Brazil Land Barons Behind Amazon Environmentalists' Killings

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Jun 19 18:42:37 BST 2011

Brazil Land Barons Seen Behind Amazon Environmentalists' Killings
by Javier Tovar - ublished on Sunday, June 19, 2011 by Agence France-Presse
NOVA IPIXUNA, Brazil   – Nearly a month after the 
murder in Brazil's Amazon of an activist couple 
believed to have been threatened by land and 
logging barons, the investigation has gone nowhere.
The killing of the activists, who had denounced 
illegal logging, was the latest in a string of 
deadly attacks on environmentalists, murders 
allegedly linked to powerful corporate interests 
in the vast South American jungle.
Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, 52, and his wife 
Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva, 51, were shot 
dead in an ambush in late May close to their home 
in Nova Ipixuna, a small town of 15,000 people in the state of Para.
Since their deaths, another three activists have 
been killed in the state, which is the epicenter 
of deadly land disputes. A fourth was killed in 
the state of Rondonia, also in the vast Amazon jungle.
Junior, a 30-year-old agronomist who worked for 
two years with Silva and declined to give his 
last name for fear of retribution, said the 
murdered ecologist had received death threats.
"He was told things like 'Your days are 
numbered', 'You are going to die' and 'Get ready 
to be silenced forever'," Junior told AFP, 
accusing "powerful landowners and forest companies" of contracting the murders.
"They went to his place several times to kill 
him. He went out to challenge them. They didn't 
kill him because they wanted to kill his wife as 
well. In the end, they succeeded," he said, visibly shaken.
The slain couple were part of the National 
Council of Gatherers, a group that collects 
natural food from the Amazon. It was founded by 
an ecologist, Chico Mendes, who was murdered in 1988.
The Para prosecutor's office said the Silvas' 
murder "had a detail suggesting it was a typical 
hit: the killers cut off one of Jose Claudio's ears."
"In the Amazon region, hired killers do exist," 
said Jose Battista, a lawyer for the local branch 
of the Pastoral Land Commission, a group linked 
to Brazil's Catholic Church that defends poor rural workers.
Last year, the Commission printed a list of 125 
people it said had contracts on their heads. 
Thirty of them were in the state of Para, and the Silvas were among them.
"Since the start of the year, we already have 20 
names" to add to the list of those under threat of murder, Battista said.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed the day 
after the couple's death that the perpetrators 
would be brought to justice and sent a special 
military force to the region because of state 
officials' record of doing nothing in the face of such violence.
But to date, the police have made no progress in the case.
"The absence of government has led to illegal 
deforestation," said Valdimir Ferreira, a municipal councillor in Nova Ipixuna.
"Jose Claudio started a fight, a war against the 
loggers and powerful farmers. That's why I can 
state that his death was ordered by them."
The mayor of the town, businessman Edson Alvarenga, disagrees.
"The murders could be the result of internal 
conflict in the community," he said. "I've heard 
that the one who killed him is someone from here, in the community."
Junior allowed that there were local conflicts 
"because some people want to sell their plot of land."
"But I can assure you that it was loggers or 
farmers who gave the order to have him killed," he said.

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