Geopolitics

The Kuikuro Beat COVID-19: Amazon's Indigenous Exception

An indigenous tribe in Brazil's Amazon region has seen plenty of coronavirus cases, but zero deaths.

In the Kuikuro village, at least half of the 400 residents were infected
In the Kuikuro village, at least half of the 400 residents were infected
Pedro Stropasolas

The Kuikuro tribe lives in the southern Amazon region, near the headwaters of the river Xingu, an area where the tropical forest spreads across centuries of pre-Colombian civilizations. These villages were once completely shut off from the rest of the world, made impenetrable by the dense vegetation surrounding them. But here too, like in the rest of the Amazon, the coronavirus arrived.

Some 30,000 indigenous people of 156 different tribes have become infected with the coronavirus in Brazil in the last few months, according to the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB). Across the Amazon, an estimated 800 indigenous people have died of COVID-19.

Still, there appears to be one notable exception. In the Kuikuro village too, at least half of the 400 residents were infected, according to the Kuikuro Association of the Upper Xingu. The virus infected young people, adults, the chief Afukaká Kuikuro and even a 90-year old woman. But the notable fact here is that they all survived.

Ever since the coronavirus first hit Brazil in mid-March, there were warnings that a disaster loomed for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon — who in the past have already been exposed to wave after wave of fatal epidemics that often decimated them. The National Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) has denounced the lack of an emergency plan to combat COVID-19 in indigenous lands after Jair Bolsonaro's government failed to introduce measures to contain the spread of the disease in indigenous lands until the beginning of July when it was ordered to do so by the Supreme Court.

Both smoke and the virus weaken the respiratory system.

Dinamã Tuxá, the executive coordinator of APIB, believes that the government's denial of the disease exposed a deeper weakening of indigenous health policy in the country. "With the arrival of the coronavirus, we realized that the state was unstructured in terms of indigenous policy, especially in terms of indigenous health," says Tuxá. "Dealing with the coronavirus would be difficult because other theoretically isolated territories were seeing high infection rates. We also thought it would take longer for the virus to arrive."

So in March, even if there were no cases of the disease in the Xingu region, the Kuikuro realized the danger was imminent and raised funds to build an impromptu hospital in their village. The association has also hired a medical team to work with about 120 indigenous health agents across the region.

The hospital has been generally effective, says family health expert Dr. Giulia Parise Balbão: "Elderly women almost 100 years old became seriously ill, they needed oxygen, but they were treated there, we didn't have to bring anyone somewhere else. The indigenous people have a strong connection to the land, which is very strong, very important and very intense."

The Kuikuro raised funds to build an impromptu hospital in their village — Photo: Screenshot Aikax Facebook page

Yanama Kuikuro, President of the Kuikuro Indigenous Association of the Upper Xingu, says the initiative was taken to avoid delays that could cause deaths. The association warns that the recent increase in wild fires in the region is another factor that has worsened the indigenous villages' ability to combat the pandemic.

"The woods are burning, there's a lot of smoke," Yanama says. "The amount of smoke made the situation of patients worse because both smoke and the virus weaken the respiratory system. When the wind arrived, the smoke got even worse."

The Kuikuro's organization has been an exception in the Upper Xingu region, which has a population of approximately 7,000 indigenous people, according to the association.

"In other villages, in other peoples, there was a lot of mortality — for example, among the Kamaiurá and the Yawalapiti," says Yanama. "We had already talked to people in each village, we got organized. Among the Kuikuro, there were no deaths."

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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