Brazilian activist flees Amazon home after threats from illegal loggers

Some 1,000 land activists have been murdered in Brazil the past two decades, and the latest threats highlight the government's failure to protect activists, according to InSight Crime.

Renato Chalu/AP/File
A policeman checks logs that were illegally cut from the Amazon rain forest in Marituba, in the Brazilian state of Para, in this file photo.

The story of a Brazilian campaigner forced to flee her Amazon home by death threats from illegal loggers underscores the dangers faced by land activists in the country, and the government's failure to protect them.

On May 19, land activist Nilcilene Miguel de Lima left her community in Labrea municipality in the south of Amazonas state, fearing that she would be killed by illegal loggers if she stayed. Since November last year, she had been under the protection of nine armed police officers. However, the guard was withdrawn after its initial six-month term ended, leaving her vulnerable to attacks, reported Publica (in Portuguese).

According to residents of Labrea, illegal loggers celebrated Miguel de Lima's departure, telling residents, "We've put the National [Police] Force on the run," the news website reported.

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Miguel de Lima has been the target of numerous threats and attacks since 2009 when she became head of God Will Provide (Deus Provera), an association of local farmers and rubber tappers. In June 2010 she was beaten by a group of illegal loggers, and her house was burned down in August of that year, apparently in retaliation for her activist work, reported Oeco Amazonia (in Portuguese). She fled Labrea in May 2011 but returned under a government guarantee of protection.

Now, she has been forced to flee again. Though the government paid her airfare out of Labrea, acknowledging the danger if she stayed, it appears little is being done to protect others in the community at risk. As Publica notes, seven people have been killed in the region since 2007.

InSight Crime Analysis

Miguel de Lima's case highlights the dangers associated with land activism in Brazil. Much of this is connected to illegal logging, which represents up to 80 percent of the country's timber industry, according to Greenpeace. Many have died as a result of clashes between communities trying to protect their land from large businesses and criminal groups moving in to exploit the highly lucrative trade.

Five campaigners against illegal logging were assassinated in the Amazon state of Para in one month last year. Some 1,000 land activists have been murdered in the last two decades, but only 80 hitmen and 15 landowners have been convicted for these crimes, according to the Guardian.

Neide Lourenco of the campaign group Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) said that the withdrawal of Miguel de Lima's security unit was "a message of impunity and a victory for lawlessness. Those who denounce deforestation are expelled and the criminals have all the freedom to continue extracting resources from the forest."

Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Edward Fox's research here.

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