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World Deep in the Amazon, armed tribesmen battle illegal loggers for their future

15:51  14 february  2020
15:51  14 february  2020 Source:   abcnews.go.com

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Footage of uncontacted tribesman in the Amazon rainforest – video. Indigenous groups say successive governments have failed to adequately recognise their territorial rights and their role in protecting forests that are globally essential for carbon sequestration and natural habitats.

The tribesmen are members of an indigenous forest guard called Guardians of the Forest, which formed in Their work involves armed patrols and destroying logging encampments and has earned them dangerous enemies. Footage of uncontacted tribesman in the Amazon rainforest – video.

Know it or not, Laercio Guajajara is fighting for you.

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On the Alto Rio Guamá reserve in Brazil, the Tembe tribe has been battling for decades to save its land from illegal loggers and settlers. As tension escalates, the Tembe people have now been forced to take up arms and confront the loggers , sparking violent clashes deep within the jungle.

Image caption Paulo Paulino Guajajara worked to combat logging gangs in the Amazon . A young indigenous land defender has been shot dead and another wounded by illegal loggers in Brazil's Amazon . Paulo Paulino Guajajara was reportedly attacked and shot in the head while hunting on

The 35-year-old indigenous Brazilian is a member of the Amazon’s Guajajara tribe and the leader of what is essentially a paramilitary group who have made it their mission to expel illegal loggers from the rainforest that has supported their people for centuries.

Calling themselves the “Guardians of the Forest,” this small band of no more than 50 tribal fighters patrols roughly 1,600 square miles of federally protected land, disrupting and detaining the so-called “invaders” who cross their path.

But for Laercio and his “Guardians,” this is no mere local skirmish. The pace of deforestation in the Amazon has alarmed world leaders who fear it could exacerbate the effects of climate change, putting the Guajajara on the front lines of a fight with global implications.

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On the Alto Rio Guama reserve in Brazil, the Tembe tribe has been battling for 40 years to save their land from illegal loggers and settlers. The lucrative

VICE News travels to Brazil, where the Tembe tribe has been forced to take up arms to protect their land from illegal loggers and settlers. As tension escalates, the Tembe people have now been forced to take up arms and confront the loggers , sparking violent clashes deep within the jungle.

“This land help[s] us indigenous to survive,” Laercio told ABC News. “At the same time it serves the whole world, all the people who live on this planet.”

Watch the full documentary “Guardians of the Amazon” on the streaming news channel ABC News Live Friday at 8 p.m. ET. A special version of the documentary will air on “Nightline” on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC.

Last summer, ABC News was granted rare access to the “Guardians” and their operations, embedding with the group during a four-day patrol over several dozen miles of dense terrain.

With cameras rolling, the “Guardians” pursued an illegal logging operation deep into the jungle, employing satellite imagery, intelligence gathering and old-fashioned tracking along the way.

The portrait that emerged, which will be presented in documentary form on ABC News Live on Friday and broadcast as a special edition of "Nightline" on Tuesday, captured a complex struggle, featuring powerful industrial interests, complicit tribal villagers, indifferent government agencies — and an ever-present fear of violent reprisals.

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They suspect a caravan of illegal loggers felling trees on their reservation. The police are not coming, but the natives have a plan to fight back. The “forest guardians,” as they call themselves, hurry to a choke point in the local network of rutted dirt roads and lay in wait, armed with rifles and handguns.

One tribesman is seen stringing his bow, while another takes aim at the helicopter with an arrow. Other images show small clusters of tribesmen looking bewildered as they stare at the helicopter I felt there was a mutual curiosity, on their part and mine. I felt like I was a painter in the last century.

Laercio, for his part, said he “never” leaves his house unarmed.

“I have to defend myself in every possible way,” Laercio told ABC News. “Because I don't want to die.”

Success for the group is often hard-fought and short-lived.

After two days of patrolling — often in the middle of the night in order to avoid detection — Laercio and the “Guardians” surprised a small cadre of illegal loggers on their land. Armed with guns, clubs, and even bows and arrows, they quickly captured seven men who appear to have been collecting lumber for eventual sale to local ranchers.

