Indigenous groups in Brazil protest health care changes

By Anna Jean Kaiser, Associated Press | Updated - Mar. 27, 2019 at 9:03 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 27, 2019 at 3:35 p.m.


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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Indigenous groups across Brazil protested Wednesday against a proposal to transfer indigenous health services from the federal government to municipalities, saying it would be a major setback for their communities.

Hundreds of demonstrators in traditional garb and body paint danced and prayed at a protest in Sao Paulo city hall. In the morning, a group entered the building and was pepper-sprayed, according to a community leader. In a live streamed video posted to Facebook, a group lined up and banged staffs in unison in front of a line of civil guard police who stood with shields in the city government's entryway. They did a ritual dance in the entryway before going back outside after negotiating with police.

The Sao Paulo civil guard did not respond to requests for comment.

Other protests were held across Brazil, including in the capital Brasilia and Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon.

Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta last week discussed closing the federal indigenous health office. Indigenous leaders say the specialized agency can attend them in indigenous languages, which municipalities aren't able to do.

"Do we need a centralized system in Brasilia?" Mandetta questioned while speaking at a Senate commission meeting on Wednesday.

"For 600,000 indigenous people, the resources the country puts in - I think few countries in the world put in that much," he said, citing suspicions of corruption with the current indigenous health care system like excess equipment and overbilling. He said they would instead discuss ways to improve access for indigenous people to the normal health care system.

Tamikua Txihi Kerexu Hete, an indigenous leader from the Jaragua community, an indigenous community within the city of Sao Paulo, said it would be a huge setback for his community.

"This is a hard-earned right for indigenous people and we're here to fight for it," Hete said.

Hete said they will continue the protest until the mayor of Sao Paulo speaks against the health minister's proposal.

President Jair Bolsonaro has clashed with indigenous people. During his pre-campaign, he told supporters: "There will not be one more centimeter given to indigenous reserves."

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