On May 7, 2020, I appeared briefly on ABC’s RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas. She asked me about the situation for indigenous people in the Amazon with regards to the pandemic. It is difficult to talk about ‘vulnerable Amazonian communities’. Firstly, the Amazon is huge and diverse. There are people living in isolation from civilisation deep in the forest; there are indigenous people living in cities; and everything in between. Secondly, like anywhere else in the world, some people in the Amazon are vulnerable to this/that/and the other, for whatever reasons, while some are not.
Most of the people I know in the Napo region of the Ecuadorian Amazon keep telling me that the virus isn’t a really a problem. They tell me that they have the medicine they need. Their main problems are lockdown restriction and new levels of repression hiding behind pandemic politics. More about that here.
The long and the short of it is: Of course, 500 years of enslavement, resource extraction and exploitation have left scars – the open veins of of Latin America – but the phrase ‘vulnerable Amazonian communities’ is problematic. To some ears it could easily sound as if ‘these communities’ are inherently vulnerable due to race and genetics. The poor savages, who need our help, our sympathy, who need whiteys to save them. There is a lot of that sentiment going around, I hear and feel it often in people’s voices. Perhaps James Baldwin’s reflections on ‘White Man’s Guilt‘ apply here.
Anyway, as we have learned, it is not a pandemic, but a syndemic: the corona virus reveals pre-existing inequalities; poor basic health conditions; low air, water and food quality; terrible housing conditions and so on. Keywords here are austerity, pollution and a lack of decent wages for bullshit jobs – if you can even get a job.
It was my first time on a major radio station and I was soon cut short 🙂