But it’s clear that these detainees are low-level players in the industry, a small part of a big problem. One of them, a younger man, told his captors that extreme poverty had made this type of work a necessity.

“I don’t have anything, nothing,” he said. “I am very poor. So I came here to try and make a living.”

The “Guardians” burned the lumber and drove seven hours to deliver their prisoners to the federal police headquarters in Imperatriz, where they were charged with illegally entering indigenous territory and released the following day.

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Illegal loggers send teams into the forest to identify these trees, and then they come in stealthily later and cut them down. This area isn't the only one having armed conflicts. Indigenous groups have also been taking up arms in parts of the Amazon to fight for their ancestral lands.

In the battle for the Amazon rainforest, illegal loggers desperate to market natural resources battle indigenous people fighting the disappearance of their homeland. Last month, Reuters photographer Lunae Parracho photographed Brazil’s Ka’apor Indians in the Alto Turiacu Indian reserve capturing

Laercio expects the Guajajara will see them again.

“But I think it will remain the same, the justice will take them, but soon they will release them,” Laercio told ABC News. “Soon they will be in the forest destroying again, right? Because there will be no severe punishment for them.”

Watch the full documentary “Guardians of the Amazon” on the streaming news channel ABC News Live Friday at 8 p.m. ET. A special version of the documentary will air on “Nightline” on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC.

But the “Guardians” are also standing against some of the most powerful political and economic forces in the country.

According to the Guajajara, the devastation of their homeland has accelerated since the election of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro — known as the “Trump of the Tropics” — who has openly called for the development of the Amazon and has a history of disparaging the indigenous people who oppose it.

“The Indians do not speak our language,” Bolsonaro said in 2015. “They have no money. They are a sad people. They have to integrate into our society.”

Bolsonaro has faced widespread condemnation from the international community as scientists fear that the Amazon may be at a crucial tipping point, one that threatens its continued ability to mitigate global climate change.

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Protect the lone Amazonian tribesman . He deserves to live in peace | Fiona Watson. Loggers , farmers and land grabbers murdered and expelled indigenous populations in the area in the David Hill: The A’I Cofan in the Amazon fight back against small-scale gold-miners invading their land and

VICE News travels to Brazil, where the Tembe tribe has been forced to take up arms to protect their land from illegal loggers and settlers. As tension escalates, the Tembe people have now been forced to take up arms and confront the loggers , sparking violent clashes deep within the jungle.

But Bolsonaro’s office declined ABC News’ request for an interview with the president and directed questions about the issue to much-criticized environmental minister Ricardo Salles. Since taking office, Salles has slashed his own agency’s budget and reduced fines for businesses that commit environmental crimes.

In response to questions from ABC News, Salles offered a series of commitments from the federal government to indigenous people that appeared at odds with their reality in the rainforest.

“If it's the group decision,” Salles told ABC News, “they want to continue their way of life exactly as it is, and some sort of assurance that they need for the federal government, that's for sure.”

Laercio suggested that the federal government’s stance doesn’t match the reality in the rainforest.

“Bolsonaro needs to see this, to realize who are the real criminal[s],” Laercio told ABC News. “If he supports this kind of thing in the forest, he is the same as these guys here.”

Battles have casualties, and this one is no different.

According to Survival International, an international advocacy group for tribal people, more than 80 members of the Guajajara tribe have been killed defending their land over the last two decades.

Just a few weeks after ABC News left Brazil, Laercio and his friend and deputy Paulo Guajajara were ambushed, presumably by loggers, while they were hunting for food in the rainforest. Laercio was shot twice but managed to escape. Paulo, however, was killed.

Two suspects have been charged with “involuntary manslaughter” for his death, but legal experts say the men are unlikely to be prosecuted for what the government considers an “accidental” shooting.

Laercio does not expect justice for his friend, and though he is devastated by the loss, he believes the battle between the “Guardians” and the “invaders,” will continue for as long as there is a rainforest to defend.

“From what I've been observing for some time now,” Laercio said. “This represents the beginning of a war.”

Watch the full documentary “Guardians of the Amazon” on the streaming news channel ABC News Live Friday at 8 p.m. ET. A special version of the documentary will air on “Nightline” on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC.

ABC News’ Dylan Goetz and Allie Yang contributed to this report.

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