Indigenous leader calls for help in Brazil’s biggest reserve

Reports in Brazilian media have said missionaries, health care agents, loggers and miners carried the virus into those areas. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2020

Indigenous leader calls for help in Brazil’s biggest reserve

  • The two fatalities were in the Kayapo indigenous group, which has reported a total of 22 virus cases
  • The community’s leader said he wants President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials to stop loggers, miners and fishermen from illegally entering the territory, incursions

RIO DE JANEIRO: As the coronavirus spreads into indigenous lands in Brazil, killing at least 40 people so far by the government’s count, the first two COVID-19 deaths were registered this week in the Xingu area, one of the biggest reserves in the world.
The two fatalities were in the Kayapo indigenous group, which has reported a total of 22 virus cases. The community’s leader, Megaron, told The Associated Press he wants President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials to stop loggers, miners and fishermen from illegally entering the territory, incursions he believes have sped up the spread of the virus.
Bolsonaro has encouraged development in the Amazon, regardless of indigenous lands, although the state-run indigenous agency, FUNAI, issued an order in mid-March barring access to those lands because of the virus. Still, reports in Brazilian media have said missionaries, health care agents, loggers and miners carried the virus into those areas.
“It is not us that are leaving and taking (the virus). There are people seizing this disease to invade indigenous land,” Megaron said.
He received questions from AP on May 13, but his team wasn’t able to get his response back until Wednesday due to their remote location in Xingu, which covers more than 2,600,000 hectares (more than 10,000 square miles) in the middle of Brazil. It is home to more than 5,500 indigenous people of 14 ethnic groups.
Megaron, who is a nephew of acclaimed environmentalist Raoni Metuktire, said his community now lives in fear because of the coronavirus.
“It is the government’s obligation to take care of our land, our community, give us help, care, even more now because this disease is killing a lot of people. Our request is to be isolated in our village until the government or the health ministry say there is no more COVID-19,” he said.
A video obtained by AP contains footage dated Monday showing a dozen indigenous men blocking the entrance of a Kayapo village.
FUNAI has been slow in doing its job, members of its own staff in the Amazon told AP last week, speaking on condition of anonymity because of concerns about retribution. The agency replied that it has adopted “all the measures within its reach” for the pandemic, including the distribution of food and personal protection equipment.
While the government lists 40 coronavirus deaths of indigenous people inside the reserves, activists say about 150 in all have died in Brazil, including in cities. The toll is likely higher, because hospitals often don’t use patients’ indigenous names when admitting them.
Bolsonaro is a strong critic of environmentalist groups and nonprofit organizations that work with indigenous people. He also contends there has been an overreaction to the coronavirus and argues against lockdowns ordered by local officials, saying the economic disruptions from the crisis will kill more than the virus.
Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, a key ally of the country’s agribusiness lobby, contended at a Cabinet meeting on April 22 that Bolsonaro act while the focus is on the pandemic to push through deregulation of environmental policies.
Data from monitoring group Imazon showed deforestation in the Amazon hit a 10-year high in April, with almost 529 square kilometers (just over 200 square miles) of forest knocked down. Much of that harm, analysts say, comes from illegal loggers and miners.


US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

Updated 18 September 2020

US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

  • Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives
  • It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in Beirut

WASHINGTON: Militant group Hezbollah has stored chemicals that can be used to make explosives in several European countries, a senior State Department official said Thursday as he appealed to countries in Europe and elsewhere to impose bans on the organization.
Hezbollah operatives have moved ammonium nitrate from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland in recent years and are suspected to still be storing the material throughout Europe, said Nathan Sales, the State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism.
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives. It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
Sales, without offering evidence, said the U.S. believes that Iran-backed Hezbollah has since 2012 transported ammonium nitrate around Europe in first aid kits with cold packs that contain the compound. The United States believes these supplies are still in place throughout Europe, possibly in Greece, Italy and Spain.
“Why would Hezbollah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil?" he said. “The answer is clear: Hezbollah put these weapons in place so it could conduct major terrorist attacks whenever it or its masters in Tehran deemed necessary."
Sales made the remarks in an online forum hosted by the American Jewish Committee, which has called upon more countries to ban Hezbollah and its operations.
The US has designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997, but some countries distinguish between the organization's military wing and the political wing.
The EU lists Iran-backed Hezbollah’s military wing as a banned terrorist group, but not its political wing, which has been part of Lebanese governments in recent years. Some individual countries, including Germany and the UK, have outlawed the group in its entirety. Sales called on more countries to do the same.
Hezbollah is a “unitary organization that cannot be subdivided into a military and so-called political wing," he said. Without a full ban, the group can still raise money and recruit operatives. “Hezbollah is one organization," he said. "It is a terrorist organization.”