In Brazil, news of a slain forest guardian overshadowed the commemoration of Amazon Day on September 5, as the killing put in stark relief the reality of the rainforest and its embattled defenders.
Janildo Oliveira Guajajara was reportedly shot dead on September 3 near the Araribóia Indigenous territory in the Brazilian Amazon, where he lived. He was a member of the Guardiões da Floresta (Forest Guardians), a group of Guajajaras who patrol their territory to deter intruders. Janildo’s teenage nephew was also injured during the incident but survived.
Another Guajajara man, Jael Carlos Miranda, also died after he was reportedly struck by a vehicle in the nearby town of Arame on the same day. At the time of writing, it was unclear whether the incidents were related.
Civil police are investigating whether the deaths are related to conflicts with loggers operating illegally in Araribóia.
I went to Araribóia in late 2017 with my colleague César Muñoz to interview Guajajara guardians like Janildo, who were already facing death threats and other forms of intimidation in connection to their environmental work warding off loggers. Araribóia is one of the last patches of surviving Amazon forest in the state of Maranhão – largely because of the work done by the Guajajara to close unauthorized logging roads.
At the time, the state’s environmental law enforcement was conspicuously absent. Many defenders told us that they felt they had to fill this role.
Tragically, the risks faced by Indigenous forest defenders like them were about to considerably worsen.
Since 2019, the Brazilian government has adopted policies that facilitate encroachment on Indigenous land and gutted the agency tasked with protecting Indigenous people’s rights. In fact, the agency’s head has removed experienced career public servants from leadership and has asked the police to open criminal investigations against employees, Indigenous leaders, and even prosecutors for defending Indigenous rights.
As Brazilians prepare to head to the polls in October to elect a president, some activists fear that ranchers, loggers, and wildcat miners operating illegally are rushing to seize as much as they can, should election results not favor them.
Brazilian police should conduct an extensive investigation into the attack that led to Janildo’s killing and his nephew’s injury, as well as Jael’s death. They should also work with judicial authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable.