Plane Full Of Anti-Deforestation Activists Crashes In Brazil Due To “Unexplained” Causes, Investigation Underway

While the murder of anti-deforestation activists and environmentalists is nothing new in most parts of the world nowadays, the recent news that a plane carrying members of Brazil’s special environmental protection forces recently crashed due to “unexplained” causes does still stand out.

Amazon – Brazil, 2011.
©Neil Palmer/CIAT

Image by CIFOR (some rights reserved)

If nothing else — I’d there was foul-play involved, as seems likely — the deaths are certainly flashier than many. Often times the murders of anti-deforestation activists and their families just amounts to the use of guns, or to “disappearances.” I suppose that maybe a well-publicized plane crash sends more of a message though, huh?

To be more specific here, environmental analysts Olavo Perim Galvão and Alexandre Rochinski, and administrative technician Sebastião Lima Ferreira Junior, all agents of Brazil’s Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, died in an unexplained plane crash in the Amazon. The pilot, Marcos Costa Jardim, died as well. A third analyst, Lazlo Macedo de Carvalho, is known to have survived, and is now being treated for extensive burns in Rio de Janeiro.

The plane crash — which happened over the northern state of Roraima, on the way to the Yanomami indigenous reserve (the site of much illegal deforestation) — is as noted before “unexplained,” as of now. But considering that the agents involved were/are tasked with protecting the Amazon from illegal deforestation and mining activities, there’s a very high likelihood of foul play being involved.

The Guardian provides more: “Brazil’s Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources said the agents died while on a mission to combat deforestation and illegal gold extraction. Ibama agents are trained scientists who go into areas of conflict heavily armed, often in the face of death threats or violent resistance.

“Olavo’s family believe his role as an environmentalist cost him his life. ‘Olavo was a wonderful human being,’ his cousin Leonardo Galvão told the Guardian. ‘Olavo died trying to save the Amazon. He believed that he was making a difference, and so did we. He had a dream and was on a mission, and his mission killed him.’ His friends and relatives have been planting a forest in his native state of Espírito Santo to commemorate his life and work.

“…They operate in dangerous territory and are often hated by the country’s numerous illegal deforesters, who often put cattle on the land or convert it to soya farms. In recent years, Ibama agents have complained they are fighting a losing battle, as they lack the resources to fly above enough of the country’s vast territory – Brazil is twice the size of the EU – looking for holes in the forest. They complain that, even when they can catch criminals in the act, the penalties they attempt to apply get held up in the courts.”

As now noted many times, by many observers… it appears that the government of Brazil may be “deliberately” losing its battle against deforestation — mostly owing to lobbying efforts by the soy and beef sectors, and endemic corruption.

I’ll end things here by noting that an LA Times correspondent actually accompanied Olavo and his colleagues during work in the state of Maranhão back in 2015. The article resulting from that investigation included quotes that mentioned being fired at from the ground while in helicopters, and also the reality that civilians that reported crimes or spoke with the agents often ended up going missing or being found dead.

A reminder here — deforestation is one of the primary drivers of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and thus a primary driver of anthropogenic climate change. The deforestation of the Amazon Basin stands to, by itself, raise global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels enough cause quite a raise in temperatures.

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