Pará is the poster state for Amazon destruction, injustice
and violence. The last decade has seen
of over 1000 Brazilians in Pará; many environmental activists
working towards land reform.
Here, just a scene of this enduring and tragic play.
When news broke on September 21 that Dave, Reinaldo and Fernanda were missing, I was in the midst of editing
images from the previous night’s violent encounter; the rest of our crew was planning for our immediate and hopefully safe
escape. We had all stopped everything to listen over the two-way radio as Agnaldo, who had driven the inflatable to the city of
Porto de Moz, explained that Dave and the others had entered the city but were surrounded by loggers after reaching the
airstrip. Agnaldo was forced to move the boat further from the rendezvous point for the mob had also discovered him and began
lobbing rocks and stones. He hadn’t seen nor heard from the others since repositioning.
Already deprived of sleep for 48 hours given the events that led up to this point, we did our best to maintain our
professionalism and plan what to do next, however, exhausted and mentally fatigued, it was difficult not to lose focus and
dwell on our friend’s safety.
We were literally in the middle of nowhere: 30 minutes or so by boat south of the city of Porto de Moz, on the
Jaurucu River in the Brazilian State of Pará. This massive area of Pará bears the blatant scares of unchecked logging and
environmental degradation. Areas once adorned by life harboring green swaths of ancient forests today remain barren fields of burnt
shrubs where even cattle find it difficult to graze. A handful of individuals make the millions, the forest is withering away faster
than a dead flower, and the communities who rely on the forest’s dwindling bounty are being further impoverished and
forced to remain silent for fear of reprisals. Without doubt, Pará is the poster state for Amazon destruction, injustice and violence.
The planned community protest was simple, yet, historically significant in that nothing like this had been mounted in
the Amazon since the days of the late rubber taper Chico Mendez, who was killed in 1988. Over 400 community members
using over one hundred small boats blockaded the Jaurucu Riverthe local illegal-logging highwayto take a stand and call
Brazil’s and the international community’s attention to the scale of the problem and their plight.
Their demand is for the creation of a RESEX or a sustainable reserve (and area of forest legally recognized by the
government) whereby sustainable harvesting programs would be permitted, such as
açaí extraction, but logging cut
out. Greenpeace supports their demands and did not plan this protest, but were asked to give moral and logistical
assistanceor international media muscle, if you wish. It was the community’s party; we were there to help. Something they need a
Over the last three years, I’ve been Greenpeace Amazon’s video cameraman/ producer documenting the work of not
only Greenpeace in the area, but of the hundreds of local communities who are also fighting to halt or at least decelerate the
wave of destruction that continues to spread throughout the region at an unprecedented rate. Their work is far from easy
given that the State of Pará is essentially a lawless land. To quote my Brazilian friend and Greenpeace chief, Paulo Adário,
"Pará is the wild west of Brazil". Everyone is armed, anger and anguish fill their faces, and a life can be ordered erased for
literally 20 dollars. The proof is in the statistics.
According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (Land Pastoral Commission), a Roman Catholic group that advocates
land reform, the last decade has seen the assassination of over 1000 Brazilians in Pará; many environmental activists or
individuals working towards land reform. Just last July a prominent land reform activist from the Rural Workers Union in Altamira
(South of Porto de Moz on the Xingu River), Bartolomeu Morais da Silva, 44, was found dead on the side of a road in Pará. Both
his legs had been broken, and the coroner retrieved 12 slugs from his skull. His was the second "hit" in Altamira that month.
State of War
In general, Brazil is a violent country. Over 40,000 murders a year has earned Brazil the not-so-distinct United
Nation’s status of being a country at war. But in the middle lands of Pará we’re not talking about massive crime filled cities where
drug lords dance with the police and government over power, control and money. We’re talking about areas with populations
less than that of a small stadium crowd. Millions too are at stake, but the contraband here is what the locals call
ouro verde, or green gold: mahogany for example.
On board with us during this protest were three men, all with price tags on their heads and all equally committed to
not necessarily preserving the Amazon forest by putting a bubble over it, but the prevention of its foreseeable destruction.
They search for solutions that will allow the forest, in a sustainable way, to benefit all and improve the quality of life for
millions who call the Amazon home.
29-year-old Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva works with CIMI (Conselho Indigenista MissionárioIndianist Missionary
Council) and is the coordinator of MDTX (Movimento pelo Desenvolvimento da
Transamazônica e XinguTransamazonic and
Xingu Development Movement). Tarcísio is also currently filling the shoes of a coworker who was gunned down at home in
front of his wife and kids in August of 2001. Ademir Alfeu Federicci was the leader of MDTX that is based out of Altamira.
