A landless peasant activist has been found dead in Brazil’s Amazon state of Para, the fifth murder in a month believed to be linked to the conflict over land and logging in the country’s rainforest region.
The body of the victim, Obede Souza, was found over the weekend in the dense forest surrounding his home in the landless settlement of Esperanca, near the town of Pacaja.
Police said on Tuesday that the activist was killed by a gunshot to his head outside his home and that an investigation was under way.
Witnesses who did not want to give their name told Hilario Lopes Costa, a co-ordinator for the watchdog Catholic Land Pastoral [CLP] in Para, said they saw four men in a pickup truck asking for Souza.
They and Souza’s wife are now afraid for their lives as well, Costa said.
Within the last month, four activists have been shot to death, along with a witness to two of the murders.
Members of a national police force, created by the federal government earlier this month to control violence in the region, took the body to the state capital, Belem, for an autopsy.
It was returned on Tuesday for burial. They could not be immediately reached for comment.
However, the state law enforcement agency in charge of land conflicts, the Agrarian Conflict Delegation, is not participating in the investigation, a spokesman said.
Environmentally sensitive region
Souza, 31, was part of a landless settlement that occupied unused farmland in 2008, setting up a camp whose name, Esperanca, means Hope.
He had been farming a small plot there alongside his wife and three children, while waiting for the government land redistribution programme to recognise their claim.
|There was public outcry after the killing of José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife [Reuters]|
Costa said that in January, Souza got into an argument with a representative of loggers who are illegally harvesting wood in the region. He knew he was in danger from then on, said Costa.
“There is in this region a really dangerous group of loggers,” said Costa.
“He had a fight with one of them over the cutting of these trees, and he was marked man from then on.”
The CLP monitors the threats made by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protest over illegal extraction of wood and the violation of land rights in the environmentally sensitive region.
More than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in conflicts over land and logging in the last two decades, and the group has a list of 125 activists who know their lives are in danger.
The increase in execution-style killings has led to an outcry in Brazil and the creation of a working group to monitor the region.
Paltry local police forces have also been reinforced with officers from the federal police, highway patrol and national guard.
On May 29, Brazilian police confirmed the killing of an Amazon environmental campaigner, Adelino Ramos, who was known for openly denouncing those who illegally fell trees in the rainforest.
Ramos’ death came barely a week after another Amazon environmental activist, José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, and his wife were killed.