The tragedy occurred Friday in the Arariboia region of Maranhao state, one of the most affected by fires and illegal logging.
The indigenous activist Paulo Paulino, a member of the Guajajara tribe and leader of the Amazon defense group The Guardians of the Forest, was killed during an altercation with wood traffickers, Brazilian authorities said. The drama happened Friday 1st November, in the region of Arariboia, in the state of Maranhao, one of the most affected by fires and illegal logging.
In a statement, the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), which brings together the interests of indigenous people, said that Paulo Paulino was shot in the head, and another member of the Guardians of the forest Laercio Guajajara was injured in the attack. The two men "Had moved away from the village to fetch water when they were surrounded by at least five armed men", tweeted the human rights secretariat of the Maranhao government. One of the attackers, missing, could have been killed in the clashes.
After this tragedy, the Brazilian police announced the opening of an investigation. "We will prosecute those responsible for this crime in the courts"promised Sergio Moro, the Minister of Justice.
In Polícia federal irá apurar o assassinato do líder indígena Paulo Paulino Guajajara na terra indígena of Arariboia … https://t.co/SAdaW6wVAa
For the NGO Greenpeace, "Paulino and Laercio are the latest victims of a state that refuses to respect the provisions of the Constitution". Greenpeace denounces "The incapacity of the State to fulfill its duty to protect them as well as all the native territories of Brazil".
The Guardians of the Forest defense group was created in 2012 at the initiative of the Guajajara Indians, tired of seeing their land eaten away by illegal logging. This militia carries out armed patrols in the Arariboia reserve, where some 5,300 Indians live on 4,130 square kilometers. The members of the group transmit the GPS data of areas where truncated logs are found and help firefighters during forest fires. They are also destroying the illegal camps of loggers who exploit this part of the Amazon rainforest, formally under the protection of the Brazilian government.
Regularly, Forest Guardians receive death threats, and many have been killed in recent years during operations. "We have informed several federal agencies of these threats, but nothing has been done"said Sonia Bone, a spokeswoman for the Guajajara tribe, currently in Europe for an advocacy campaign for the indigenous cause titled "Native blood: no more than a drop". "It's time to stop this institutionalized genocide. Stop authorizing to shed the blood of our people "she tweeted after the announcement of the murder.
According to Survival International's investigator, Sarah Shenker, who visited the region in April, the Guajajara's work is important to protect other indigenous people in the area, such as the Awa, an isolated tribe with only a few dozens of members.
At GuardianGilderlan Rodrigues, coordinator of the Indigenous Mediation Council in Maranhao, confirmed that Paulo Paulino had already been threatened with death several times in recent months. "Their work disturbs those who want to plunder their territory"summed up the person in charge, stating that the loggers suspected of the murder had entered the reserve without authorization.
"My blood boils"
At the NGO Survival International, Paulo Paulino had confided in early 2019, after the election of Jair Bolsonaro:
"It makes me so angry to see that. These people think they can come here, in our house, and serve in our forest? No. We can not let them do that. We do not enter their homes to steal everything, right? My blood boils, I'm so angry. "
Brazil caused concern and drew criticism from many countries in August and September with fires ravaging entire regions of the Amazon, due to deforestation and the dry season. Climate-sensitive President Jair Bolsonaro has been blamed in Brazil and abroad for supporting the development of mining and agriculture in protected areas and for weakening key environmental conservation organizations .
According to figures from the Indian Missionary Congress (CIMI, association linked to the Catholic Church) quoted by the APIB, 160 intrusions of illegal timber traffickers or gold miners were recorded from January to September this year, an increase of 44 % compared to the total of the year 2018.