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The Wood and the Cross: Logging violence in Brazil

Chico Mendes and his children

Growing up in Sao Paulo, I always remembered hearing of how wild the Amazon, the ‘Wild West’ of Brazil, really was: guns, feuds, murder, landlords, outlaws etc. It seems that things have not changed much. The Brazilian paper Globo has recently reported a few articles about the repressive and murderous measures of loggers in the Brazilian Amazon.

Brazil has a long history of ‘eco-martyrs’ so to speak, people who have died in the name of environmental preservation. The most famous one of course is Chico Mendes, a rubber tapper who was assassinated because he opposed logging in the state of Pará. But this was the  1980’s. More recently, is the case of sister Dorothy Stang, an American Catholic religious missionary living in the Amazon who protested logging abuses. She was murdered in 2005 by landowners, in a case remarkably similar to Mendes’.

Last week, the Globo reports, one logger allegedly involved in Stang’s murder was apprehended by the police after the tip from another nun and member of Stang’s congregation. The logger was stealing trees from the Caiapós reserve which protects 30 000 hectares of virgin forest and has been the target of loggers since 2009. It was due to the exact same protests that Stang was murdered, and now the other unnamed nun is under serious risk.

More recently in May 2011 a couple, José Cláudio Ribeiro e Maria do Espírito Santo, were also murdered by loggers in another region of the Amazon at Nova Ipixuna, were 12 illegal logging facilities harvest protected trees. So far no one has been even accused, let alone captured, for these criminal acts. A British financed documentary is currently being produced about the ‘eco-martyrs’ of the Amazon, if you know Portuguese you can read it here.

At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.
—Chico Mendes

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