Brazil Environmentalist Shot in Rain Forest
RIO DE JANEIRO A Brazilian environmentalist was killed in an Atlantic rain forest Tuesday night, only 10 days after a U.S. nun and activist against illegal logging was murdered in the Amazon jungle.
Dionisio Ribeiro Filho, 59, was shot in the head with a shotgun at the Tingua federal reserve, about 19 miles from Rio de Janeiro city, after he defended it for over 15 years from poachers and illegal palm tree cutters, police said Wednesday.
"We suspect some of those people he opposed may have murdered him," local police superintendent Roberto Cardoso told Brazil's O'Globo national television network.
His death followed the Feb. 12 killing of prominent U.S. human rights and environmental activist Dorothy Stang. She was gunned down in a suspected contract killing by illegal loggers and ranchers encroaching on a federal peasant farming reserve she helped establish in the state of Para.
Ribeiro had received death threats for some time, said Luis Henrique dos Santos, head of the Tingua reserve and a federal employee.
"We are working against illegal palm cutting and this upset a lot of people," said dos Santos, who said he and other workers also received threats.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched Brazil's biggest ever crackdown on crime in the Amazon rain forest after Stang's murder caused world outrage at death squads used by illegal loggers and ranchers to invade jungle areas.
Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva called on federal police to investigate Ribeiro's murder.
Some of his friends and colleagues were at a protest against Stang's murder when they heard of his killing.
"This business of shutting up ecologists and environmentalists with violence, it's not going to stop," said Edson Bedin, head of Brazil's federal environmental agency IBAMA in Rio de Janeiro state, which operates the reserve. "Threats against agents, workers have become routine."
IBAMA has asked the federal police to protect its workers in the 96 square-mile area of rolling, rain forested hills that are home to flea toads, jaguars, spider monkeys and other rare and threatened species.
Ribeiro, a gray-haired man with a moustache and glasses, was a member of a non-profit environmental organization that helped set up the park in 1989.
Since he retired, Ribeiro had dedicated his life to defending the reserve against people harvesting palm trees for heart of palm, a gastronomic delicacy, and trapping tropical birds and animals for illegal trafficking and for food.
Police in Rio de Janeiro state said they would make the hunt for Ribeiro's killers a priority.
Police have found two gunmen and an intermediary suspected of planning and carrying out Stang's killing. They are searching for a rancher who is said to have paid $19,300 for her murder.
Brazil has already deforested 97 percent of its Atlantic rainforest, which runs along its coastline and was once a third the size of Brazil's Amazon jungle.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Brasilia)