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Brazil: Homage to the Victims of the Amazon in Washington, D.C.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

On Monday 9 April, 2012, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff made an official visit to the United States capital Washington, D.C. At approximately 10am local time, around 100 people gathered in front of the Brazilian embassy bearing images and messages in an act of solidarity with the Amazonian casualties.

The activists wanted to draw international attention to the Brazilians who were killed and who are being persecuted for their work to protect the Amazon rainforest, and promise Brazil further criticism [pt]. We invite you to learn a little more about these Brazilians and their causes.

Zé Cláudio, Maria do Espírito Santo and Laísa, “with a bullet in the head”

A Zé Cláudio poster. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

A Zé Cláudio poster. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

The Brazilian journalist Felipe Milanez was in Washington and shared photos of the preparations and the protest itself on his Twitter account (@felipedjeguaka). Milanez has been one of the most active voices in giving visibility to those victims in the Amazon region.

He was very close to the conservationist and environmentalist José Cláudio da Silva, who was murdered with his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, on 24th May 2011 near the city of Nova Ipixuna, Pará. Six months previously Zé Cláudio, as he was known, explained during a presentation on TEDx Amazônia that illegal loggers were causing a threat in the region and that he was living “with a bullet in the head”- he could be murdered at any time.

In November 2011, Milanez and Vice magazine released the documentary Toxic: Amazônia, about both the defence of the rainforest and the abundance of illegal loggers in Nova Ipixuna.

On 9 February, Maria's sister, teacher Laísa Santos Sampaio, was at the United Nations in New York to receive a posthumous tribute to the couple in a ceremony that closed the International Year of Forests. Laísa returned to live in the settlement Praialta Piranheira, in Nova Ipixuna, despite receiving death threats.

Felipe Milanez issued [pt] a petition on 12 February on Twitter demanding the authorities protect Laísa:

Laisa chega hoje a noite em Maraba. E teme ser morta! Abaixo-assinado pela proteção imediata de Laisa Sampaio http://t.co/qAvLBScw

Laísa arrives in Maraba tonight. And she fears being killed! Petition for the immediate protection of Laísa Sampaio http://t.co/qAvLBScw

Among the posters displayed in the protest, all produced by the artist César Maxit, was one saying Laísa: “I want to live.”.

"The Amazon and its people want to live". Posters with photos of Maria do Espírito Santo, Zé Cláudio da Silva and Chico Mendes, an environmentalist murdered in Acre in 1988. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

"The Amazon and its people want to live". Posters with photos of Maria do Espírito Santo, Zé Cláudio da Silva and Chico Mendes, an environmentalist murdered in Acre in 1988. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

Nilcilene de Lima, Dinhana Dink and the threat of gunmen

Nilcilene: I want to live. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

Nilcilene: I want to live. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

Nilcilene Miguel de Lima was also not forgotten. After receiving death threats from land grabbers and illegal loggers since 2009 from the city of Lábrea, Amazonas, she now has protection from the National Public Security Force. In retaliation for her complaints of land invasions and tree thefts, Nilcilene was beaten and her house was burned.

In a Global Voices post from March 2012, the link between deaths and the agrarian economy in the country was discussed.

On 30 March, 27-year-old Dinhana Dink, who worked closely with Nilcilene, was murdered in a village in Nova Califórnia, Rondônia, where her family had recently moved. According to report agency A Pública [pt], Dinhana had informed on gunmen who raided, attacked and killed farmers in the region.She was with one of her three children, six-year-old Tiago, when she was shot in the chest in the early hours of the morning.

Several families who are close to Nilcilene left Lábrea, since the Amazonian town has no policing. It is the illegal loggers and their gunmen who exercise de facto power.

Belo Monte hydroelectric plant and Rio+20

There are also criticisms of the hydroelectric plant in Belo Monte, which is still under construction on the river Xingu, in Pará, which is set to have the 3rd largest capacity in the world. In 2011, indigenous and riverside communities in the region of Volta Grande do Xingu, as well as other cities both in Brazil and the rest of the world, said ‘no’ to the plant [pt] because of its social and environmental impact.

"Protest in front of the Brazilian embassy, in Washington: Stop Belo Monte; Enough Violence! " Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

"Protest in front of the Brazilian embassy, in Washington: Stop Belo Monte; Enough Violence! " Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

Recently, on 29 March, construction was halted following the death of a worker. On 4 April, riot control was called to force the workers to continue the construction but some of them resisted, according to the site [pt] Xingu Vivo.

"Rio-20: where human rights become 'green capitalism'?". Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

"Rio-20: where human rights become 'green capitalism'?". Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

There were also questions raised regarding the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, scheduled for this June in Rio de Janeiro.

Maria do Espírito Santo and Zé Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

Maria do Espírito Santo and Zé Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva. Photo by Felipe Milanez (used with permission).

Threats to the Guarani-Kaiowá's land

On 8 April, anthropologist Tonico Benites’ report [pt] was shared on Facebook several times. It recounts the harassment he suffered while trying to drive to the village of Irajuí, in the municipality of Paranhos, Mato Grosso do Sul, with his wife and children. Benites tells how the man who stopped him in the road knew that he was investigating the Guarani-Kaiowá and he said:

“Você tem filhos e esposa, né? Gosta dela e de teus filhos? hein?! fala?” Respondi que sim.

Então ele passou [a] me ameaçar: “Você vai perder tudo, ela que você ama e [os] filhos que gosta, vai perder, Vai perder carro. Vai perder dinheiro. Tudo você vai perder. Você quer perder tudo? Você quer perder tudo?”, ele repetiu várias vezes essas pergunta.

“You have a wife and children, right? You like them, huh? Say something.” I said yes.
Then he started to threaten me. “You'll lose everything, the woman and children you love, you're going to lose them. You'll lose your car. Your money. You'll lose everything. Do you want to lose everything? Do you?” He repeated this question a number of times.

As previously reported on Global Voices, the lands of the Guarani-Kaiowá attract greed from cane sugar and soy farmers. On 18 November, 2011, 42 men entered the Tekoha Guaviry camp in Amambaí, Mato Grosso do Sul, and killed the chief Nísio Gomes, a woman and a child, and kidnapped others.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

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