Paulinho Paiakan, a Kayapó chief known for his environmental protests in Brazil, has died after being hospitalized for coronavirus, Brazil’s Health Ministry has confirmed.
Paiakan, 66, died Wednesday in a hospital in Redenção, in southern Pará, a state where the coronavirus epidemic has spread among indigenous communities and has killed several tribal elders, according to CNN Brasil.
The health ministry said it had followed Paiakan’s situation closely after he was diagnosed with coronavirus and then hospitalized for it. He was recently transferred to an intensive care unit in the regional Araguia hospital where he was intubated on June 9.
Paiakan was known for drawing attention to the cost of building the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant on the Amazon’s Xingu River in the 1980s.
“His legacy leaves in the history and in the lives of peoples a lot of strength. Internationally recognized as a great advocate for the forest and its peoples, Paiakan was a source of inspiration in the struggle for all of us,” said advocacy group Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) in a statement.
In 1998 Paiakan was sentenced to six years in prison for raping an 18-year-old student in 1992. His wife was also convicted over the incident.
The case was widely reported at the time. Paiakan denied the rape and was in fact acquitted in 1994 because a judge said there was a lack of evidence. However, the prosecutor appealed and Paiakan was eventually convicted.
Media coverage at the time widely reported allegations from Paiakan’s supporters that claimed that the allegations were fabricated to hurt his reputation and to silence him.
Brazil’s indigenous people are dying at an alarming rate from Covid-19. The mortality rate is double that of the rest of Brazil’s population, according to APIB, which tracks the number of cases and deaths among the country’s 900,000 indigenous people.
At the end of May, APIB had recorded more than 980 officially confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 125 deaths among the indigenous population, which suggested a mortality rate of 12.6% – compared to the national rate of 6.4%.
And the pandemic has not affected the worrying rate of forest loss in the Amazon.
Deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest increased by nearly 64% in April this year, compared to the same month last year, shows data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
In April alone more than 156 square miles (405.6 square kilometers) of rainforest were destroyed – a vast swath more than double the size of Washington, DC.
The first trimester of 2020 had already seen a more than 50% increase in deforestation compared to last year, according to INPE data.