Amazon Murders

25 years after Chico Mendes was killed, eco-murders are rife in the Amazon.

Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes at a rubber treeThe murder of Chico Mendes in the late 1980’s was a milestone in global awareness about the issue of rainforest destruction, particularly in the Brazilian Amazon. But unfortunately his death was just the beginning of something which continues to snowball. In just one of the Brazilian Amazon regions – Pará – over 230 people were killed and 809 received death threats between 1996 and 2010. In 2011, almost 80 people received death threats and at least12 people were killed in the same region.

With this in mind, next week’s trial, in the Brazilian state of Pará of three men accused of murdering ecological campaigner José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo, who had resisted loggers and ranchers for years. Like the death of Mendes, their assassinations in May 2011 caused an international surge in awareness due to the media coverage. José Rodrigues Moreira, one of the men on trial, is the person responsible for the controversial purchase of 144 hectares of primary forest and expulsion of the families living there in order to graze cattle was opposed by Ribeiro da

Silva and denounced to the government’s land agency.

Trials these are apparently quite rare. Out of 918 people killed across Brazil’s Amazon between 1985 and April 2011, only 27 got to court. According to the Brazilian journalist Eliane Brum: “The only ones that have a real chance of going to trial are those that get the attention of the national, and especially the international, press … this impunity sends the message killing is permitted and that it’s a way ‘to solve’ land conflicts or silence people fighting for social justice.”

Brazilian political ecologist Felipe Milanez, adds that the trial: “exposes the problems and challenges in the Amazon today…it’s something we haven’t dealt with in the past 30 years. The same thing that happened to Mendes and Dorothy happened to Claudio, and will happen to other people defending the forest.”

There are concerns that violence could rise again in the wake of Brazil’s new Forest Code regulations which grants amnesty to environmental crimes and will inevitably lead to further disputes over rainforest lands and quite probably a jump in deforestation.

(source: The Guardian)