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It is not news that the Brazilian government has been failing to protect Indigenous lands and Indigenous rights. But due to ever-increasing invasion of their territories by land grabbers, loggers and even drug traffickers, the Indigenous Peoples from several groups in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil decided to take the matter into their own hands. Organized in groups called Guardians of the Forest, they watch, monitor and put their own lives on the frontlines to try to stop the increasing destruction of their forests and the threats to their way of life.
One of these Guardians was brutally murdered last week, November 1, in an ambush by loggers on his own land. Twenty-six-year-old Paulo Paulino Guajajara’s life was violently taken as he was trying to protect the territory of his people from the greed of those who only see money when they look at a forest. Along with him, Laércio Souza Silva Guajajara was shot in the arm and back, but survived. Just the fact that these five highly armed loggers were within the Indigenous area is a violation of the rights of the Guajajara people.
Paulino was always in search of tools to strengthen the struggle of his people. He participated in workshops to learn how to use technology to monitor their land in order to show evidence of invasions, deforestation and wood theft, for example. His murder underscores the reality of the fight facing Indigenous People and traditional communities in Brazil. It is not only a symptom of how Bolsonaro’s genocidal agenda and discourse has exponentially increased the threat to Indigenous People’s lives, but how the broader system that relies on endless extraction of cheap commodities and in the process desecrates lands of spiritual & ecological value. Both this system and Bolsonaro’s agenda are enabled by multinational corporations willing to profit and look the other way.
Along with Paulino, Forest Guardians from seven Indigenous Lands in Maranhão and one in Pará have been organizing and coordinating themselves in recent years with each other and with partner organizations to monitor their territories. It is assumed that, provided with qualified information on illicit events that take place within Indigenous Lands, the State will have to act to combat organized environmental crime that happens in these territories.
Between 2000 and 2018, 42 Guajajara Indigenous People were murdered. And this year has been a particularly violent one in Brazil as a whole. According to preliminary data published by the Indigenist Missionary Council (Cimi), in the first nine months of 2019, there were 160 cases of invasion of 153 Indigenous Lands in 19 states.
The devastating news of the murder of Paulo Paulino Guajajara came while a group of Indigenous Leaders from Brazil, including Sonia Guajajara, is in Europe precisely to report the serious violations of Indigenous rights that are being perpetrated by the Brazilian government. They are demanding action globally to put pressure on the Brazilian government to comply with environmental protection agreements and respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
Stand with the Guardians of the Forest who risk their lives every day for the protection of their Lands and nature.
Carol Marçal is an Amazon Campaigner with Greenpeace Brazil.