Amazon indigenous leaders killed in Brazil drive-by shooting


Two indigenous leaders have been shot dead and two others wounded in Brazil’s Maranhão state, in an attack not far from where a prominent tribesman who defended the Amazon rainforest was killed last month, authorities said.

The attack on the members of the Guajajara tribe, which is known for the forest guardians who protect their territory against illegal deforestation, occurred on the margins of a federal highway near El-Betel village in the country’s north-east on Saturday.

The group was returning from a meeting when they were attacked by gunmen in a moving car. Indigenous tribes in Brazil are facing escalating violence during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to reduce tribal rights and encouraged the commercial exploitation of their protected lands. Tribes have faced violence from illegal loggers and miners.

Magno Guajajara, a spokesman for the tribe, said they did not know why the two men, who he identified as Firmino Guajajara and Raimundo Guajajara, had been shot. He said the attackers had lowered their car’s windows and opened fire on the group.

“They were shooting at everyone,” he said.

Authorities said they were investigating but did not say if anyone had been detained.
The incident happened in the Cana Brava indigenous reservation, which spans 137,000 hectares in the state of Maranhão and has 4,500 inhabitants, according to government records.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, the “forest guardian” killed last month, was shot in a confrontation with illegal loggers not far from the site of Saturday’s attack.

The incident comes during the UN’s two-week international climate change conference in Madrid, where Brazilian indigenous leaders are present and attempting to draw attention to the importance of protecting their forest territories.

“How long will this go on? Who will be next?” Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of a network to connect Brazilian indigenous peoples, said in a phone interview from Madrid. “The authorities need to look at our indigenous people. They’re taking away our lives.”

Brazil’s federal police are investigating the killing in El-Betel and its motivation, the justice minister, Sergio Moro, said on social media. Moro also said he is evaluating the possibility of dispatching a National Guard team to the state.

The advocacy group Amazon Watch said the Guajajara people were returning from a meeting with Eletronorte, a Brazilian electric utilities company, and Funai (Brazilian National Indigenous Foundation) where they had been advocating for their rights.

The program director of Amazon Watch, Christian Poirier, said: “An institutionalised genocide of indigenous peoples is taking place in Brazil. They are being left alone, vulnerable to all kinds of threats and violence.

“The international community must not accept that any more indigenous blood be shed. It is the constitutional duty of the Brazilian government to protect indigenous territories and ensure the safety of their peoples.”