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The ‘Guardians of the Amazon’ stand up to illegal logging in the jungle

September 21, 2019

They denounce that the Government is not fulfilling its obligation to protect its lands

INDIGENOUS TERRITORY ARARIBÓIA (BRAZIL), Sep 21 (Reuters / EP) –

Around midnight, six men from the Guajajara tribe listen to the noise of heavy trucks about 30 kilometers from their territory in the Amazon, which they suspect is a caravan of illegal loggers.

The police will not go, but they have a plan. The “guardians of the jungle” run to an intersection of the road and wait, armed with rifles and guns, to ambush and stop the loggers and deliver them to the nearest police station, hundreds of kilometers away.

The men say they are part of a group of about 180 guardians who patrol their land against loggers on night missions.

During the day, most of them subsist by growing cassava, rice and other food in the indigenous reserve of Araribóia, a stretch of 4,100 square kilometers of rainforest in Maranhao, in northeast Brazil.

THE RAIDS HAVE BEEN REDUCED HALF

Loggers and ranchers have cleared land to Guajajara and cross the border more and more frequently. But since 2012, with the training of the guardians, they estimate that the illegal incursions have fallen by half.

“I am proud of the warriors who continue the fight, because the indigenous territory of Araribóia was considered lost,” says Laercio Guajajara, one of the coordinators. “We are showing the world, the country, that our land is not lost, that it has an owner,” he adds.

In 2019, an area of ​​more than 6,200 square kilometers has been cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, larger than the US state of Delaware and almost double that in the same period of 2018, according to preliminary data. The fires increased by about 50 percent this year, according to government data.

The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has said that the indigenous reserves were too large for its population. The president has urged more mining and industrial agriculture activity in these territories, and has removed powers from the Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA), according to denounced agency workers.

WHO SHOULD PROTECT THE INDIGENOUS LANDS ARE NOT DOING IT

Guajajara's guardians maintain that it cemented the conviction that the destiny of the earth is in their hands. “Those who should enforce the laws and protect indigenous lands are not doing so,” says Olimpio Guajajara, leader of the guardians. “I have the mission to protect the earth,” he says.

In August, an IBAMA spokesman told Reuters that previous governments were to blame for the agency's challenges. For its part, the Ministry of Environment has stated that its role in the protection of the forest is taken seriously, committing to stop criminal activity.

Local authorities recognize the guardians' work in pointing out illegal activities and presenting evidence. However, officials warn that vigilantes are not the best way to address the problem.

Some have been killed by loggers, the group told Reuters. Guardians are not paid for their dangerous and hard work, and spend part of their low income on ammunition, gasoline and vehicle maintenance.