In Brazil this past month, there has been a dramatic escalation of the threats against Chief Almir and other leaders who stand with him in opposing new changes to The Forest Code. Legislation currently being considered by the Brazilian government would reduce the protections in place against further destruction of the forest. These changes would greatly increase the amount of land that can be legally logged and may also provide retroactive amnesty for illegal logging.
Earlier in July, Chief Almir traveled to the city of Brasilia with 11 other Surui leaders to meet with the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the branch of the Ministry of Justice responsible for Indigenous affairs. So far, the local FUNAI office in Cacoal has not responded to their requests for help and protection. According to Almir, the most recent threats are from wildcat loggers (torieros) who view him and other Surui leaders as obstacles to their continued illegal logging of protected lands, including the Sete de Setembro extractive reserve.
There is a long history of danger to environmental activists in the Amazon region, far from the centers of Brazilian government. This was brought to the world’s attention 23 years ago with the murder of Chico Mendes. Mendes, a rubber tapper and environmental activist, had forged an alliance between the rubber tappers and indigenous peoples for sustainable development in the Amazon. In 1988, after receiving death threats, he was assassinated at the order of a local rancher. Since then, many hundreds more have been killed.
This danger has intensified most recently with the conflict over the proposed changes to the Forest Code. In May, a prominent Brazilian conservationist and his wife were killed in the Amazon. Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo were found murdered inside the nature reserve in the state of Pará where they had worked for the past 24 years promoting the eco-friendly cultivation of nuts, fruit and rubber. In this case as well, the victim had warned of repeated death threats against him by loggers and cattle ranchers. Other recent victims include Adelino Ramos, a farmer and leader of the Movimento Camponês de Corumbiara (Corumbiara Peasant Movement) in the state of Rondonia.
These killings may not linked or the work of the same forces. But they are a reminder that anyone who poses a serious obstacle to the exploitation of timber and other natural resources in the Amazon will risk deadly reprisals. Please express your support for Chief Almir. We have to pressure the authorities to take this matter seriously, and to protect those who protect the forest.