José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva (52 years old) and Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva ( 51 years old)
A couple of environmentalists assassinated in an ambush in the Amazon, Tuesday, May 24, 2011.
“I can receive a bullet in the head at any time, but as long as I have the strength to move forward, I will denounce those who destroy the forest.” José Claudio
José and Maria worked in Brazil for an NGO that fights against illegal timber extraction and violence against rural workers. They were leaders of the Agroextrativista (Paex) Praialta-Piranheira project, an area of 22 thousand hectares where 500 families live.
They were killed by hired killers on Tuesday morning when they stopped their van to check the state of a small bridge in the municipality of Maçaranduba, in the southwest of the state. The killers fired several bullets at Maria and José Claudio, cutting off one of their ears, presumably to give it to the person who ordered the murders. The environmentalist couple belonged to an NGO founded by the latex harvester and environmentalist Chico Mendes, who was also murdered by killers in 1988 in the Amazon.
In the middle of the debate on the revision of the Forest Code, President Dilma Rousseff asked the Federal Police to conduct a rigorous investigation to identify the killers. In November 2010, during a speech in Manaus, José said that he and his wife had been receiving death threats since 2008 because they were denouncing the clandestine deforestation of the forest for charcoal production and pastureland. Despite this, the couple did not receive protection from the National Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Programa Nacional de Proteçaõ aos Defensores de Direitos Humanos – PPDDH). “They had filed a complaint against loggers in Maçaranduba who were pushing peasants to sell their land or collaborate in illegal logging,” says the Para agency.
In this state alone, 1,237 people (judges, priests, farmers, environmentalists, rural workers…) have been murdered in the last 33 years (34 people per year) and in only three cases the perpetrators, always landowners, have been judged and sentenced.
The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has just approved a revision of the 1965 forestry code, a controversial bill relaxing the protection of the Amazon “green lung of the planet”. “Brazil woke up with the news of the murder of a defender of the Amazonian forest, and went to bed with the news that the majority of the deputies approved the murder of our forests!”, said to the AFP an official of Greenpeace, Paulo Adario. José and Maria are going to join the list of those who died for having fought for noble causes….