Luiz Alberto Araújo, who headed the environment department for the municipal government of Altamira in Brazil's Amazonian state of Pará, was killed by two unknown gunmen Oct. 13. The assailants drove up to his car and fired nine shots into him, in front of his wife and two step-sons. Nothing was stolen and the killing is believed to have been a political assassination. In his endeavors to enforce environmental legislation in the largely lawless Amazonian region, Araújo made powerful enemies. Earlier this year, he provided information to the Federal Police and Federal Public Ministry that prompted them to launch Operaçāo Rios Voadores (Flying Rivers Operation). This crackdown on illegal logging enterprises led to 24 arrests—including that of the ring-leader, Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJJ. He and his son were accused of illegally invading rainforest lands, extracting valuable timber, and clearing the remaining forest and turning it into cattle pasture.
With the Rio de Janeiro Olympics over, the world media are moving on—but the city's poor favela dwellers are left to contend with a wave of murderous police terror. This was launched a year ago as part of an effort to pacify and sanitize the sprawling megalopolis for the Games. Amnesty International reports that over 100 people have been killed by police in Rio de Janeiro state so far this year—the big majority young Black men. A total of 307 were killed by police in the state in 2015. At least eight people in Rio were actually killed by police during the Games—to little media coverage. The clean-up operation was, of course, disguised as a crackdown on drugs and crime. The inevitable rationale was provided by the narco economy in the favelas—informal urban settlements virtually abandoned by the government for anything other than militarized law enforcement.
More than 20 land rights activists have been killed in Brazil so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness—ongoing terror amid the Olympics spectacle. According to data from Brazil's Pastoral Land Commision (CPT), 23 activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. Released as the Olympic Games opened in Rio de Janeiro, the figures indicate a crackdown on land rights campaigners in South America's biggest country, with indigenous people particularly affected. "For many visitors to the Rio Olympics, Brazil is synonymous with its vast, plentiful rainforests and traditional ways of life," said Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte in a statement. "Yet the people who are trying to protect those things are being killed off at an unprecedented rate."
UK-based indigenous rights advoacy group Survival International has launched a campaign to prevent the annihilation of tribal peoples in Brazil, to coincide with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the political chaos currently engulfing Brazil, the campaign aims to bring attention to serious human rights issues and threats facing the country's indigenous peoples. Survival states: "These threats persist regardless of the political turmoil in the country." The campaign, "Stop Brazil's Genocide," focuses on protecting "uncontacted" tribes of the Amazon such as the Kawahiva people; ending violence and land theft directed against the Guarani in southern Brazil; and stopping PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would undermine indigenous land rights and spell disaster for tribes nationwide.
The planned São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam in Brazil's Amazonian state of Pará received a significant setback April 20 when its license was suspended by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natura Resources (IBAMA). The move came in response to a report published by Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), declaring "the infeasibility of the project from the perspective of an indigenous component." Some 10,000 Munduruku people live along the Rio Tapajós, and the flooding of their territory by the dam would necessitate their relocation—which FUNAI found to be in violation of Brazil's constitution. In the report, FUNAI recommends the demarcation of 1,780 square kilometers of indigenous Munduruku territory, known as Sawré Muybu, in the area that would be impacted by the project. The 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam would be Brazil's second largest, after the controversial Belo Monte plant, which finally began operating this week after years of protests by the Munduruku and other peoples. (Mongabay, The Guardian, April 22)
Human rights group Global Witness last month released figures naming Honduras as the most dangerous country for environmental defenders, based on a finding of at least 109 killed there between 2010 and 2015 "for taking a stand against destructive dam, mining, logging and agriculture projects." The report of course noted the March 3 slaying of Berta Cáceres, a leader of indigenous environmental group COPINH. But this was only the latest in a string of such slayings. Another COPINH member, Moisés Durón Sánchez, was murdered in May 2015 after receiving death threats for defending his community's land rights. COPINH leader Tomás García was shot dead by a military officer in a protest in 2013.
In Brazil's biggest protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, thousands have poured into the streets in cities cities across the country to denounce President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, as chief of staff. Days of nationwide demonstrations reached a climax as Lula was sworn in on March 17. In Brasilia, riot police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters who massed outside the presidential palace, chanting "Dilma out!" Demonstrators say Rousseff transparently appointed Lula in order to give him immunity as he comes under investigation in a corruption scandal at the state oil company Petrobras.
Following a three-year campaign, Greenpeace Brazil activists formally presented a petition signed by 1.4 million Brazilians to the country's congress, calling for legislation establishing a "zero deforestation" polcy. "We submit this bill to Congress and now it's time for them to reflect on the will of the people. There is enough space for development without cutting down more of our forests." The annual rate of Amazon forest loss in Brazil has slowed by 75% since the early 2000s, but roughly 5,000 square kilometers (1.2 million acres) of rainforest is still destroyed every year. Some lawmakers have signed on to the proposal. "I signed the petition in 2012 and I admit that I was anxious to see it completed," Sen. João Capiberibe said in a statement. "This is certainly an important step toward the objective of zero deforestation in Brazil and then beginning a new project for developing the country, one that is not based on environmental destruction."