‘Guardian’ of the Amazon Killed in Brazil by Illegal Loggers

In the months before an Indigenous leader was killed with a gunshot in the face in the Amazon reserve he had spent much of his life protecting, at least two efforts were made to warn Brazil’s government of the risks posed by illegal loggers in the region.

In April, members of the Guajajara Indigenous group went to the capital, Brasília, to plead for protection from loggers invading their land in the state of Maranhão. In August, the state’s head of human rights wrote to the federal police to say loggers were threatening the Guajajara in the Araribóia Indigenous Land.

But those warnings didn’t help Paulo Paulino Guajajara during a hunting trip with a friend in the Araribóia reserve on Friday, when they were ambushed by a group of five loggers working illegally in the area.

Laércio Guajajara, the friend, who was wounded has been released from the hospital. A logger was reported missing.

The murder is one of a string of losses for Brazil’s indigenous communities, as miners and loggers make more and bolder incursions into Indigenous territories and other protected areas. Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has said that Brazil’s Indigenous reserves should be opened up to commercial exploration.

“The Brazilian government is not following its constitutional duty of protecting them,” said Gilberto Vieira, an associate secretary at Brazil’s ‪Indigenous Missionary Council, which is connected to the Catholic Church.

In June, several dozen illegal miners had invaded the Wajapi Indigenous community, in the Brazilian Amazon, and stabbed and killed one of its leaders.

Mr. Guajajara, 26, left one child. He and Laércio Guajajara were members of the forest guardians, a group the Guajajara created to defend themselves and their land against miners, loggers and others interested in illegally taking resources from the reserve.

ImageFederal police in Brazil say they are investigating Mr. Guajajara’s death.
Credit…Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

In a searing statement lamenting Mr. Guajajara’s death, the association of Brazilian Indigenous peoples said the Bolsonaro administration had “Indigenous blood” on its hands.

“The increased violence in indigenous territories is a direct reflection of their hate speech, as well as their measures against Indigenous peoples in Brazil,” they said in a statement posted on their website on Saturday. “Our lands are being invaded, our leaders murdered, attacked and criminalized, and the Brazilian state is abandoning Indigenous peoples to their fate with the ongoing dismantling of environmental and indigenous policies.”

Brazil’s minister of justice, Sérgio Moro, promised a thorough investigation of Mr. Guajajara’s death by the country’s federal police.

“We will spare no efforts to take those responsible for this serious crime to justice,” he said in a tweet.

The Indigenous Missionary Council had warned in a report published on Sept. 24 that that the number of invasions of Indigenous lands by loggers, miners and land grabbers was rising. They documented 160 incursions through September of this year, compared to 109 during the whole of 2018.

The Guajajara people of the state of Maranhão knew they were in danger.

“All indigenous lands in Maranhão are under threat of invasion,” Indigenous leader Rosilene Guajajara said in an interview in April, when several of her community went to Brasília to ask the federal government for protection.

The murder of Mr. Guajajara comes at a time when a spike in rainforest fires in the Brazilian Amazon drew a global outcry. As deforestation increases, the forest is approaching a tipping point at which it would begin to self-destruct, instead of self-sustain, which could frustrate worldwide efforts to fight climate change.

While a task force that included Brazilian military was able to reduce the number of fires in October to a record low, research shows Indigenous people are some of the most important agents of environmental protection in the forest.

Paulo Moutinho, a senior scientist at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said that historically Indigenous lands have some of the lowest deforestation levels among conservation units in Brazil.

“If we want to preserve the great benefits the Amazon forest offers us, it is fundamental that we recognize these peoples’ right to land,” he said. “They are providing an invaluable service.”

Manuela reported from Rio de Janeiro and Letícia Casado reported from Recife.

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