“Shame for Brazil” Forest Defender Couple Murdered

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

“The same thing they did with Chico Mendes in Acre (environmental leader murdered in 1988) they want to do with me, the same thing they did with Sister Dorothy Stang (American missionary murdered in Pará in 2005) they want to do with me. I may be talking with you today and in a month time you can read on the news that I already died.”
(José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva)

This prophecy became a reality six months after the prediction made ​​before an international audience at TEDx Amazônia. [All the links in this post lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.]

The recent murder of environmentalists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo, a couple known as the “defenders of the forest” due to their struggle that began in 2008 against deforestation and illegal logging in Brazil, has shocked the country.

T-shirt reads: "Dignity and Hope". Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva and José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva - CNS Archive. Published with permission.

T-shirt reads: "Life, Dignity and Hope". Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva and José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva – CNS Archive. Published with permission.


The couple was shot dead in an ambush near the house where they lived in Nova Ipixuna in the state of Pará, on Tuesday, May 24, 2011. It is suspected that the killers were serving the loggers from the region, troubled by the surveillance that the couple exercised for the preservation of forests around the agro-extractivist settlement of Praia Alta Pirandeira, an area of 22 thousand hectares, where the subsistence of 500 families depends of Brazil nut collection and forest essences extraction.

Bloggers don't hide their regret. Guilherme Nascimento Valadares, who met da Silva at TEDx Amazônia in November last year, emotionally recounts:

Zé Cláudio acha que matar árvores é assassinato. […] Sujeito simples, com mais coragem do que jamais sonhei ter. Falou pouco menos de 10 minutos. Ele e sua mulher lideravam a associação de camponeses no Projeto de Assentamento Agroextrativista Praialtapiranheira, em Nova Ipixuna, sudeste do Pará. O casal cutucava um vespeiro perigoso. Denunciavam as madeireiras ilegais e estavam sendo ameaçados de morte. Pediram proteção da polícia, nunca recebida. […]

Hoje fico sabendo que, como ele mesmo previu, foi assassinado junto com sua mulher. Não consegui rever sua palestra até o final, tenho certeza que vou chorar como um idiota.

Zé Claudio believes that killing trees is a murder. A simple person, with more courage braver than I ever dreamed to have. He spoke a little less than 10 minutes. He and his wife led the peasants association in the agro-extractivist settlement of Praialtapiranheira in Nova Ipixuna, southeastern Pará. The couple poked a dangerous hornet's nest. They denounced illegal logging and were being threatened with death. They asked for police protection, never got it.

Today I learned, as he himself predicted, he was assassinated together with his wife. I could not watch his lecture again until the end, I'm sure I'll cry like an idiot.

Karina Miotto, who also met him at TEDxAmazônia, explains why Zé was known as a symbol of the fight for the Brazil nut:

Graças às denúncias de José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, pelo menos 10 serrarias de castanheiras foram fechadas no ano passado na região, cinco delas em Nova Ipixuna. As árvores, protegidas por lei, têm sido insistentemente derrubadas por madeireiros e carvoeiros para produção de madeira e carvão vegetal. Serrarias já foram autuadas pelo Ibama por beneficiar madeira retirada ilegalmente do assentamento Praia Alta da Piranheira, onde ele morava. Não fica difícil concluir o tipo de pessoas que há tempos o ameaçavam na tentativa de calar suas denúncias. Após os tiros, disparados desde uma moto, cortaram um pedaço de sua orelha, em uma demonstração além de crueldade, “prova” do pistoleiro ao mandante que o “serviço foi cumprido”, algo comum no violento Pará.

Thanks to José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva's complaints, at least 10 Brazil nut sawmills in Brazil were closed last year in the region, five of them in Nova Ipixuna. The trees, protected by law, have repeatedly been felled by loggers and colliers for the production of wood and charcoal. Sawmills have been fined by IBAMA for taking advantage of timber taken illegally from the settlement of Piranheira Alta Beach, where he lived. It is not difficult to conclude what kind of people who have long threatened him in an attempt to silence their complaints. After the shots, fired from a motorcycle, they cut a piece of his ear, in a demonstration of cruelty besides the “proof” of the gunman to the principal that “service was fulfilled”, something common in violent Para

Rodrigo Ferraz says that the country counts on “two less warriors”:

Enquanto o nosso congresso permanece num debate que ninguém compreende sobre o novo código florestal, pessoas que vivem da floresta de maneira digna e com a preocupação em mantê-la de pé são assassinadas – por madeireiros que, não raro, apresentam ligações com políticos – simplesmente por sua defesa dessa floresta. […]

Tudo que nos resta agora é tentar assimilar um pouco da mensagem que ele passava em vida, em prol de uma floresta que não durará muito, do jeito que vem sendo tratada.