Prior to his death, loggers would jest that he himself should invest in the logging trade, because he would need wood to build
his own coffin. Sadly the police treated the threat lightly, but those behind the threats did not.
On a typically humid and hot Amazonian night Federicci and his wife slept leaving the front door open to catch what
little air moves in the unforgiving tropics. Two men entered their house and shot him dead.
I first met Tarcísio the previous year, as we were held up in a hotel north of São Félix do Xingu (another hot spot for
violence and illegal logging on the Xingu River), awaiting the arrival of IBAMA (the Brazilian environmental enforcement agency)
and their much anticipated AK-47s for personal security.
The Mystery TV
Tarcísio is a meek looking individual who stands little more than 5.5 feet, with huge brown eyes that no doubt leave
women weak at the knees. My Portuguese during this particular adventure had improved, but it was still a task to understand
everything. However, when I asked Tarcísio about his late friend and colleague Ademir, he explained clearly and slowly,
that what incensed him most was that the local authorities wrote off Federicci’s murder as a robbery gone awry. The police
had commented that the two "would-be-bandits" were in fact only after the couple’s television and VCRa common
happenstance all throughout Brazil. They paid little attention to the fact that Federicci and his wife owned neither.
Idalino Nunes de Assis is the president of the STR (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores RuraisRural Workers’ Union),
and works with the Comitê pelo Desenvolvimento Sustentável Porto de Moz. He and I also met just over a year or so ago
when I produced a video for Greenpeace where we interviewed Mr. Nunes who then passionately and profoundly expressed
on tape the need for land reform in the Amazon and more specifically the creation of a RESEX. He lives in Porto de Moz and
has few friends in the logging sector: he lives in hiding the majority of time.
Idalino is 56 and could quite easily pass for anyone’s grandfather. He is in fact a grandfather and father of 6. With a
gentle caring charm about him what you notice first is that he doesn’t speak often. He usually, quietly, hovers along the
sidelines of conversations interjecting rarely. But when he does address crowds his leadership qualities quickly move to the fore
and the conviction of his beliefs thunder from him as if he were meant to head a nation. He’s an impressive leader inspired
not with what the future could bring but fuelled passionately with the urgent need to change the present. "I believe it is
better to die than continue to live a life like this" is his axiom.
Paulo Adário and I go way back. The Greenpeace Amazon campaign had always been a dream of his, and now it has
grown into full fruition. His campaign has scored huge in that Greenpeace has exposed several massive illegal-logging
operations and is now a critical player in Brazilian political debates surrounding the future of the Amazon.
In October of last year, Greenpeace released a document entitled "Partners in Mahogany Crime," after years of
mahogany investigations in Pará. They pulled no punches and named all who play a prominent role in the illegal Mahogany
industry. The report burned through the Brazilian media, and ended costing the mafia millions in fines and seized woods.
So it is easy to see that his work doesn’t please all. Paulo began receiving death threats a year ago and is constantly
changing routines, donning costumes and fighting with authorities, pressuring them on the need to protect the forest as well as
those who are trying to protect the forest.
I fear for all three of my friendstheir work is important, the area of their work incredibly dangerous as the protest
we attended turned out to be.
A Feeling of Success
The river blockade started out slowly as does everything in this part of the world. We arrive at the Jaurucu River
early Sept 19th, and already a handful of people was in the water putting up poles and cables to moor their boats into blockade
position. As the day progressed, more and more community crafts began to arrive. By 5 pm the river was officially blocked with
an impressive line of over 100 small riverboats. Each one filled with families: women, children, the elderly. Community
members joined together, some meeting for the first time, as they cheered their own accomplishment. Banners saying, "stop the
destruction", "we’ll fight for our land" and "our land our future" were everywhere (in Portuguese, of course). The feeling
of accomplishment was overwhelming.
The first night had passed peacefully, we had been visited by the local civil police who just wanted to see what was
going on, and the local commercial association of Porto de Moz arrived to hear the community’s concerns and defend their
own personal interests in the logging trade. The juxtaposition of the latter meeting couldn’t be more glaring. The President of
the association, a logger, was ostentatiously adorned in goldfashion tips from Mr. T in the 80s probably. In stark contrast
however were the hundreds of community members with clothing tattered and frayed. As he stood plump and healthy, they had
hunger in their eyes.
The communities complained of not having enough to eat because the forest is disappearing, the representatives
from the Commercial Association of Porto de Moz countered that Porto de Moz needed the logging sector to continue to
develop and that the RESEX would hinder that process. Nevertheless, they put on polite faces for the cameras, and the
association and their gold left in a flurry of waves and ciaos.
