March 22, 2021
by Elise Capredon, Anthropologist, Teaching Assistant at the Université Lumière Lyon 2 in the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes contemporains (LADEC FRE 2002), member of Mondes Américains (UMR 8168)
by Emilie Stoll, Anthropologist, CNRS Research Fellow at the Laboratoire Caribéen en Sciences Sociales (LC2S UMR 8053)
The following people contributed to the text: Edna Alencar (UFPA), Tabatha Benitz (IDS Mamirauá), Thiago Cardoso (UFAM), João Paulo de Cortes (UFOPA), Luly Fischer (UFPA), Luiza Flores (UFAM), Ricardo Folhes (UFPA), Jean-Raphaël Gros-Désormeaux (LC2S), Lise Tupiassu (UFPA).
Launched in May 2020 with the support of the Institut de Recherche en Sciences Sociales sur la biodiversité dans la Caraïbe et les Amériques (IRN IRCAB), the CoronAmazon observatory is making an inventory of the social and environmental impacts of the Covid-19 epidemic in the Brazilian Amazon.
CORONAMAZON: A COLLABORATIVE OBSERVATORY
The observatory takes on the shape of a collaborative map on which everyone can freely publish first-hand information (stories, witness accounts, press releases and institutional numbers, fund raising campaigns and food collections) or second-hand (press articles, blogs, etc.) by recording them in preestablished topics and by linking them to specific locations. The documents then appear on the Amazon site map as pins pointing toward cities, villages, indigenous lands and other areas, and display a preview of the contents when clicking on them.
This georeferenced collaborative platform is coupled with a private Facebook group gathering universities from several disciplines in which we relay press articles, reports and scientific publications on Covid-19 in the Amazon. When they are located and dated, this information is published on the observatory platform. The goal is to gather a mass of data on the social (health, economic, etc.) and environmental consequences of the epidemic, the local initiatives, the management of the crisis by different municipalities and the representations of local populations.
Right now, the observatory has experienced two periods of strong activity: first, from May to August 2020, then since January 2021. Indeed, the publishing of information on the site has followed the two epidemic "waves" the media noted when covering the public health crisis in this region. This temporal perception of the crisis does not necessarily reflect epidemiologists' analyses.
HOW THE OBSERVATORY WORKS
Developed thanks to an Ushahidi open source social mapping software, available in several languages (the site's content is in French and Portuguese, but the menu buttons can be translated in 14 other languages), the CoronAmazon observatory is open to a large public. It can be freely viewed and information can be posted by either identifying yourself or anonymously. The postings are moderated by administrators. Since up until now it has mainly been fueled by French and Brazilian researchers unable to go in the field because of the public health crisis itself, it has little first-hand information. When it does, such as with information given by locals, it has often already been published elsewhere.
The CoronAmazon observatory has, on the other hand, proved to be effective in regrouping and widely circulating press articles, as well as information published by other teams documenting the effects of Covid-19 in the Amazon. So, accounts from indigenous students from the Pandemias na Amazônia observatories of the Núcleo de Estudos da Amazônia Indígena (NEAI) of the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM) and from the PET indígena Facebook page (Didactic education undergraduate indigenous program at the Federal University of Amapá - UNIFAP) were uploaded to the CoronAmazon observatory. Connections were also made with the Federal University of Pará's research team on territories, identities, gender and environment who is studying, with the Mamirauá Sustainability Institute, the social-economic impact of Covid-19 on the Amazon's "traditional" communities of the Moyen Solimões (Amazonas) region and the Salgado (Pará) coastal region.
TYPES OF DATA COLLECTED
In this blog, we will present a first analysis of the information collected up to now and what it can tell us about the impact of the pandemic on the Brazilian Amazon.
A first look at the metadata of the documents gathered by the CoronAmazon observatory first of all shows that the postings were staggered into two periods: a first set of information was put online between the launch of the observatory, mid-May 2020 (so two months after the first Covid case was announced in the Brazilian Amazon) and August 5th. It was followed by a four month pause, which can be explained by the decrease in published information on the epidemic in the Amazon, whether by people from civil societies or by the media.
We have seen that, in mid-August, most of the mutual aid actions put in place at the peak of the crisis stopped for other operations such as for example the fight against the fires in the Amazon. It is also on that date that we can see, in some of our areas, a relaxing if not a letting go of restrictions with the reopening of businesses, and villages resuming dancing festivals and soccer tournaments. Furthermore, the municipalities reduced emergency services destined to massively test rural populations and instead built urban testing sites with regular activity. Lastly, the period coincides with the municipal elections during which outgoing candidates had a tendency to barely speak about the health crisis and minimized it. Though the epidemic is far from being eradicated, some villagers tell us they feel like the "health crisis is over" and that the virus "will not come back". With the second period that started January 2021, information is gradually being posted online with what is being perceived locally as a second epidemic wave.
ANALYSIS OF DATA GATHERED DURING THE "FIRST WAVE" (FROM MAY TO AUGUST 2020)
By looking at the available data for the first epidemic period perceived by local people (from May to the beginning of August 2020), the observatory had 124 postings divided as follows:
The low number of publications on the environmental impacts of Covid-19 in the Amazon shows that the method of collecting data (second hand) does not help grasp the phenomena that is actually happening (Ferrante & Fearnside, 2020). For that to happen, witness accounts need to be brought forward, which means a systematic gathering of data that we are not able to do because of the difficulty to get to the field because of the continued health crisis. On the other hand, the observatory has enabled us to rather efficiently pick up the evolution in the discourses and the changing outlooks, as the months went by, of the different people involved in the fight against the epidemic.
