Six months after predicting his own murder, a leading rainforest defender has been gunned down in the Brazilian Amazon. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, are said to have been killed in an ambush near their home in Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state, about 37 miles from Marabá.
I heard this yesterday and found it heartbreaking. I met José a few months ago when we were both speakers in Brazil at a TEDx Amazonia event. At dinner one night he told a group of us that he had been receiving death threats.
According to a local newspaper, Diário do Pará, the couple had not had police protection despite getting frequent death threats because of their battle against illegal loggers and ranchers.
Ribeiro was a community leader of a rural Amazon sustainable reserve that produces nuts and natural oils native to the forest.
As loggers moved into Para state, Ribeiro increased his candid denouncements of illegal clear cutting in the region, which earned him praise from environmentalists but allegedly scorn from logging and business interests who hold enormous influence in the heavily deforested region.
In his moving TEDx speech, José acknowledged that his work battling illegal loggers put him in grave danger. ”I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment … because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist. [People] ask me, ‘are you afraid?’ Yes, I’m a human being, of course I am afraid. But my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest.”