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An environmental activist was shot and killed in Brazil. Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, an activist that sought to protect the Amazon rain forest from loggers, was killed just hours before Brazil’s lower house of Congress passed legislation that environmentalists fear will increase deforestation in the region.
Da Silva and his wife were attacked by gunmen on Tuesday in an interior city in the jungle state of Para in northern Brazil, police said. Authorities were investigating the crime and no arrests had been made. The Catholic Land Pastoral (CPT), a group that tracks violence against environmental activists, said more than 1,150 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers have been killed in disputes over preserving land since the 1988 murder of Brazil’s renowned rain forest protector Chico Mendes.
According to the CPT, most of the murders go unpunished. In the Amazon region, local governments are easily swayed by big industry loggers and ranchers that illegally clear forest to allow more farming. Federal prosecutors believe that the violence is ordered by rich producers who contract gunmen to kill anyone standing in their way.
In the most recent case, the CPT said that the gunmen cut off Silva’s ear, likely to use it as proof to whoever hired them that they indeed killed the activist. “The state will not tolerate this type of violence in our territory,” Para state Public Safety Secretary Luiz Fernandes Rocha said in a statement. “We’ve mobilized a team to investigate what happened and detain those responsible for the crime.”
Silva, 52, had fought with loggers before. The CPT said Silva and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo, were tenacious Amazon defenders and were active against loggers who pressured rubber tappers in the region. The group said in a statement that the couple went out of their way to block roads, stop logging trucks and denounce illegal loggers to Brazil’s environmental agency and the government, all despite knowing they were putting their lives in danger. “In past years they received several death threats from loggers and farmers,” the statement said. “Last year, they escaped an ambush when gunmen went looking for them at their house.”