The international spotlight is illuminating another bit of troublesome news in Brazil, as the crisis-prone South American nation prepares to invite the rest of the world over for the Summer Olympic Games.
A new report published this week by environmental watchdog Global Witness claims Brazil is now the most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists. The reports found that there were 50 documented killings of environmental activists in Brazil just last year alone.
“Most of the murders took place in the Amazon states of Maranhão, Pará and Rondônia, which has seen a surge in violence linked to large ranches and plantations taking over land where rural communities lack rights,” reads the report. “Agribusiness companies, loggers and landowners are hiring hitmen to silence local opposition to their projects. Local leaders are being targeted and their communities forcibly displaced by these powerful economic interests.”
Billy Kyte, a spokesman for Global Witness, acknowledges it’s hard to establish direct links since many of the crimes go unreported and unpunished.
“There are so few arrests, which means it’s difficult to know the direct perpetrators,” he told Fusion. “However, we suspect that in Brazil the perpetrators of violence are a mix of organized crime —particularly linked to illegal logging— and large-scale agricultural companies. We know this because many activists received threats linked to their cause from these actors before they were killed.”
Kyte says the latest Global Witness report is based on “cross-checked” information from the country’s Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), which has compiled data on killings of rural leaders.
Although the dearth of official investigations has made it difficult to expose the full extent of the problem, other reports seem to point to corporate interests as playing an important role in the killing of environmentalists.
In recent years Rio de Janeiro fishermen have allegedly been targeted for denouncing local water pollution, according to a Public Radio International report. A fisherman turned environmental activist told the radio outlet he’s received threats and even survived an assassination attempt. He blamed “security groups” working for Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras.
According to NGO Survival International, the country’s indigenous communities are also being targeted. Earlier this month the organization reported an attack by gunmen on a tribal community in southern Brazil.
“The attack is highly likely to be part of escalating attempts by the powerful local agri-business and ranching interests,” reads the report.