BRAZIL: Indigenous People Resist Attacks on Healthcare

Photo: Banner in English reads, “No to Imposing Limits on Our Indigenous Health Resources!”

By Jakob Stein

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Indigenous people occupy government buildings in Curitiba.

Over the past month, the Indigenous people of Brazil have taken several bold actions to fight back against attacks on the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (Sesai), including demonstrations, roadblocks, and occupations of government buildings.

Earlier this year, the Bolsonaro administration announced its plan to dismantle Sesai, the agency responsible for implementing and coordinating healthcare across thirty-four special Indigenous health districts, and to localize all Indigenous healthcare.

The services are tailored toward the specific needs of Indigenous communities including transportation and language barriers, as well as linking the state health system with their varied cultural practices.  The proposed changes will force Indigenous people into the municipal health system.

Since the announcement, Indigenous people across the country have mobilized to combat and resist the reactionary policy. Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta has publicly backtracked on the proposal, not because he is sympathetic to their struggle but due to public pressure and negative attention.

Although Mandetta claims that the Ministry of Health is not planning to dissolve the agency, the contract between Sesai and the outsourced company contracted to hire Indigenous health workers, drivers, and sanitation workers (all members of the communities they serve) expired on July 30, with no renewal in place.

Throughout the month of July several hundred Indigenous people from five separate states have occupied Sesai government buildings in protest of the dismantling of health services in Curitiba (PR) and the federal capital of Brasilia.

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Indigenous People occupy government building in Curitiba.

Cacique Vera Popygua, present at the occupation in Curitiba said, “It will cause a lot of child deaths because we have villages over 150 kilometers to take a sick child, pregnant women and older people who need treatment. So this is going to be a huge impact on our community.”

On July 12, approximately 200 Indigenous protesters from the occupation in Curitiba blocked highway BR-277. They used burning tires to create a blockade and stopped traffic in both directions for five hours, causing a traffic jam of ten kilometers in each direction before returning to the Sesai office.

Through the theft of land and resources, brutal repression, and the consistent trampling of their rights, the Indigenous people of Brazil have stood firm in their resistance to the reactionary old state. Their oppression did not begin with the administration of the fascist Bolsonaro, and it will not end under another lackey of US imperialism and representative of the latifundio and the big bourgeoisie. The Indigenous people yearn for New Democratic revolution and until that day they will continue to combat and resist.