Indigenous environmental defender killed 'as logging mafia targets tribe'

By agency reporter
August 16, 2018

A leader of an Amazon tribe acclaimed for its environmental defenders has been killed, the latest in a series of deaths among the tribe. 

The body of Jorginho Guajajara was found near a river in the Brazilian state of Maranhão. He was a leader of the Guajajara people, acclaimed internationally for their work as the 'Guardians of the Amazon' in the most threatened region in the entire Amazon.

Survival International, the movement for the rights of tribal people,  says it is not yet clear who killed him, but a powerful logging mafia has repeatedly targeted the tribe for its work protecting both its rainforest home, and the uncontacted members of a neighbouring tribe, the Awá, who also live there, and face catastrophe unless their land is protected.

Confronted with official inaction, the tribe formed an environmental protection team named 'Guardians of the Amazon' to expel the loggers. Some estimates suggest up to 80 members of the tribe have been killed since 2000.

The murder of Jorginho Guajajara is further indication of the increasing volatility in this area. In May this year, a team from Ibama (Brazil's environmental protection agency) and environmental military police were dispatched to the Guajajara’s Arariboia reserve, a rare move from the authorities.

The Guajajara say: “Our uncontacted Awá relatives cannot survive if their forest is destroyed. As long as we live, we will fight for the uncontacted Indians, for all of us, and for nature.”

Survival International has protested to the Brazilian authorities about the wave of violence against the Guajajara, which has gone almost entirely unpunished.

Survival International Director, Stephen Corry, said: “The Guardians of the Amazon face an urgent humanitarian crisis, and are fighting for their very survival. This small tribe of Amazon Indians are confronting an aggressive, powerful and armed logging mafia with close ties to local and national politicians. And they’re paying with their lives for standing up to them. They urgently need public support to make sure they survive.”

The Arariboia indigenous territory comprises a unique biome in the transition area between the savannah and the Amazon rainforest. There are species here not found elsewhere in the Amazon, but the land inside the indigenous territory is under threat from illegal loggers. Cuts in government funding to its indigenous affairs department and tribal land protection mean the dangers are now even greater, as the area is not properly monitored or defended by the authorities.

Survival International says a powerful and violent logging mafia operates in the region, supported by some local politicians.

* Survival International https://www.survivalinternational.org

[Ekk/6]

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