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Why Are The Amazon’s Indigenous Leaders Being Massacred?

Zezico Rodrigues, a prominent Guajajara indigenous leader from the indigenous territory in Brazil’s Amazonian state of Maranhão, was assassinated this week. There is still no information on the motive of the crime or who the killer is, however it is suspected by many in the indigenous community and among many in Brazilian media and international watchdog groups, that Rodrigues, along with several other indigenous rights leaders were murdered by local illegal loggers.

Rodrigues is the fifth indigenous Guajajara native to be murdered in just the past four months. For 23 years, Zezico served his people as a teacher and was recognized as one of the Guajarara’s most important leaders for his long standing defense of the Arariboia territory. His support for the Guardians of the Forest was instrumental to the success of this group of 120 Guajarara volunteers in their efforts to protect their territory from illegal logging. Days prior to his murder, he was elected coordinator of COCALITIA (Commission of Chiefs and Indigenous Leaders of Araribóia Indigenous Territory).

In a 2017 interview with journalist Scott Wallace, Zezico said he feared for his life and those of his people. According to Brazilian media, he said: “I’m the most wanted of the leaders by the invaders and pistoleiros [gunmen].”

“The murder of Zezico Rodrigues, an important leader to his people and a marked enemy to loggers, is not an isolated incident. His killing is linked to the recent murders of indigenous people who have been suffering the consequences of the criminal activities of loggers and other economic groups who invade their lands and threaten their lives with the guarantee of impunity. The Brazilian government is conniving and complicit in these killings,” said Ana Paula Vargas, Program Manager at Amazon Watch Brazil.

Rodrigues stated that logging invasions are mounting in the region, imperiling indigenous peoples and their forests in a recent interview with Amazônia Real. “The threats are against almost all of us [who are] leaders and chiefs. The government never takes action.”

Since his murder, feelings of abandonment and insecurity have spread throughout the more than 170 villages of Arariboia territory. The state government has now (finally) launched an investigation into Zezico’s death.

This story is developing – check back for updates.

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