We had all felt that the protest would probably carry on like this for the next four to five days: calmly, quietly and
peacefully. Word had already gone out that the protest was taking place, and word back via jungle communications was that the
loggers wanted to avoid any negative media attention, and hence would probably hang low for a couple of days. There is safety,
or so we thought, in numbers. Especially, when some are representatives from the media such as Globo and Record TV
(two Brazilian Networks) who were both on board and eager to talk with anyone with a chainsaw.
Surprisingly, the first log barge approached on the second day. It had paid little attention to the blockade and tried
to just peacefully coast through, until Flávio one of Greenpeace’s Brazilian volunteers (and captain of a large riverboat)
headed him off with a small Zodiac and through several clever maneuvers forced him to stop.
As we boarded the barge, heaped in logs, the captain quickly mentioned, "Everyone on board is armed and
organized". Nice. When questioned by one of Greenpeace’s campaigners which forest project the logs had been harvested from, the
captain waved his finger in several directions quickly, pulled his cap over his eyes and replied "some project over there". He had
no legal papers, it was obvious to us then, and would be confirmed later by IBAMA, that every log on his barge was
As more information surfaced, we discovered that the log barge’s captain, André Campos, was actually the mayor of
Porto de Moz’s brother. It’s been a long established fact the mayor of Porto de Moz is not a huge fan of environmentalists, or
reserves or rights of land for the community. He is in fact a logger himself and owns two sawmills in Porto de Moz.
He’s a heavyset character, well groomed although smarmy in presence. Given his financial interests it was to no
one’s surprise that he feels the city of Porto de Moz and the immediate region can easily "accommodate 6 large international
logging companies" (an additional 4). He also believes the idea of reserve is something that will stagnate development in the
region, and hinder the town’s prosperity.
As the log barge sat quietly along the bank of the river, and dusk began to close in, the community got worried that
André would try and make a break for it later in the evening. So, on mass, they boarded the barge and negotiated with André to
throw a few more lines out into the forest to further secure the barge. The barge, loaded, is approximately 4,000 tons. So their
concerns were justified, and André, begrudgingly, agreed.
A Break in the Night
The blockade was just that, a protest to stop all those loggers who use the river, explain the situation and try and
talk some sense into these chainsaw-wielding bandits. Some of those who were stopped agreed to moor over night and not
create problems, and others had harsh words to say before turning around and heading back up river in a huff. However the
evening’s plight began when Nel, an infamously violent logger in the area, showed up at the protest in his boat demanding to pass
through given he had ill people on board. In actual fact, Nel had heard about the blockade and had cherry-picked two or three
people with malaria from a nearby village to use them as an excuse to circumnavigate the situation.
Being prepared for all, Greenpeace had a doctor on board who offered to attend to the sick, and if it were discovered
that they were truly ill, Greenpeace would administer quick aid, supply a faster watercraft and take those in need to a
hospital. Nel didn’t even want to see the doctor. Screaming and flailing about he threatened all and swore he would pass through
the blockade one way or another. Common sense prevailed with the wife of a man who had come down with malaria and she
wanted the doctor to attend to her husband and the use of much faster transportation. The ill were taken to the hospital, and Nel
was left fuming on board his boat. This was at about 7:30 pm.
About 1:15 am, Dave Logie (Greenpeace’s logistics man) and I were fiddling about with the computers and satellite
up-linkswonderful technology, but it needs to be pamperedwhen someone ran into the cabin saying that the log barge
was making a break for it. Without a moment’s hesitation Dave had jumped in Greenpeace’s large inflatable zodiac called the
Anaconda, and I went for the camera and leaped into a small aluminum boat.
The first image that flickered in my camera’s eyepiece was that of Dave and the Anaconda crashing into the side of
the monster barge mustering all the horsepower he could to push it into the forest again and stave off what was looking to
be a catastrophe in the making. I could hear André gunning his engines, full throttle, aiming the barge towards the
blockade. More screams filled the air from the communities tide to the blockade in the path of the barge’s furry. It carried on like
this for 5 minutes, and then the Veloz, a large Amazonian river boat that had brought us to this region, veered in to aid the Anaconda.
At this point I left the small boat and boarded the barge, as did many others. Scuffles were breaking out everywhere
you looked as the loggers were aggressively attacking community members. Greenpeace volunteers shouted
"calma" and reminded all, that no matter what the loggers were initiating, we were here participating in a peaceful protest and needed to
respond peacefullyregardless of the outcome.
