BRASILIA (Reuters) - The government of the Brazilian state of Maranhao set up a police task force on Monday to protect the Guajajara tribe from illegal loggers that killed one of its warriors in a clash over deforestation on their Amazon reservation.
Illegal loggers ambushed an indigenous group that was formed to protect the forest and shot dead one of its leaders and wounded another on Friday, the tribe said. It said a logger also died in the shootout.
Paulo Paulino Guajajara, or Lobo (which means ‘wolf’ in Portuguese), was hunting inside the Arariboia reservation when loggers opened fire and shot him in the neck. Another Guajajara, Laercio, was wounded in the arm and back but managed to escape.
Law enforcement on indigenous reservations is a federal responsibility, but the Guajajara “guardians of the forest” have taken on the task in the absence of federal protection and in the face of increased invasions by armed loggers since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January.
Maranhao Governor Flavio Dino decreed the creation of task force of policemen to protect the Guajajaras and train them in security practices to defend and patrol their reservation, though not firearm instruction.
Dino said that given the absence of federal agencies protecting indigenous people in his state, the task force would cooperate in emergencies and in fighting illegal logging on reservation lands.
“We take the defense of indigenous rights seriously and want to help. We do not condone ethnocide,” the governor tweeted.
Federal Justice Minister Sergio Moro deplored the killing and vowed a thorough investigation in a Twitter post. Federal police were sent to determined the circumstances of the deaths.
“Maranhao state understood how the urgency of the situation in view of the federal government’s failure to act, almost in
connivance with the attackers by encouraging the invasion of reservations,” said national indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara.
Guajajara, head of the pan-indigenous organization APIB, which represents many of Brazil’s 900,000 native people, spoke to Reuters from Europe where she is meeting authorities to explain growing threats to Brazil’s tribes and the forests they inhabit.
The Guajajaras, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups with some 20,000 people, set up the Guardians of the Forest in 2012 to patrol a vast reservation. The area is so large that a small and endangered tribe, the Awá Guajá, lives deep in the forest without any contact with the outside world.
Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Marguerita Choy