A small group of us had been working in Manaus, deep in the Amazon, for two years. We were exposing illegal logging operations and making some enemies in the process.
The Amazon was isolated and violent. Assassinations of local politicians and activists were an almost weekly event and corruption was rampant.
As Paulo Adario, our lead campaigner said "we always knew the Amazon was a risky campaign. To campaign in a wild-west frontier is totally different from campaigning in Sao Paulo or Canada. In those places our adversaries would never call for a pistolero to solve the ‘problem’. In the Amazon, impunity is law and the people we target don’t give a damn for international repercussions. The more we succeed, the more we face risks."
We’d received threats in the past but, in October 2001, we got a serious call. A woman said, "Greenpeace… tell the guy with the beard that he must die, and he will die."
The only guy with a beard was Paulo.
Among others, we heeded advice from a dependable "Deep Throat." He told us they had not yet contracted a gunman - they were still intimidating and had not made a final decision to kill Paulo. But he said these people "both bark and bite" and must be taken seriously. He also said he was fairly confident of the source: men in neighbouring Para State’s Mahogany Mafia who were also involved in the drug trade.
We had trouble, serious trouble.
We reported the threat to the police but they offered no help except to tell us to "be careful."
We took some immediate steps - relocating Paulo’s family to Rio, moving most of us into the office and tightening security overall. But this was no solution - we had to face these threats and escalate our work, not step down. If we didn’t, these people would win and the Amazon and everyone who depended on the magnificent jungle for their very survival would lose. For a while we felt so alone.
But we weren’t alone.
Just as all of us are working to free our Arctic 30 from Russian imprisonment, everyone leapt to action to help us be safe. It was more than a show of solidarity. It was an international family taking care of their own.
There were rallies, protests at Brazilian embassies, thousands of volunteers writing letters and collecting petition signatures, quiet political and diplomatic networking and an international media spotlight on the Mahogany Mafia.
And behind the scenes, our supporters kept us strong. Personally this was special for me - I was thousands of miles from my home in Canada, and my colleagues and supporters were my surrogate family.
It took us almost five months to regain control, to be confident that powerful and caring people got through to those behind the death threat - political repercussions would be substantial if anything happened to Paulo - and to get confirmation that they would heed the message.
We couldn’t have managed those long dark months without the support of our colleagues and thousands of supporters across the world.
And me, I was inspired to learn how to increase safety and security for our activists working in high-risk regions. Twelve years later I’m a Security Advisor for Greenpeace International. I get huge personal satisfaction helping our activists manage their safety and security so we can campaign bigger and better.
Thanks to you - our supporters - for coming together, as you always do, when our activists are in danger. Peaceful actions to expose environmental destruction - that’s what will free our Arctic 30 and protect our fragile Arctic.
Free the Arctic 30!
Anne Dingwall is a Security Advisor for Greenpeace International.