Suddenly I realized that I was in the violent maelstrom. A dark room on the second deck of the barge’s ship where 4
or 5 rolled were locked on floor in a mortal battle as another 20 or so tried to pull them apart. A photographer, Flávio,
suddenly jumped to his feet and yelled, "1, 2, 3 the fight’s OVER!" (or in Portuguese
"Acabou a briga!"). A somewhat gentle calm
filled the dark room, and then as quickly as it began, the melee was over. The barge had been stopped.
Our night’s work carried on, as at this point international press releases had to be written and sent, images had to be
edited, authorities contacted, and we all really needed a moment to rethink what exactly had happened.
The Civil Police arrived three hours later with an ambulance/boat. Luckily, no one was seriously injured. Many
quickly praised Dave for his actions. One community member estimates that Dave saved about 80 lives. We all thanked him.
The next day, the mayor of Porto de Moz, Gerson Campos, arrived distancing himself from his brother’s action as the
cameras from Globo and Record rolled. IBAMA was also flown in, and within 10 minutes of their arrival André Campos admitted,
on camera, that the barge in fact was "100 percent illegal".
The night’s festivities provided the Globo and Record networks with, as I’ve come to learn it over the decades,
"Great TV". Fernanda Fernandes from TV Record (I was working for them too), was scheduled to head off later that afternoon.
She needed to catch a flight from Porto de Moz. Dave, Agnaldo, Reinaldo and Fernanda zipped up the river in the Anaconda
for what should have been a one hour return trip for the team.
I puttered about hacking images together and making copies for the TV stations that weren’t able to join us when
someone ran into the cabin saying that Dave and the gang had gone missing. We knew that Porto de Moz would be a little
sensitive today, which is why a team was sent, but it is a biggish city, with a national airport. There shouldn’t have been a
problem. However, when Dave, Reinaldo and Fernanda arrived at the airport, they were immediately surrounded by a mob of
loggers that seemed to only grow.
They shouted and screamed obscenities and their aggression grew as more joined into the thick. Dave was
the "Gringo" as he tried to calm the furious mass in his broken Portuguese. Fernanda sighed a breathe of relief as she saw
the mayor, Gerson Campos, arrive, but her relief was suddenly eclipsed by terror when she realized that instead of
ameliorating the situation, he fuelled the anger by screaming, "My brother’s in jail, you’ll pay for this".
The lynch mob grabbed, poked and sucker punched the three and ended up confiscating and destroying the
videocassettes that Fernanda had on her person. The mayor didn’t want Brazil to see the illegal and violent empire he rules.
When the police finally arrived, Dave, Reinaldo and Fernanda thought that they were done. The mob was large, angry,
and so out of control, that anything could have happened in that climate. The police fired shots into the sky, and told our
peers that it was now or never to run into a van that they had in the area. They wouldn’t be able to hold back the mob much longer.
After three hours on the boat without news, there was a huge scream of joy when the radio silence was broken by
Dave’s voice on the Anaconda’s radio calmly saying, "We’re heading to the Veloz, we’ll see you in 20 minutes".
A flurry of hugs and embraces broke as the group, although startled-looking and one in tears, rejoined us. The
ordeal was detailed and those of us who hadn’t experienced the trauma could not fathom what it must have been like.
The discussions were quickly broken off, and it was back to planning and fear when it was learned that the mayor of
Porto de Moz was now planning on filling another barge full of loggers to come and find the troublemakers. Our last night in
Pará would be a long and tense occasion. With another route in mind, the captain of the Veloz managed to assure our safety
given the police said they couldn’tby circumnavigating at night through lesser-traveled tributaries. The next morning we
were on the Solimões River heading to Manaus.
We had succeeded to escape, although those community members who live in and around the area are still being
threatened, and in some cases beaten. Pará’s legacy, for me, will be a bad memory, but for those who are fighting for their very
basic right to survive and put a roof over their heads, the nightmare continues and will continue. We cannot relax, even
though we live miles away either on safe islands in the south, or in well designed fortresses in the North, because our friends,
Tarcísio, Idalino and their colleagues are all in danger. This will not stop here.
Todd Southgate holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto, Canada. He was
also a journalist in Canada for City TV, and later, the CBC. He’s produced over 20 documentaries about environmental
problems around the world, many of which have been prestigiously awarded. He currently lives in Florianópolis, state of Santa
Catarina, Brazil, working in web design and communications consulting. His latest project is the development of a web portal
called www.lagoavirtual.coma virtual city in the south of Brazil. For more detailed information about Todd his résumé can be
www.videographer.savethisplanet.com. His email: