Rights advocates anticipate calamity as Brazil moves to weaken the agency that has long worked to protect indigenous communities and their homelands.
Two members of the Forest Guardians, a group of 120 volunteers from the Guajajara tribe, were ambushed on November 1 by five gunmen while on a hunting trip inside their protected reserve. One of the men was killed instantly by a shotgun blast at close range. The other, wounded in the arm and back, fled for miles through forest and underbrush and is now in hiding.
The Forest Guardians—three of whom were killed during a single month in 2016—have been locked in an intensifying battle with illegal loggers invading their homeland, Arariboia Indigenous Territory, in the eastern Amazonian state of Maranhão. While the other deaths occurred outside the bounds of the territory, this month’s ambush marked the first time Guardians have been attacked inside the reserve. Besides the Guajajara, Arariboia harbors several dozen uncontacted Awá nomads, whom the Guardians have vowed to defend, together with the forests they depend on for survival.
The dead man, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, 26, and his fellow volunteers had been warning authorities for months that they were receiving a steady stream of death threats. Those issuing the threats cloaked themselves in anonymity. But the Guardians had little doubt who stood behind them: the same criminals who have been stealing their timber and endangering the lives of the Awá, a tribe living apart from the modern world that is especially vulnerable to contagious diseases and violence.