A rainforest activist from one of Brazil’s leading Indigenous protection groups has been killed just weeks after participating in an Amazon assembly organised by the murdered Indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira.
Janildo Oliveira Guajajara, a member of the Guardiões da Floresta (Forest Guardians) collective, was reportedly shot dead in the early hours of Saturday near the Araribóia Indigenous territory where he lived.
Carlos Travassos, an Indigenous expert who works with the group in Maranhão state, said he was the sixth Forest Guardian to be murdered since 2016.
“We still don’t know exactly what motivated this but we presume it was some kind of retaliation,” added Travassos, who said eyewitness reports suggested the victim was ambushed and shot from behind while visiting the town of Amarante do Maranhão.
“We want authorities to investigate but everything suggests he was killed because he was a Guardian.”
Civil police chief César Veloso told local media Guajajara was returning from an Indigenous celebration when he was attacked. His teenage nephew was also shot but survived.
Guajajara was one of dozens of Indigenous activists who gathered in the Araribóia territory in July to exchange tips on rainforest protection.
The week-long summit, at which the Guardian’s reporters were present, was being organised by Bruno Pereira until June when he was murdered in the Amazon’s Javari Valley with British journalist Dom Phillips.
The meeting was attended by the Araribóia’s Guajajara inhabitants as well as Indigenous activists from the Javari Valley representing the Matis, Marubo, Kanamari and Mayoruna peoples.
At the summit, Forest Guardian volunteers described their perilous quest to keep illegal loggers from invading their supposedly protected territory.
Zé Guajajara, whose cousin was murdered in 2019, said he was now too scared to travel to nearby logging towns such as Amarante.
“I feel like a prisoner,” he admitted, nevertheless vowing to continue fighting for his ancestral lands. “If they kill me, I believe God will put me in a good place because I didn’t just die for myself. I died for the people – just like Bruno.”
Antônio Marcos de Oliveira, the retired police officer who trains the Guardians, said: “This is a hidden war, but it’s a war. And it’s a war in which we’re at a total disadvantage because we receive no reinforcements, no support, the media hardly reports on it because it doesn’t do anything for their ratings … and as far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no political will to fight or at least try to improve this situation.”
Travassos, a former top official at Brazil’s Indigenous agency, Funai, said Saturday’s murder showed how the dismantling of government protections under president Jair Bolsonaro had exposed activists to growing danger.
“If you have a chicken coop and you take away your guard dog, the fox is going to invade,” Travassos said during the Araribóia exchange. “That’s what Bolsonaro did. He removed the only protection these places had.”
The results have been tragic for the Amazon and its original inhabitants. Since Bolsonaro took power in 2019 deforestation has soared and attacks on Indigenous communities risen.
Activists now warn that, with Bolsonaro seemingly likely to lose power in October’s election, environmental criminals are engaged in a last-minute scramble to destroy the Amazon before a new government takes a tougher line.