Two Environmentalists 'Executed' in the Brazilian Amazon

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Photo: Stephen Messenger

According to reports from Brazilian media, two environmentalists known for their outspoken opposition to deforestation in the Amazon have been killed in a manner investigators are describing as an execution. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, his wife, were found shot to death near their settlement in the Brazilian state of Para, where they offered firsthand accounts of illegal logging. Just six months earlier Ribeiro da Silva foreshadowed his own demise: "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."Police delegate Marcos Augusto Cruz says that the two Amazon activists were heading back towards their camp early this morning when they were shot and killed by snipers. "The perpetrators were already lying in wait. They waited there for the victims to commit murder," Cruz said in an interview with G1 Globo.

"Absolutely, it was a crime to order, at the behest of someone. The characteristics are typical of an execution," added Cruz.

Photo via Amazoon Press

According to police, no suspects have yet been named in the murders, though in a speech made recently at a TEDx conference, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva spoke about the numerous threats he faces for rising in defense of the Amazon rainforest:

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.

Both forest activists had been active in reporting deforestation in the Amazon since 1997, though in recent years they'd come under threat from unknown assailants. According to a family member of the murdered environmentalists, Claudelice Silva dos Santos, the couple's house had been ransacked previously, and guns had been fired near their residence on prior occasions.

"Many people had an interest in his death," says Claudelice.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has issued a full investigation into the murders.

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