It was midnight and the time to hunt for hundreds of species was approaching in this 413,000-hectare reserve, an area somewhat smaller than the province of Pontevedra and one of the last remnants of forest in the extreme northeast of the Brazilian Amazon.
The jaguars were after sainos, armadillos, and tapirs; cobras, for rodents. Clouds of mosquitoes buzzed everywhere. In the lush vegetation, the Awá, one of the Amazonian communities that lives in voluntary isolation and relies exclusively on what the forest offers, hid themselves. The non-governmental organization Survival International called it “the most threatened tribe on Earth.”
The cycle of life followed its natural course, oblivious to the high-risk operation that Laércio Sousa Silva was about to carry out together with five other indigenous people of the Guajajara ethnic group. Laércio, a 35-year-old Brazilian, with medium black hair and sad eyes, is part of a group of 134 indigenous people who call themselves “Guardians of the Forest” and who expel invaders from the reserve, especially illegal loggers and poachers.
Dressed in military clothing and with their faces painted, Laércio and his colleagues carried some weapons as self-defense and carried out surveillance aboard 4×4 vehicles. Suddenly, they heard the roar of the engines of the heavy timber trucks – the stealth loggers were there. Determined to expel them from a land that is for the exclusive use of the 6,000 indigenous people who inhabit it but which in 2019 suffered a 113% increase in deforestation, the guardians went after them.
There was a shooting that did not cause victims, and the loggers, surprised by the Guajajara, fled on foot through the jungle, taking refuge in the dark. They had to leave behind vehicles loaded with massive amounts of illegal timber logs. The guards decided to burn everything. A punitive action fraught with dangers and not entirely legal, but one that the Guajajara, tired of seeing how their lands are looted, were not – nor are they – willing to stop.
“The next time we come here we will also take them [the loggers] tied up, because we can no longer bear what they do here in our land,” Laércio said that night.
This assertiveness is explained by the feeling of abandonment and impunity felt by many indigenous communities in much of the Brazilian Amazon. Some years ago, EL PERIÓDICO had accompanied another group of Guajajara guardians in another Marañao reserve that also suffers from logging. Along with about fifteen indigenous people carrying bows, shotguns and machetes, we went through devastated areas of jungle and rivers invaded by illegal fishermen.
“The Brazilian State was ignorant in the control of our areas, and that is why we set up the group of guardians. We want this land to survive and be for future generations ”, explains to this newspaper Olimpio Guajajara, coordinator of the 134 guards who patrol the Araribóia and a man threatened with death.