Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has vetoed several points of a law aimed at protecting indigenous communities against Covid-19 on Wednesday, according to the government’s official journal.
The proposed legislation establishes an emergency plan to combat the pandemic in indigenous territories and classifies indigenous people and other traditional communities as “groups in situations of extreme vulnerability.” Under the law, the groups would also considered at high risk for public health emergencies.
Bolsonaro vetoed points which assured access to drinking water, free distribution of hygiene products and the distribution of cleaning and disinfection materials to indigenous communities. He also vetoed a proposal ensuring mandatory emergency funds for indigenous people’s healthcare.
He additionally vetoed the emergency provision of more hospital beds and intensive care units (ICUs) for indigenous people. Parts of the law allowing for the acquisition of ventilators and blood oxygenation machines were also rejected.
But the vetoes are not final. The law’s text, which has already been approved by the country’s Congress and Senate, must now be voted upon again. If a majority in both houses vote against the President’s vetoes, the law will be approved in its entirety. Otherwise, the law will move forward without the vetoed parts.
Brazil has recorded more than 1.6 million cases of coronavirus, the second highest tally globally behind the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The country’s indigenous citizens have been hit hard by the pandemic. Indigenous people in Brazil often live in communities which are far from hospitals, in areas which often lack basic infrastructure. Those who move to towns or cities can end up in precarious living conditions with few public services, increasing their vulnerability to health issues.
According to the country’s Special Indigenous Health Service (SESAI), more than 8000 Brazilian indigenous people have so far contracted the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. The service only counts people living in indigenous territories, urban centers.
The publication of the new legislation, with Bolsonaro’s vetoes, took place on the same day that Supreme Court judge Luis Roberto Barroso ordered the government to take measures to protect such communities from Covid-19.
Barroso asked the government to create a national emergency plan, to install sanitary barriers and to establish a “Situation Room” to manage the response to the disease in indigenous territories.
Bolsonaro, who tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday, has repeatedly dismissed the threat of the disease, and has a historically antagonistic relationship with indigenous Brazilians. Many rights activists have protested the increase of illegal mining and logging on their lands which followed Bolsonaro’s rise to power
Rodrigo Pedroso reported from Sao Paulo, Zamira Rahim wrote in London. Shasta Darlington, Jose Brito and Flora Charner contributed to this report.