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Illegal logging, land grabbing and deaths of Zé Claudio and Maria do Espirito Santo, Pará, Brazil

"The story of Amazon destruction and those who are fighting against it does not end with the death of Zé Claudio and Maria. Hardly. As you read this, hundreds of rural environmental activists face death threats in Brazil."


Marabá is at the heart of deforestation by ranchers and loggers in the state of Pará. In Nova Ipixuna, near Marabá, there was an attempt to build up a sustainable agro-extractivist reserve (where "extractivism" is used in the sense of Chico Mendes' "extractive reserves"), preserving the castanhais, the chestnut forests of Bertholletia excelsa. On 24 May 2011 José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, who had been leading the Praia Alta Piranheira Extractive Reserve Project, trying to stop land grabbing by outsiders, were ambushed near their home and shot repeatedly. They had received death threats in the past from loggers and cattle ranchers as a result of their work defending the rainforest, and had reported the threats to the police. In November 2010, at an international conference in Manaus, José Cláudio Ribeiros da Silva expressed concern for his own safety [4] as a result of threats he had received, and predicted that he would be killed as a result of his work.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Illegal logging, land grabbing and deaths of Zé Claudio and Maria do Espirito Santo, Pará, Brazil
State or province:Pará
Location of conflict:Nova Ipixuna
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Logging and non timber extraction
Land acquisition conflicts
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Timber
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In this case the project was not of destruction of nature but of conservation of nature in order to give acces to land to needed people and stop illegal logging. Praia Alta Piranheira Extractive Reserve Project, Nova Ipixuna, was a conservation project started in 1997, for livelihood, making 22 000 ha available to 400 families, based on the "sustainable agro-extractivism" of Chico Mendes' "extractive reserves" principle. It ran into internal and external trouble because of deforestation, land grabbing, and particularly illegal logging. By 2010, José Claudio and Maria still continued to defend the forest, and particularly the chestnut trees. They sold products, made oil. They were killed in May 2011. Maria referred in an interview with Felipe Milanez to her life as "daring to live together with the forest", "a ousadia de comviver com a floresta".

Project area:22,000
Affected Population:2,000
Start of the conflict:2006
Relevant government actors:Courts of Justice
ICREA (land reform institute)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:CPT (Commissao Pastoral da Terra).
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Everyday peaceful resistance against illegal logging
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsThe conservation project tried to preserve the forest, Zé Claudio often expressed reverence towards the big chestnuts trees, "their majesties". Loggers and grileiros cut down the trees and appropriated the land, for ranching.
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project of preserving the forest of castanha do Pará in that particular location failed. However, the court case against the killers of José Claudio and Maria made slow progress and in December 2016 the notorious grileiro (land grabber) Jose Rodrigues Moreira who ordered the killing, was sentenced on appeal to 60 years in prison - but he had got away long before this court decision. [3]
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Felipe Milanez Pereira, 2015, doctoral thesis in Portuguese, "A ousadia de conviver com a floresta": uma ecologia política do extrativismo na Amazônia. Coimbra : [s.n.], 2015. Tese de doutoramento. . The thesis includes long interviews with Maria and Zé Claudio.
[click to view]

[1]Case History: Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva
[click to view]

[3] 2016. Zé Claudio e Maria: justiça histórica, por Felipe Milanez — 12/12/2016. Em um segundo julgamento, José Rodrigues Moreira, apontado como mandante do assassinato, foi condenado a 60 anos de prisão
[click to view]

[5] 2013. O gosto amargo da impunidade, por Felipe Milanez — 27/05/2013. Assassinato de casal de ambientalistas Maria do Espírito Santo e José Cláudio Ribeiro, no Pará, completa dois anos com pistoleiros na cadeia e mandante solto.
[click to view]

Tom Phillips, Hundreds of Brazil's eco-warriors at risk of assassination
[click to view]

Tom Phillips, Amazon rainforest activist shot dead.
[click to view]

David Hill interviews Felipe Milanez on Zé Claudio and Maria: You say “humanitarian catastrophe.” Can you elaborate? FM: I mean the genocides, ethnocides, epistemicides, slavery, forced displacement of social groups, dispossession and the disruption of social systems. This is happening today in different parts of Brazil. From 2003 to 2014 there were 390 Indians killed in Mato Grosso do Sul, mostly Kaiowa Guarani, fundamentally in conflict with ranchers and soya plantations. The Guarani consider this genocide. And to combat falling commodity prices, the government now wants to increase extraction of natural resources such as iron ore and weaken indigenous rights and the rights of nature. The Belo Monte mega-dam alone affects 12 indigenous lands and 21 maroon communities.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[4] Zé Claudio Ribeiro's speech, a few months before his death (with rather bad English subtitles)
[click to view]

The Crying Forest. Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo follows the story of an activist who lived and died for the Amazon Rainforest. 07 Nov 2011. Elizondo, who covered the aftermath of the couple's murder for Al Jazeera, travels to the activist's former home, a rainforest settlement now abandoned by terrified family members and friends.
[click to view]

Amazon Deforestation & Slavery Toxic VICE (an excellent video)
[click to view]

Other comments:Felipe Milanez (2015): "This thesis elaborates on a core case-study, the murder of Maria do Espírito Santo and José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, a couple of ‘environmentalists´of the people’ in the southeast part of the state of Para, in the Eastern Amazon, to investigate broader contradictions of development and the role of violence and resistance in socio-environmental conflicts, focusing on subalternized classes in the struggle for the commons and alternatives to existence... My hypothesis is that there is a main contradiction between the role of state institutions and the economic model, which produces a permanent tension between public interests and private benefits; this tends to produce an antidemocratic association of interests between State and the private sector, which limits the exercise of politics, understood as the opposite of violence. Building upon the analytical framework of Political Ecology, I investigate the expansion of capitalism from its main effect of "time-space compression" in unequal global exchange, a process that constructs spaces of extraction where any obstacle to the advancement of capital must be violently removed. In order to situate locally the understanding of violence in environmental conflicts, I propose a socio-historical review of the forestry space of the castanhais (chestnut forest) of Bertholletia excelsa (Brazilian nut) as an anthropogenic environment, inhabited by human populations through the past 9.000 years and, until recently, a territory occupied by Tupi and Macro-Jê Amerindians populations. This anthropogenic forest has been transformed into a space of territorial and environmental conflicts through the expansion of capitalism and enclosures during the last century. Using the sociological perspective of the "ecology of knowledges", I develop a process of investigation that aims to articulate different experiences in the construction of economic alternatives and alternative forms of existence as they emerge from the struggle of labor/ social movements in the rural areas of Amazonia. These are built around the idea of agroextractivism as a possible alternative to sustainable development and deforestation, in a counter-hegemonic movement against the privatization of the commons and overexploitation of labour. .. The main theoretical contribution of the thesis is a reflection on the concept of "dare" (ousadia), as Maria do Espírito Santo would describe what motivates her and Zé Claudio to fight for the forest..."[2]
Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2587
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