BOGOTA, Colombia 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro approved a law Wednesday declaring indigenous communities “groups in a situation of extreme vulnerability” but vetoed several points aimed at protecting them against COVID-19.  

Bolsonaro proscribed the parts of the law that forced the government to guarantee drinking water, more hospital beds and intensive care units (ICUs) for indigenous people. He dismissed the points allowing for the free distribution of food, hygiene and disinfection materials.  

He also vetoed a proposal ensuring mandatory emergency funds for indigenous peoples’ healthcare.

The government justified the veto by saying the law would have a “budgetary and financial impact that would be unconstitutional.” 

The Socio Environmental Institute (ISA), which works to defend indigenous and environmental rights in Brazil, said the presidential vetoes were “criminal.” 

“The vetoes reveal that the President’s plan is to have no plan at all. At this point, their repeated omission characterizes a genocidal stance,” the NGO said. 

According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), the country’s principal indigenous federation, there are already some 10,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus among the native populations, including more than 400 deaths.  

After the law was published in the Official Journal, a judge from the Federal Supreme Court demanded that the government come up with a plan to protect the indigenous communities against the advance of COVID-19, which has caused nearly 68,000 deaths and over 1.7 million infections in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University.  

The indigenous communities in Colombia and Peru also continue to be among the hardest hit by the pandemic. 

The Indigenous Organization of Colombia said Wednesday there are now 1,175 indigenous people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Thirty-eight of them have died, most of them over 70 years old. Around 180 are awaiting test results. 

There are also 44 villages affected by the virus and 403,331 indigenous families at risk of coronavirus infection, given their proximity to urban populations with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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