A Forest Guardian and member of the Guajajara, an indigenous group that lives in northern Brazil, was shot dead by illegal loggers on Friday. Paulo Paulino Guajajara was with the Forest Guardians team, a group of indigenous people who aim to defend the rainforest from illegal loggers, when they were suddenly ambushed. Another member of the group, Laércio Guajajara, was injured and is in stable condition in hospital.
The altercation took place on Araribóia indigenous land in Maranhão, a state in northeastern Brazil.
“There was intense confrontation,” said the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) in a statement. “The indigenous forest guardian Paul Paulino Guajajara, known as 'Bad Wolf', was brutally murdered with a gunshot to his face. It has been reported that a logger involved in the crime may also have died in the confrontation, his body is missing.”
Paulo’s death is a stark reminder of the issues facing Brazil’s indigenous peoples today. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed Captain Chainsaw, is all too keen to strip them of their rights and land, dismantle environmental legislation, and support the destruction of the Amazon, the richest ecosystem on Earth.
The rainforest is rapidly being destroyed to make way for agriculture and to harvest timber. This year’s wildfires in the Amazon, many of which are started intentionally to clear land, have been burning through this unique habitat, with little concern expressed by the president. The aggressive deforestation, up 278 percent since last year, has unsurprisingly led to international outcry, but Bolsonaro is quick to defend himself, stating: “You have to understand that the Amazon is Brazil’s, not yours.”
“The Bolsonaro Government has indigenous blood on their hands, the increased violence in indigenous territories is a direct reflection of their hate speech, as well as their measures against indigenous peoples in Brazil,” said the APIB.
“Our lands are being invaded, our leaders murdered, attacked and criminalized, and the Brazilian state is abandoning indigenous peoples to their fate with the ongoing dismantling of environmental and indigenous policies.”
Illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon are continually becoming more aggressive to those trying to protect the land, and this is not the first time they have murdered activists. Since Bolsonaro came into power and began dismantling environmental agencies, attacks have surged. Back in July, a tribal leader was murdered by armed miners in Amapa state in north Brazil.
In an open letter to Bolsonaro last month, experts warned that the country’s indigenous people face “genocide”, thanks to his desire to reduce protections for indigenous people and their land and open it up to industries like mining, cattle ranching, and timber logging.
“Where there are indigenous people, there are forests. Therefore, an attack on our peoples represents an attack on all societies and on the future of the next generations,” said APIB. “We need to stop the escalation of this genocidal policy against our indigenous peoples in Brazil.”