the global health crisis due to their location being far from a health center. The villages often have poor sanitary conditions and are days away from hospitals that are ill-equipped and overburdened. 

Authorities are keeping the communities isolated. Government workers who have direct contact with the tribe members wear personal protective gear to prevent infecting the members. 

A Brazilian judge recently banned missionaries from entering indigenous lands to avoid virus transmission---a health crisis that could lead to genocide within the isolated tribes. 

The government's efforts, however, are hampered mainly by Bolsonaro's disregard for their culture and their rights.  


President Jair Bolsonaro has been very receptive to the idea of opening up the Amazon rainforest to commercial development. He expressed his eagerness to integrate the indigenous people into broader society on multiple occasions. 

Since the start of his term, he has introduced a bill that allowed companies to mine in indigenous territories. The bill encourages wildcat miners and illegal loggers, causing deforestation on roughly 51 percent of the Amazon region in the first quarter of 2020.

During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro promised to allow large-scale farming in the Amazon---a move that could potentially destroy the rainforest. 

The development plans progressed aggressively since he took office about a year ago. Critics warn that the new policies may play a part in ethnocide---the systematic destruction of the culture. 

Bolsonaro began dismantling the system that protects indigenous communities. He cut the funding of the National Indian Foundation the previous year. The federal agency is responsible for preserving indigenous rights. 

He vowed to arm every farmer with a rifle and to strip the indigenous people of their lands. He believes their isolation impedes Brazil's economic growth. 

As of February, Bolsonaro proposed a bill that effectively legalizes illegal mining in the rainforest. He also hoped to authorize oil and gas exploration and building hydropower plants on indigenous lands. Under the plan, tribe members will be allowed to consult on the project. They will, however, not be given any power to veto any final installation on their land. 

Many illegal operators have displayed hostility against the tribes, with some opening fire at village entrances. 

"What we're seeing is the result of a government that is in favor of deforestation in the Amazon," a tribe member said. "It has emboldened invaders to come into our territories."

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