The analysis by the CoronAmazon observatory of the data collected between May and the beginning of August 2020 shows that the authorities' discourses (governmental and municipal) and those of the media changed as the epidemic spread toward rural areas, and as civil society members mobilized to provide visibility to Covid-19's impact on some social groups in the Amazon.
LOCAL PEOPLE'S PERCEPTION OF COVID-19 BETWEEN MAY AND AUGUST 2020
Initially presented by the Brazilian press as a "rich man's disease that kills the poor", Covid-19 was gradually perceived as an instrument of "institutional genocide" of black and indigenous populations. During the first wave of the pandemic, the word was used for example by the indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara, anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and also the neurosurgeon of Santarém, Erik Jennings Simões, responsible for the isolated Zoé Indians' health.
All condemned the Brazilian government's lack of action in protecting indigenous populations from the Covid-19 epidemic. The term "genocide", which brings to mind in France the methodical destruction of a people and which is mainly used in reference to the Jewish extermination by the Nazis during the Second World War and the Tutsis by the Hutu authorities in Rwanda in 1994, is used in Brazil to describe various forms of violence toward indigenous and Black populations, such as the government's inaction with respect to several threats that weigh on these groups (epidemics, illegal gold mining, territorial dispossession, etc.) and the failure of health services that take care of them. In other words, the notion of crime by omission seems more prevalent in the Brazilian meaning than in France's. The epidemic being perceived as a class struggle therefore gives it a racial and ethnic facet with a background of negligence with a complicit government (mainly federal).
This change in outlook (from social to ethnic-racial) is mostly due to the actions of the indigenous and indigenist movements (and to a lesser extent to those of the Quilombola movements) which, by compiling and posting the scattered data relating to indigenous populations, led to epidemiological statistics for that population category. It seems to show therefore that the counting method used by the authorities is underestimating the weight of the indigenous people in the epidemiological statistics. Furthermore, the attention given to the fate of the Amazon's ethnic and racial minorities leads us to question the categories being used and even how the epidemiological study is being done and published.
In an article submitted to the Canadian journal Anthropologica (Stoll et al, 2020), we went over with a fine tooth comb the epidemiological bulletins of the two biggest states in the Amazon (Pará and Amazonas), their capitals (Belém and Manaus) and three medium municipalities (Santarém, Tefé and São Gabriel da Cachoeira). We observed that the categories used in the capitals and municipalities' epidemiological bulletins evolve as the new discourses on ethnic and racial "genocide" prevail, in order to adapt to it. We can see huge disparities in how the epidemiological statistics are presented from one administration to another, and from one state to another. Therefore, the State of Amazonas was more transparent in the presentation of its epidemiological data than the State of Pará, providing better visibility on the fate of the indigenous groups and populations listed as pardas, which is a social indicator (underprivileged class). Of note also is that municipalities do not necessarily follow the bulletin model proposed by the federal government or the capitals. In these two Amazon states, those who do not appear in the official epidemiological data are the Quilombola populations (despite a relative mobilization of the movement) or the traditional ones. A weak mobilization of civil society in favor of traditional populations and a government that is not taking them into account show the important institutional vulnerability of this legal population category, especially during a crisis.
RENEWED ACTIVITY OF THE OBSERVATORY FOR THE SECOND WAVE (SINCE JANUARY 2021)
After five months of dormancy, the CoronAmazon observatory has been back in use since January 2021, following a new upsurge of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the Amazon. The first wave was affected by the difficulty of dealing with the number of deaths which meant an overload in the medical-legal institutions and in the cemeteries (images of mass graves in Manaus and refrigerated trucks filled with bodies in Belém). As for the second wave's depiction, it started with a shortage of oxygen in the hospitals of the Amazon's capitals and large cities. So, just as in the first semester of 2020, we are confronted with a strong increase in information and to another mobilization by Brazilian authorities and different people from civil society to continue to fight against the Covid-19 epidemic in the Amazon.
 Official category found in the social-environmental Brazilian legislation (Law of SNUC, 2000) designating various communities (traditional fishermen, family-run farms, latex extractors, nut breakers, etc.) whose main denominator is doing an activity with little environmental impact and living on lands needed for the group's social and cultural reproduction.
Ferrante, L., & Fearnside, P. M. (2020). "Military forces and COVID-19 as smokescreens for Amazon destruction and violation of indigenous rights". DIE ERDE – Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 151(4), 258-263.
Stoll, Emilie ; Alencar, Edna ; Benitz, Tabatha ; Cardoso Thiago ; Flores Luiza ; Capredon Elise ; Folhes Ricardo ; Cortes João Paulo ; Tupiassu Lise ; Fischer Luly ; Priam Jonathan, "D’une 'maladie de riches' à un 'génocide ethnico-racial'. Évolution des discours et des perceptions de la Covid-19 en Amazonie brésilienne", Anthropologica, submitted on November 11, 2020.
Elise Capredon is an anthropologist and Teaching Assistant at the Université Lumière Lyon 2 in the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes contemporains (LADEC FRE 2002). She is a member of Mondes Américains (UMR 8168).