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Latest activist murder in the Amazon highlights battle over land, logging

The death of Obede Loyla Souza in Para state in the Brazilian Amazon is the fifth murder in a month. It may have been the result of a land conflict, underscoring a pattern that pits development against the environment.

By Hannah StoneGuest blogger / June 15, 2011

Brazilian federal policemen stand guard as government workers load onto barges logs that they confiscated for having been cut illegally from virgin Amazon rain forest, as part of the Arch of Fire operation to stop illegal logging in 2008.

Paulo Santos/Reuters

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Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria Do Espirito Santo Da Silva, were ambushed and murdered on Tuesday, May 24, close to their home in the village of Nova Ipixuna, in Para state (in Brazil). The couple had spent years campaigning against illegal logging in the area, including setting up roadblocks to stop timber vehicles passing through.

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They were killed with gunshots to the head, which investigators said were likely fired by at least two assassins. The police said they were working on the theory that it was a hit ordered by "loggers in the region."

This was given further weight by the murder of Eremilton Pereira dos Santos, a young man who lived in the area who went missing (last month) and was later found dead. His relatives said that he may have been killed because he'd witnessed the activists’ murderers fleeing the scene of the crime.

Ribeiro, as has been widely reported, was filmed some months before the killings making a speech at a TED Amazon conference (see video at Insight), in which he tells the audience he is in danger of being murdered by groups who were illegally exploiting the forest around his home.

"I denounce the loggers and the charcoal makers, and because of this they think that I should not exist," he told the crowd at the prestigious gathering.

Another apparent hired killing took place in the region on June 1 in Eldorado dos Carajas, a village less than 200 km from Nova Ipixuna. When onlookers tried to take the victim to hospital, gunmen stopped the car and shot him again. Some reports said the dead man was an activist, while others said he was a farmer with no connection to campaign groups or labor movements.

Brazil has a history of such dark events in the land around its valuable rainforest. A study released by Agencia Brasil in 2007 found a significant correlation between areas of high deforestation and those with high murder rates.

The homicide rate in Nova Ipixuna, which has fewer than 15,000 inhabitants, stands at 65 per 100,000 residents. This puts it on a par with some of the most dangerous cities in the world, higher than Medellin, Colombia, or Cape Town, South Africa. It has also suffered a high rate of deforestation: Some 72 percent of the original forest in the area has been destroyed.

The Amazon's 'arc of deforestation'

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