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Greenpeace stands in solidarity with the Guajajara people as yet another Indigenous leader is murdered

April 1, 2020

Yesterday, we received news that yet another Indigenous leader was murdered while fighting against invasions and illegal logging in his people’s territory.

Yesterday, we received news that yet another Indigenous leader was murdered while fighting against invasions and illegal logging in his people’s territory.

Zezico Rodrigues, of the Guajajara Indigenous People, was found dead on Tuesday, March 31st, on Arariboia Indigenous Land (TI) in the Brazilian State of Maranhão. A teacher and director in the Azuru Indigenous School Education Center, Rodrigues had a dominant role in defending the traditional territory of the Guajajara People. As a leader, he took a stand against cutting down the forest and had been continually documenting the growing presence of invaders and illegal logging in the Arariboia Indigenous Land. On March 29th, Rodrigues was appointed regional coordinator of the Commission for Chiefs and Leaders of the Arariboia Indigenous Land (Cocalitia). He was also a defender of the rights of the Awá-Guajá people, a group living in voluntary isolation on Arariboia land. 

Rodrigues’ death marks the 49th homicide against the Guajajara Indigenous People, a population that exists in a handful of legally recognized Indigenous Lands in the Northeastern Amazon, since 2000. In the last two months of 2019 alone, four Guajajara Indigenous People were murdered. Among them was Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a member of Guardians of the Forest, a group formed to monitor and defend traditional Indigenous territories against the presence of invaders.

Following the murders in 2019, the Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro authorized the use of the National Public Security Force to patrol the Cana Brava Guajajara Indigenous Land, in the state of Maranhão, for 90 days. However, measures have not been implemented to ensure the continuous protection of Indigenous Peoples, and violence continues in the region.

In January 2020, President Jair Bolsonaro said that he hoped to “integrate Indigenous Peoples and afro-descendent Quilombolas” because he thinks that these populations — whose territories are frequently under threat — have “too much land.” Bolsonaro’s speech to forcefully integrate Indigenous Peoples was a dangerous invitation to his followers, who feel empowered to invade territories, create division, threaten, and attack Indigenous leaders. As a result, Indigenous Peoples have reported an increase in violence towards their own communities. This trend has cropped up not only in the Amazon, but across the country — for example, the recent murder of Demilson Ovelar Mender Avá-Guarani in the state of Paraná.

The astounding number of homicides against the Guajajara people, many of which go unpunished or without completed investigations, is part of the Brazilian reality where encroachment on Indigenous lands — especially by loggers, miners, and land grabbers — is constant. What the Guajajara people are experiencing is tragic and shows how vulnerable many Indigenous communities are throughout Brazil — even those who live on land that, under the Brazilian constitution, should have the protection of the state. 

The daily harassment of isolated Indigenous Peoples by invaders becomes even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Historically, Indigenous Peoples in Brazil have been in a precarious position in terms of access to health services and exposure to new diseases; yet rapid transmission of COVID-19 makes it even more vital that the federal government guarantees their safety, their lives, and their territories.

The agenda of Bolsonaro’s government has been to dismantle policies that protect Indigenous rights. This has become increasingly evident with the complete halt in legal recognition of Indigenous lands, and even the cancelation of others, such as the Guasu Guavira Indigenous Land in western Paraná state. In addition, the government has reduced the patrolling of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and government officials, including the President, employ rhetoric that encourages the invasion of legally recognized and consolidated lands, as we have seen in the cases of the Arariboia and Karipuna lands, in the state of Rondônia, and Raposa Serra do Sol, in the state of Roraima.

We must show the Brazilian government and others across the globe that murders of environmental defenders and Indigenous Peoples do not go unnoticed — not during the COVID-19 crisis, not ever. As we fight to save the forests, we too must fight for those who best protect it. 

Zezico presente! Long live Zezico!

This post has been adapted from a statement in Portuguese by Greenpeace Brazil and partners Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI), Conselho Indigenista Missionário (Cimi), and  Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and contextualized for a broader audience.

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