The original version of this article, by Scott Wallace, appeared on
National Geographic News Watch
Late last month the Brazilian Congress passed a bill
that if it becomes law would ease restrictions on rain-forest clearing and make it easier than ever to mow down the Amazon. That same day, 800 miles north of the parliamentary chamber in Brasilia, assailants ambushed and killed a married couple
whose opposition to environmental crimes had placed them in the crosshairs of those who most stand to gain from the new legislation.
It’s a nauseatingly familiar story. Over the past 20 years, there have been more than 1,200 murders related to land conflict in Brazil’s Amazon region. Most of the victims, like the married activists Zé Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espírito Santo, were defenders of the rain forest – people seeking sustainable alternatives to the plunder-for-profit schemes that characterize much of what passes for “development” in the Amazon.
The state of Pará – where Zé Claudio and Maria were ambushed on their motorbike as they crossed a rickety bridge – holds an especially notorious reputation for environmental destruction and organized violence. Pará is the bloodiest state in Brazil, accounting for nearly half of all land-related deaths in recent decades. It sprawls across an area larger than the states of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico combined. Picture a tropical version of the Wild West, stripped of the romance, where loggers and ranchers muscle their way onto public land as though they own the place and impose a law of the jungle with their hired thugs. Those who have the nerve to protest soon find themselves the targets of escalating threats. If they persist, they find themselves staring down the gun barrels of those come to make good on the threats.
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Photo Credit: “Toras,” courtesy of flickr user c.alberto.