QUITO – Tribal leaders and human rights advocates said on Thursday that they asked a court to order the Ecuadorian government to take coordinated action to stop the spread of COVID-19 among the Waorani people of the Amazon region after 73 members of indigenous communities tested positive for the coronavirus.
The motion was filed on Wednesday in Quito, Lina Maria Espinosa, a lawyer with the NGO Amazon Frontlines, told a virtual press conference.
She said that the absence of a strategy to contain COVID-19 has allowed the virus to spread in the territory, creating “serious risks to the Waorani nationality.”
Waorani leaders spoke out last Saturday, after the first confirmed COVID-19 case among their people.
The infected person, a pregnant woman, was transported to a hospital in Quito, Waorani Resistance spokesman Oswaldo Nenquimo told EFE.
Andres Tapia, who leads an organization representing the indigenous nationalities in Ecuadorian Amazonia, said during Thursday’s video conference that the 73 people who have tested positive include members of the Quichua, Achuar, Siecopae, Waorani and Shuar nations.
“There are at least eight fatalities, five confirmed from coronavirus,” he said.
Tapia expressed concern about the decision by some Amazon jurisdictions to begin lifting the quarantine restrictions even as the disease continues to spread.
Speaking for the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations, Ana Vera said that the motion presented Wednesday asks the court to require Ecuador’s government to safeguard the health, safety and integrity of the Waorani and of two indigenous peoples who choose to live in isolation, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.
Besides COVID-19, those peoples dwelling in voluntary isolation are threatened by the intrusion of extractive industries such as oil and mining, raising a “potential danger of ethnocide,” she said.
To allow the Tagaeri and Taromenane to maintain their way of life, authorities must ensure that “their zone is free of other actors,” Vera said.
She criticized the government for allowing extractive activity to continue in the midst of a public health emergency “even when this puts human rights and survival at risk.”
Ecuador, according to official figures from the government, has more than 34,800 COVID-19 cases and 2,888 deaths.
But the Pacific coastal province of Guayas – which includes Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city – suffered 9,400 “excess” deaths in March and April compared with the same period in 2019.