Dying to save the Amazonian rainforest

As the fight over scarce resources escalates, justice systems ignore organized violence against environmental activists. In Brazil one environmental activist is murdered per week.

Amazonian activist Nilcilene Miguel de Lima staring out of the window of a refuge in Manaus,

Brazil, where she has been in hiding since her friends were murdered

and she received death threats.

Most of the murders occur in remote regions of the Amazon – places like de Lima's home of Lábrea in Amazonas state, where loggers, ranchers and land-grabbers are seizing property from smallholders, subsistence communities and indigenous tribes. Guns and muscle make the rules. Police are usually either absent, complicit or too weak to deal with the gangs of armed grileiros. The ethical consequences are immense.

... Lábrea is among the most remote, dangerous and important frontlines of environmental protection on the planet. Whether fighting climate change or conserving biodiversity, there are few more pressing struggles in the world than the one taking place here. Yet it rarely gets much attention in Brazil, let alone the rest of the world. The stage is too distant, the drama plays out too slowly and the economic interests are weighed against the activists, who are often accused by their enemies of holding back development.

"There is no justice in Brazil. My house has been burned. I have been beaten. My family has been threatened. My friends have been raped and killed by loggers. Yet no one has been punished. I've begged for justice, but there is no justice in Brazil. We've all been abandoned by the state."

Antônio Vasconcelos ... was a key figure in the creation of the reserves and has long been a target of opponents led by the former mayor of Lábrea, Gean Campos Barros.

"I'm terrified. I feel my life is in danger. I feel completely insecure," he says. "Whenever I hear someone approaching, I fear it could be someone coming for me."

Several years ago, his name was found on a hit-list of community activists. When two of the others on the list – Zé Cláudio and Adelino Ramos – were murdered, the government provided round-the-clock protection. For three years, Vasconcelos lived with 13 police officers. "It didn't stop the threats," he says. "Every night someone would call to say they had a bullet not only for me, but for each of my guards."

Such fears have not stopped him campaigning against illegal loggers, farmers and plans for hydroelectric dams.

This reflects a global trend, according to Global Witness. [emphasis mine]

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Replies to This Discussion

Peru now has a ‘licence to kill’ environmental protesters

If indigenous peoples protest commercial exploitation of natural resources, Peru police and soldiers can now legally kill them without consequence.

That law, no. 30151, was promulgated in January this year and is, according to the IDL’s Juan José Quispe, a modification of existing legislation passed by the previous government. The modification consists of replacing three words – “en forma reglamentaria” – with another five – “u otro medio de defensa” – which Quispe says means that any soldier or police officer can now kill or injure a civilian without needing to use his or her weapon “according to regulations”, or by using something other than his or her weapon.

We continue considering this law as one that grants the armed forces as well as the national police a licence to kill,” Quispe told the Guardian. “It permits a high degree of impunity. During the repression of social protests, police officers and soldiers who cause injuries or deaths will now be exempt from criminal responsibility.” [emphasis mine]

It's an outrage that our world has come to this! I appreciate your work to keep us more aware.



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