RIO DE JANEIRO — A husband and wife team of environmentalists have been killed by gunmen in Brazil’s northern Amazon state of Para, one of the most restive regions in the country due to land disputes, officials said Wednesday.
Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff ordered an immediate federal investigation to find those responsible for the double murder, in a wild region where owners of large estates are alleged to have gone unpunished after killing local farmers.
Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, 52 and his Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva, 51, were stopped in their vehicle by unknown gunmen, taken out and shot, prosecutors said, adding that the circumstances appeared to be the work of hired hitmen.
The pair had been working for Amazon-focused non-governmental group CNS, set up by legendary environmental activist Chico Mendes who himself was killed by landowners in the Amazon in 1988.
According to the organization, the pair had been receiving death threats since 2008 over their work to preserve the rainforest in the state, and prevent illegal deforestation for charcoal production and to clear land for cattle pastures.
“They fought for the preservation of the forest and against illegal loggers,” said Ataginaldo Matos of CNS in Para’s state capital Belem, adding that Jose Claudio had had his ear cut off after being killed as a sort of calling card of the gunmen.
Brazilian lawmakers meanwhile late Tuesday controversially approved a revised Forestry Code that relaxed protections for the Amazon.
Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country by area, has 5.3 million square kilometers of jungle and forests — mostly in the Amazon river basin — of which only 1.7 million are under state protection. The rest is in private hands, or its ownership is undefined.
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