RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil's government will protect rural activists and increase policing in its Amazon rain forest in an effort to stem deadly disputes over illegal logging, officials said following a meeting Monday on how to halt the violence.
At least three rural activists have been killed in the region in less than a week: Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria, in the state of Para, and Adelino Ramos in the state of Rondonia. A fourth person who may have witnessed the murders in Para was also killed.
According to the Catholic Land Pastoral watchdog group, known as CPT, more than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in Brazil over the past 20 years. The murders are mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protest over the illegal cutting of forests.
The watchdog group has a 125-name-long list of activists whose lives are in danger because of their stance against loggers are common in the environmentally important region.
Justice Minister Luiz Paulo Barreto said that Brazil's government will analyze all the cases on the CPT's list and offer them immediate protection.
"The federal government will not hold back on efforts to bring peace to the region," Barreto told a news conference.
Monday's meeting was led by Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, and included the ministers of environment, justice, rural development and human rights. Their goal was to foster cooperation between the federal and state governments to halt the killings. The governors of the states of Para, Amazonas and Roraima were invited to the capital, Brasilia, for meetings later this week.
Ministers announced the creation of a working group on Amazon violence. No details were given about how the government intends to fulfill its promise to increase policing in the region or how many new officers would be sent.
"We will not accept these murders, and will intensify monitoring and investigation and strengthen actions leading to sustainable development in the region," said Rural Development Minister Afonso Florence.
As a first step, the Justice Ministry requested the federal police's participation in investigating the death of the couple in the state of Para, according to a memo from the presidential palace's press office.
Meanwhile, a man, Ozeas Vicente, was arrested Monday after turning himself in for killing Adelino Ramos, according to a press release from the public safety department of Rondonia state.
Ramos was known in the Amazon region for denouncing illegal logging. He died Friday after being shot six times while taking produce to sell at a market with his wife and children. His family was not harmed.
He lead the Amazon Peasants Association, and had survived one of the deadliest land conflicts in Brazil — the massacre at Corumbiara in August of 1995, when police killed 10 landless activists. Two police also died.
Ramos' life had been threatened repeatedly by loggers from states including Acre, Amazonas and Rondonia, according to a press statement from the federal secretary for human rights.