An Indigenous leader was killed in an ambush by illegal loggers on Friday in Brazil’s Amazon frontier region.
Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a land defender, was fatally shot in the neck while he was with two members of a group called Forest Guardians searching for water inside the Araribóia Indigenous territory in Maranhão state. A second member, Laércio Guajajara, was also shot but survived and remains in a hospital while the third person is reportedly still missing.
The reserve, while officially protected by the Brazilian government, is a main target for logging gangs. CNN reports that the tribesmen, whose group wards off loggers, were approached by five armed men who immediately fired at them.
On Twitter, Sérgio Moro, the justice minister in Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, confirmed that the South American country’s federal police was investigating the killing.
“We will spare no effort to bring those responsible for this serious crime to justice,” he said.
A Polícia federal irá apurar o assassinato do líder indígena Paulo Paulino Guajajara na terra indígena de Arariboia, no Maranhão. Não pouparemos esforços para levar os responsáveis por este crime grave à Justiça.https://t.co/UbckIZwP3s
— Sergio Moro (@SF_Moro) November 2, 2019
However, many aren’t convinced by Moro’s declaration, as it’s rare for the killing of Indigenous individuals during land conflicts to end in convictions. According to Brazil’s pastoral land commission, a rural violence watchdog, just five of the 157 land-related murders in Maranhão state between 1985 and 2017 went to court. Additionally, since Bolsonaro took office at the start of the year, he has cut funding for environmental and Indigenous protection agencies, leading to increased assaults and invasions of Indigenous grounds in the country.
“It makes me so mad to see this [forest destruction]. These people think they can come here, into our home, and help themselves to our forest? No. We won’t allow it. We don’t break into their houses and rob them, do we? My blood is boiling. I’m so angry,” Paulino, who led several guardians in destroying logging encampments as a way to resist the illegal land attacks, said earlier this year, according to the Guardian.
The man was allegedly threatened multiple times before his death but stayed unwavering in his fight to protect his land and people.
The Araribóia Indigenous reserve is home to an estimated 5,300 Indigenous Brazilians of the Guajajara tribe and the Awá, a group that’s considered the “world’s most endangered tribe.”