While our Congress remains in a debate that no one understands about the new Forest Code, people who make a living of the forest in a dignified manner and with the concern to keep it standing are murdered – by loggers who, often, have connections with politicians – just for defending this forest. […]

All that remains now is to try to understand a little of the message he passed on in life in favor of a forest that will not last long, the way it has been treated.

“It's not enough to kill, you have to heckle”

The crime happened on the eve of Brazilian National Congress’ approval of the New Forestry Code [en], that provides amnesty for deforesters and reduces the protected area. Many were watching the voting on the TV when the news on the environmentalist couple's murder was read. Instead of reverent silence, the announcement was received at the Chamber of Deputies under boos. Wilmar Ferraz reacts on Twitter:

As vaias vieram das galerias e também do Plenário da Câmara de integrantes da bancada ruralista. É a grotesca banalização da morte!!

The boos came from the galleries and also from the Plenary Chamber of the ruralist members. It is a grotesque trivialization of death!

Also on Twitter, João Paulo Izoton comments:

Bancada ruralista aprova código da motoserra e vaia ambientalistas mortos no Pará. Da série “desgraça pouca é bobagem”

Ruralists approve the chainsaw code and boo environmentalists killed in Para. From the series “a little disgrace is silly”.

On the blog Conexão Brasília Maranhão reads the sentence “Não basta matar, tem que vaiar” (Do not just kill, you have to heckle). According to Rogério Tomaz Jr., the heckling is because the ruralists are very “used to impunity and to low impact of their criminal acts”:

A vaia não era apenas para o deputado e o anúncio que este fazia. Era, sobretudo, para a luta que movimentos sociais e entidades da sociedade civil travam no dia a dia contra a razão das armas e do dinheiro (que compra até comunista).

O caso me faz pensar em uma pergunta para a qual é difícil encontrar resposta racional: que tipo de pessoa é capaz de se comprazer com o assassinato covarde de alguém.

The heckling was not only directed to the deputy and his announcement. It was mainly directed to the daily fight by social movements and civil society entities against the reason of weapons and money (that even buys communists).

This case makes me think of a question which is hard to find a rational answer to: what kind of person is capable of indulging in the cowardly assassination of someone.

Heroes of the Forest

In the Amigos do Parque Central blog, the headline of a post says the murder of the environmentalist couple brings “One more Shame for Brazil”:

No Brasil terra sem lei onde reina a impunidade, quem defende o nosso patrimônio ambiental e contraria os interesses ecônomicos, tomba junto com a floresta.

In the lawless land of Brazil, a place where impunity takes over, those who defend our environmental heritage and fight against economic interests fall along with the forest.

Many bloggers took the chance to remember the deaths of rubber tapper Chico Mendes [en], in 1988, and of the missionary Dorothy Stang [en], in 2005. For them, José Cláudio goes into the history of the Amazon as another fine example of courage for the life of the forest. Adilson comments:

No recorrente da situação, já não perceberam que morte não cala? Não atentam que as idéias continuam a pulsar pelos caminhos antes abertos pelo idealista? Que o melhor para todos é que o idealista viva?

As a result of the situation, haven't they already realized that death does not silence? Haven't you noticed that the ideas continue to pulse along the paths opened before by idealists? That the best for all is that the idealists keep living?

Mendes and Stang, however, are  the only two cases in recent history that had the appropriate impact and media attention. Counting the anonymous heroes of this list, the number is large: 1,614 people, according to a report by Comissão Pastoral da Terra, were murdered in the last 25 years due to conflicts in the field. Only 91 cases were tried in court, resulting in the condemnation of 21 principals and 72 murderes. In a comment on Combate ao Racismo Ambiental (Fight Environmental Racism), the blogger says, indignantly, the number of victims he recalls:

Só nos últimos meses posso recordar, de cabeça, duas lideranças de fundo de pasto, na Bahia; os quatro ambientalistas do Paraná; Zé Maria, da Chapada do Apodi, Ceará; e os números que tornaram Mato Grosso do Sul o recordista absoluto de mortes de índios no País (mais de 50%).

Only in recent months I can recall two leaders of  the movement of traditional land administration in Bahia; four environmentalists in Paraná; Ze Maria, from Chapada de Apodi, in Ceará; and the numbers that made ​​Mato Grosso do Sul the absolute record of indigenous deaths in the country (over 50%).

Juliana Gatti Pereira calls on everyone not to let so many deaths bein vain, by signing Avaaz online petition to pressure the Senate and urge President Dilma to veto the most dangerous amendments of the new Forestry Code [en]:

Fortes e corajosos, vamos nos inspirar neles para não deixar que hoje façam o que quiserem com a nossa floresta, que é garantia da nossa própria vida!!

A floresta é sua vida!! A floresta é sua mãe, as árvores são nossas irmãs!!!!!

Strong and courageous, we will be inspired by them and not allow them to do what they want today with our forest, which is a guarantee of our own life!

The forest is your life! The forest is your mother, the trees are our sisters !!!!!

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

This post was proofread by Negarra Akili Kudumu.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.