How an Indigenous People in Bolivia’s Amazon Survived COVID-19

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Bia Recuaté, the name of the community that the Yuqui people inhabit, seems to be a place without time and with constant movement. It is a territory very rich in flora and fauna that the Yuquis protect and value. Photo by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.

When the coronavirus arrived in the spring, Yuqui fisherman Salomon Quispe was frightened. His wife had tuberculosis a few years before and was still in poor health. At 52 years old, Salomon Quispe himself was no longer as young as he once was, and he, too, felt at risk.

Quispe also worried that his village, Bia Recuaté, would be cut off from the outside world because of the pandemic. In fact, a little later, he and his wife were left with little to eat but fruits and roots. The virus had become an existential threat — both for the Quispes and for the small Indigenous population of the Yuquis.

Salomon Quispe, fisherman from the Yuqui community, heads to the river. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
The Yuquis are a people who still preserve that nomadic and indomitable essence, but at the same time are very conscious of the protection of their territory and their customs. You can observe their passage through the jungle, always very subtle, very light, in harmony. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
Carmen Isategua, the cacique of the Yuqui community, is in charge of watching over the well-being of the community and at the same time defending the territory from illegal actions of agents from outside the community. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
As a biosecurity measure, and due to the lack of technological communication systems in the Yuqui territory, they decided to put up posters at their entry points, asking for the use of face masks. According to official data from the Secretary of Health of Bia Recuaté, Leandro Quispe, up to the end of October there have been 19 positive cases of the coronavirus and one death in the community. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
A Yuqui villager helps to load a shipment of harvested bananas to be sold in Cochabamba. Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, their market has been reduced to a single buyer who enters Bia Recuaté once a month. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
The Yuqui community is in danger of extinction with only 360 inhabitants. The health status of its inhabitants is weakened since they were recently impacted by a tuberculosis epidemic. The epidemic left many dead and many orphaned. For these children, the community built a boarding school where, in a communitarian way, the villagers take care of them. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
For the Yuqui people, it is important to protect their territory from illegal activities that could put its inhabitants at risk. But first and foremost, they must protect the ecosystem that surrounds them from irreparable damage. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
Oscar Ie Evay is one of the elders in the Yuqui community. His specialty is hunting, through which he makes his livelihood. Generally the animals the Yuqui hunt are for their own consumption. Birds that the elder hunted for his lunch are shown in the photo above. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
In a part of the Amazonian territory of Bia Recuaté you can see a chaqueado (a type of forest) and a coca plantation nearby, a less common activity for the Yuqui people. Photo by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
Three Yuqui villagers find an illegally cut down and logged tree within their Yuqui-CIRI TCO territory. The TCO consists of 125,000 hectares and is home to at least three different Indigenous peoples: the Yuquis, the Yuracaré, and the Trinitarios. There are 298 TCOs (now called TIOC) in Bolivia and they represent almost 25% of the Bolivian Amazon. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
Mayerli Bia, a nurse at the medical post of the Yuqui community, and her young daughter. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.
During the pandemic, the usual work of Leonardo Quispe, secretary of health of the Yuqui community, tripled. By turning to medicinal plants, the community managed to survive. Image by Sara Aliaga. Bolivia, 2020.

Read the rest of the story in German on the Neue Zürcher Zeitung website.

COVID-19 Update: The connection between local and global issues–the Pulitzer Center’s long standing mantra–has, sadly, never been more evident. We are uniquely positioned to serve the journalists, news media organizations, schools, and universities we partner with by continuing to advance our core mission: enabling great journalism and education about underreported and systemic issues that resonate now–and continue to have relevance in times ahead. We believe that this is a moment for decisive action. Learn more about the steps we are taking.

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