Violence and Activism in Amazonas

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The rainforest itself is not the only part of the Amazon facing the forces that drive deforestation. Many indigenous people living in secluded areas of the Amazon, who campaign for environmental protection and land rights, are often attacked and sometimes killed by ranchers, gangs, and loggers looking to expand their land into communities that are comparatively underarmed and easy to overpower.

Indigenous activists are often outnumbered and under protected due to lack of police who are either absent or unprepared to fight these gangs of armed grileiros. Community leaders are shot, stabbed, or beaten to death as a result of disputes over land and conservation. Many who speak up or attempt fighting back are forced into hiding because of the severity of the threats against their lives. If residents do not have to flee seeking safety, they can be displaced from their homes as loggers seize their land at gunpoint and force homeowners to sign a document saying they received compensation for leaving their land. In actuality, they receive nothing.

Amazon deforestation Photograph: Leoffreitas/Getty Images/Flickr RF
Amazon deforestation Photograph: Leoffreitas/Getty Images/Flickr RF

Pastor and environmentalist Antônio Vasconcelos was put on a hit list of community activists in his home of Lábrea, a remote region of the Amazonas state that  is a relatively unknown frontline of environmentalism. When two of the others on the hit list were murdered Vasconcelos was provided with round-the-clock government protection for three years which failed to stop the threats. “I’m terrified,” said Vasconcelos. “I feel my life is in danger. I feel completely insecure…whenever I hear someone approaching, I fear it could be someone coming for me.” Despite this trepidation, he continues the fight against illegal loggers, farmers, and plans for hydroelectric dams with inspiration from legendary union activist Chico Mendes.

According to a recent report by Global Witness, more environmental and land-rights campaigners have been killed in Brazil than the rest of the world combined. On average, one activist has been killed in the country every week since 2002. If that trend continues, four will die during the course of this World Cup, though very few cases are likely to make headlines.

While these activists are trying to preserve forest, the environment is not the only fight at hand. Many of those victimized want access to natural resources themselves putting them up against powerful groups such as Banca Ruralista, the agricultural lobby. Banca Ruralista says activists and smallholders are holding back development, notably that related to the cash crops important to the Brazilian economy.

So far, no action has been taken to address the injustice occurring in Brazil. The Brazilian National Guard has proved to be an ineffective means of protection as they usually retreat when under fire. Others throughout Brazil pursue similar goals for the Amazon – to defend its land and its people for the future.


Read the full story ‘Dying to Save the Amazon’ on the guardian.

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