Moral Low Ground

Society

Husband and Wife Environmental Activist Team Murdered in Brazil

A husband and wife team of environmental activists were ambushed and murdered by unidentified gunmen in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, Reuters and Agence France-Presse report. The pair, 52-year-old José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and 51-year-old Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva, both worked for CNS, an Amazon environmental group started by Chico Mendes, an conservation icon who was himself assassinated in 1988.

According to AFP, the pair was driving in their vehicle when they were ambushed by gunmen who shot them dead. Prosecutors say the assassinations appear to be the work of hired hit men. José had one of his ears cut off, a trademark of such assassins. CNS told AFP that the couple had been receiving death threats since 2008 over their rainforest preservation efforts. They worked tirelessly to stop illegal deforestation and land clearing for cattle ranching, making enemies out of the illicit loggers and landowners who profit from environmental destruction.

The couple knew all too well the risks they faced for protecting the Amazon. Last November, José spoke at a TED conference:

“I live off the forest. I protect it in every way I can, and for that I can get a bullet in the head at any time. Because I denounce illegal logging and coal burners, and for that they think I shouldn’t exist.”

Dozens of Brazilians are killed every year in land disputes, and not just Brazilians. Dorothy Stang, an American-born nun who fought for the rights of poor peasants and against the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, was murdered in Anapu, also in Pará state, in 2005.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has ordered a federal police investigation into the murders.

Meanwhile, Brazilian lawmakers debated a revision of the country’s Forestry Code which critics say will relax protections for the Amazon rain forest. Ranchers, landowners and loggers support the overhaul, environmentalists say it will reverse years of progress in protecting the Amazon.

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