Paulo Paulino Guajajara, of the Brazilian Amazon’s Guajajara tribe and a prominent leader of an indigenous activist group called Guardians of the Forest, was killed last week by illegal loggers in the Arariboia reserve as he was on a hunting trip. His death comes not long after a burning Amazon gained the attention of the global community and should emphasize that even though the fires aren’t blazing at the top of everyone’s news feeds, the dangers that the forest and its inhabitants face are ever-present.
Reuters had interviewed Paulino Guajajara in September when he explained that the work done by the Guardians of the Forest has become increasingly dangerous but is necessary. “I’m scared at times, but we have to lift up our heads and act. We are here fighting,” he told the publication. “We are protecting our land and the life on it, the animals, the birds, even the Awa who are here too… There is so much destruction of Nature happening, good trees with wood as hard as steel being cut down and taken away.” Not yet 30 years old, he partook in this frontline activism because he believed that it was the only way to preserve the Guajajaras way of life for posterity.
Following Paulino Guajajara’s death, the Brazilian government has stated their intention to enact justice upon those responsible for his death, but Sônia Guajajara, who leads a pan-indigenous organization called APIB (Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil), told Reuters over the weekend that the group had been for some time. ”We informed federal agencies of the threats but they didn’t take any action,” she said. APIB blames the Bolsonaro administration for the death of Paulino Guajajara, as well as a logger who was also killed in the encounter.
The Guardians of the Forest knowingly put their lives at risk — an unpaid pursuit, by the way — when they disrupt work for poor loggers, ranchers, and miners who are looking to cash in on their land. “Their work bothers those that want to loot their territory,” explained Gilderlan Rodrigues, a regional coordinator of an indigenous missionary council, to the following Paulino Guajajara’s death. “These criminal actions must be combated so that more lives are not lost.” Since Bolsonaro came into power, the Brazilian government has funneled resources away from enforcing laws designed to protect indigenous communities and their territory; President Bolsonaro’s incendiary rhetoric against the indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon has also emboldened criminals to encroach upon this land.