Sunday, February 12, 2012

Amazon defenders face death or exile

Tom Phillips in the Guardian (UK): ...In a region often compared to the Wild West, betraying those pillaging the rainforest all too often leads to a coffin or to exile. Mouth Organ John, an amateur musician and mechanic whose real name was João Chupel Primo, met his fate first.

Last October, he and Guerra handed the authorities a dossier outlining the alleged activities of illegal loggers and land-grabbers in the region. Within days two men appeared at Primo's workshop in the city of Itaituba and shot him dead. A bloody photograph of his corpse, laid out on a mortician's slab, made a local tabloid. "There are signs this was an execution," the local police chief, José Dias, told the paper.

Guerra escaped death, but he too lost his life. Told of his friend's murder, he locked himself indoors, clutching a shotgun to ward off the gunmen. The next day, he was spirited out of town by federal police. Since then Guerra has embarked on a lonely pilgrimage across Brazil, journeying thousands of miles in search of support and safety. He became the latest Amazonian exile – people forced into self-imposed hiding or police protection because of their stance against those destroying the environment.

...In June Brazil will host the Rio+20 United Nations conference on sustainable development. World leaders will gather in Rio to debate how to reconcile economic development with environmental conservation and social inclusion.

Brazil will be able to trumpet advances in its battle against deforestation – in December the government claimed Amazon destruction had fallen to its lowest level in 23 years. But the continuing threats to environmental activists represent a major blot on its environment credentials.

"What is at stake … is the government's ability to protect its forests and its people," said Eliane Brum, a Brazilian journalist who has won numerous awards for her dispatches from the Amazon. "If nothing is done … the government will be demoralised on the eve of Rio+20."...

Martin Johnson Heade's 1864 painting of a Brazilian forest

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