Claudelice Silva dos Santos is a human rights and environmental activist from the forests of the Brazilian Amazon. She became a well-known human rights defender through her struggle for justice following the killing of her brother José Claudio Ribeiro dos Santos and her sister-in-law, Maria do Espírito Santo, in 2011.
I am from a traditional community in the state of Pará, in the north of Brazil. The region where I live is very rich in natural resources, but with visible inequality; it screams out to you. There are mega farms with hundreds of cattle where once upon a time there were forests. People go hungry, in the place where we have the largest industrial meat storage units in the country. And there have been many murders and massacres of communities who fight for their territories – indigenous, traditional, Quilombo communities - in the State of Pará and the Northern region in general.
My brother and sister-in-law were leaders of our community and in our struggle for land. Our settlement is home to a lot of forested land, which began to be heavily exploited by loggers, charcoal producers and land-grabbers. My brother and sister-in-law become involved in a very serious dispute with loggers and were reporting incidents of illegal exploitation of natural resources and death threats to the State, police, the Brazilian Environmental Protection agency, to public prosecution services – anyone they could. Nothing was done, and then they were murdered in 2011.
At first, we were very afraid, and we still are afraid, because even today we receive threats and experience violent attacks. In one recent incident, several vans with armed people attacked a settlement, shooting at people. People were fleeing in despair. But yet, we continue the struggle. When Zé and Maria were murdered, we joined forces with other people, many other people who are in the same situation, whose territories are threatened, whose way of life is under threat.
It is important to keep the forest alive, because for communities who live in the forest whether that’s the Amazon or another forest, this is not just about a bunch of trees. No, this is about people’s lives, it is about culture. When we protect this way of life, it is possible that we – the whole planet - can have a longer future.
But whilst we continue to treat people in the way that they are being treated - ejected from the land, criminalised, murdered, ousted - then we won’t have a very long future. We, the people who live in the forests, are the people who defend natural biodiversity. So, disregarding this is disregarding the entire significance of both the forests and the people who reside in them. And we all know the importance of forests to keeping the planet cool.
My country doesn’t need any more deforestation; deforestation has been happening for a long time and it is ongoing. Exploitation and destruction continue, and together with the destruction of the forest and the environment, people who live there are also being destroyed. Doesn’t that touch you?e Doesn’t it touch the rest of the world? To know that whilst you are buying meat, whilst you are buying wood, minerals, that all of these commodities are soaked in blood, because they come from conflict zones, because people are being kicked out of their territories and that hurts.
Everyone needs to be involved in protecting forests – from those who eat the end product, people who go to the supermarket, to the states who sit at the big negotiating tables. We need transparency in supply chains – states exporting and importing products like beef, soya or palm oil need to know where these products come from. We need laws to ensure big banks and companies do not violate human rights or fund deforestation.
And finally, I ask everyone to help make our struggles more visible. What I would say to society, is that if you don’t know about our struggle to keep the forest alive, for land, for water, try to learn about and support this struggle. Understand and get to know these stories and create visibility for these struggles; they should be a daily topic in our lives.
Everyone should be a forest defender, even those who live in cities, because I know that even big cities like this one, rely upon the forest. The entire planet relies upon living forests, it relies upon this great biodiversity. And that keeps this planet alive and beating like it still is.
Claudelice Silva dos Santos