Indigenous leader from threatened tribe killed in Brazil

by Fabio Teixeira | @ffctt | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 April 2020 18:16 GMT

Indigenous teacher feared latest casualty in violence over Amazon resources in Brazil

By Fabio Teixeira

RIO DE JANEIRO, April 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A leader of a protected tribe in the Amazon has been found dead, authorities said, marking the fifth violent death in six months in a region rife with conflict between illegal loggers and indigenous people.

The body of Zezico Guajajara, a member of the Guajajara tribe, was discovered with bullet wounds near an indigenous reservation on Tuesday in Maranhao state, part of the Amazon region, said Brazil's indigenous affairs agency FUNAI.

Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has encouraged economic development in the Amazon to lift indigenous groups from poverty and improve the lives of 30 million Brazilians who live there.

But invasions of protected forest reserves by illegal loggers and miners have increased since he took office last year, leading to violent clashes.

"We have lost another fellow warrior - a man who defended life," said indigenous leader Olimpio Guajajara in a statement issued on Wednesday.

"We are mourning his death. We're protecting the forest for all humanity, but powerful forces are out to kill us."

The Guajajara, one of Brazil's largest indigenous groups with more than 20,000 members, is known for protecting the forest against illegal loggers and miners with a Guardians of the Forest patrol created several years ago.

In November, a Guardians of the Forest member was killed by illegal loggers, and in December, two others were gunned down, and a teenager was found stabbed to death.

Federal police were notified, and the state government of Maranhao has launched an investigation into Zezico's death, officials said.

Brazil's indigenous people's association, APIB, which represents many of the country's 900,000 native people, urged federal police to investigate as well.

"This fact is evidence of the worsening violence and vulnerability of the indigenous people, especially the leaders that fight to defend their territories against invaders," said APIB in a statement.

Zezico was an indigenous teacher and a supporter of the Guardians of the Forest, and he had a history of receiving death threats, according to APIB.

"The loggers are desperate to get rid of the Guardians, targeting them one by one," said Sarah Shenker, a campaigner with Survival International, a non-profit that helps indigenous communities, in a statement.

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(Reporting by Fabio Teixeira @ffctt; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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