In the Brazilian Amazon, a 1,000-mile journey so people can vote

Manaus, Brazil – In most democracies, citizens go to the polls. But in the sparsely populated Brazilian Amazon, the ballot boxes often go to the voters.

Most people live in the vast urban rainforests, but thousands reside in small villages several days away from the nearest town by boat. Amazonas, the largest state in Brazil, is three times the size of California, yet has only a third of the population of Greater Los Angeles. More than half of its cities are absolutely inaccessible by road, and some are located hundreds of kilometers from the state capital, Manaus.

Logistics is a challenge even in Manaus, a sprawling municipality of 2.2 million people. On Saturday, the Associated Press accompanied election workers to set up a voting place in the community of Bella Vista do Jaraque, on a three-hour boat ride from the city.

“No candidate has appeared here during this campaign,” Joao Moraes de Sousa, a local fisherman and small farmer, told The Associated Press. “If no one comes during the campaign, you can imagine then.”

Ana Lucia Salazar de Sousa was one of the election workers. Because of the distance, her team, including police officers, would spend the night in temporary accommodation and return to Manaus on Sunday after voting ended in the afternoon.

“There are many difficulties,” she said. “But participating in this citizenship process makes all the sacrifices worth it.”

Collecting votes in the remote Javari Valley of Amazonas is risky – but less so in recent years thanks to the efforts of Bruno Pereira, An aboriginal expert was killed this year side by side British journalist Dom Phillips.

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Until 2012, the only polling stations in the region were located in the city of Atalaia do Norte. That year, a mayoral candidate distributed petrol to about 1,200 Aboriginal people from the Javari Valley Aboriginal people so they could make a multi-day trip down the river to vote.

However, the filter did not provide enough fuel for the return trip. They were stranded by the river for weeks without proper sanitation, which led to an outbreak of rotavirus. Five children of the Kanamare tribe died and about 100 people were taken to hospital.

At that time, Pereira headed the local office of the Brazilian Agency for Indigenous Affairs. He provided them with food and water, and coordinated quarantines to prevent the virus from reaching Aboriginal villages. Later, he and local Aboriginal leaders devised a plan to move electronic voting machines to remote villages.

“Bruno wrote all the technical parts,” Jader Marubo, president of the local Indigenous Association, told the AP.

Villages in the Javari Valley region received their first polling stations in 2014. To deliver a polling machine to the farthest village, Vida Nova, election officials usually fly by small plane from Manaus to Cruzeiro do Sul, a city in Acre state. There, they took a helicopter to reach the last stop. It’s a 1,000-mile round trip to get to a place with 327 voters, in a country of more than 150 million people.

But in a democracy, every vote counts — an assertion confirmed by the latest polls that suggest former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could win the first round, without a run-off on October 30 against incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. .

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This year, the Javari Valley region has seven polling stations, with 1,655 Indigenous voters. In August, the Atalaya do Norte Regional Election Authority building was renamed Bruno Pereira. ___

Maisonnave reported from Rio de Janeiro.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP .’s Climate Initiative over here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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