Amazon Defender Found Dead From Gunshot as Forest Faces Rapid Destruction
A member of a protected tribe located in the Amazon rainforest was found dead on Tuesday.
Authorities in the Brazilian state said they found Zezico Guajajara shot dead by gunmen near the village where the Guajajara tribe lives.
The Guajajara tribe member was an avid supporter of Guardians of the Forest, a group that aims to prevent logging gangs from cutting down trees in the area.
Zezico was the fifth victim in a six-month period. His death caused concerns for the lives of Amazon forest protectors who often meet violence.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has faced multiple criticisms from domestic and international parties for failing to protect indigenous territories in the Amazon.
In 2019, Bolsonaro promised to reduce tribal rights and territory in the Amazon rainforest. He publicly encouraged loggers and miners to commercially exploit the protected lands. He also vowed to legalize mining and commercial farming on indigenous lands.
He received intense backlash after voicing his support for farmers and loggers working in the area---while also cutting the budget of Brazil's environmental agency.
It is unclear whether Zezico died on Tuesday. The Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association (APIB) urged the local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.
The latest murder brought to light the worsening violence against the tribes. The violence is especially evident in leaders who fight to keep their territories safe from invaders.
Amazonian tribes and campaign leaders have been fighting a long-standing battle against illegal networks destroying the forest with illegal logging, beef and soy farming, and deliberately lit fires.
The Amazon has been described by many to be a lawless land. Criminals have been known to set networks and illegal logging operations in the area. Cleared lands are then converted to a farm.
Last year, the world watched in horror as more than 9,000 square kilometers of the rainforest was destroyed in deliberately lit flames.
Authorities say the fire was purposely started as part of the deforestation process of illegal loggers who aim to fully clear the land for cattle ranching and soy farming.
The recent surge in agricultural and mining activities in the forest has alarmed many environmental experts. Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist with the University of Sao Paulo, predicted the Amazon would soon come to its tipping point and begin its road to self-destruction.
If the deforestation is left unaddressed, the forest could turn into a savanna. Scientists also believe the forest may start releasing greenhouse gases should the government not address the illegal operations ravaging the rainforest.
Bolsonaro created an Amazon Council early this year. The council is led by Brazil's vice president and staunch supporter of Amazon mining development Hamilton Mourao.
Environmentalists fear the existence of the council, whose mission is to "protect the rainforest and oversee economic development in the Amazon" will only hasten deforestation.
Brazilian indigenous leaders called the move a genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide.
MapBiomas, a group that monitors the rate of forest destruction, said deforestation, which starts in May, will be "worse than last year" unless something happens in the coming weeks.
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