Mexican indigenous people face virus with few defenses

Mexico City (AFP) – A day after learning he was infected with the coronavirus, an indigenous Mexican farmer named Samuel hanged himself from a tree.

And he remained hanging there for hours because no one had protective gear to bring the body down — a grim illustration of the plight of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, who are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic sweeping the globe because of their grinding poverty.

After the suicide, panic spread through the village of Ocosingo, one of the poorest native communities in Mexico.

Samuel, 54, from the Zoque ethnic group, is believed to have been infected when two of his sons, working in a factory in northern Mexico, came home to impoverished Chiapas state after the plant shut down because of the health crisis.

An official with the Chiapas attorney general’s office said the man suffered from depression, which worsened when he learned he was infected.

The rest of Samuel’s family is now infected, said Joel Morales, a community leader. And people in that village of 1,400 are terrified because there is only one clinic, with a lone doctor and two nurses.

There is also a lack of face masks, sanitizing gel for people to wash their hands and gloves, he said.

Ocosingo is one of the Mexican municipalities with the highest levels of extreme poverty, affecting 76 percent of the population in 2015, according to a non-governmental monitor called the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy.

Surrounding Chiapas state, which is mainly indigenous, is also Mexico’s poorest, with 76.4 percent of its people living in poverty in 2018.

The fact that no one had gear to collect Samuel’s body safely is a situation repeated in most of the indigenous areas of Mexico.

A full fifth of the total population of 120 million identifies as indigenous, according to the National Statistics Institute.

– No water for washing hands –

As of Tuesday April 28th, 227 indigenous people tested positive for the coronavirus, out of a national tally of 16,700 cases and 1,600 deaths, the government says. It did not say how many indigenous people have died.

Source: AFP