“I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment,” said Ze Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, an Amazon rainforest activist, at an environmental conference in Manaus. Six months later Ze Claudio was dead – gunned down, alongside his wife Maria, on May 24, 2011 in a remote corner of the Brazilian Amazon.
Renowned for standing up to the illegal loggers and ranchers who have laid waste to the world’s greatest tropical forest, Ze Claudio had long known he was a marked man. Investigations into the assassination are ongoing, but few doubt he was killed because of this unflinching struggle in defence of the environment. After riddling his body with bullets, the gunmen cut off one of Jose Claudio’s ears – proof, police say, that they had successfully completed their mission.
The news of Ze Claudio’s sudden execution – widely publicised on social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook – transformed him into a martyr for the environmental movement, both in and outside of his native Brazil. At his wake, in the Amazon city of Maraba, admirers hung a handmade banner which read “The forest is crying”.
Since 1996, at least 212 Amazonian activists have been murdered because of the battle to preserve nature or over of land disputes with wealthy loggers – an average of 12 a year.
Using a mixture of original footage and interviews as well as powerful archive images of Ze Claudio predicting his own execution, The Crying Forest examines the forces at work behind this brutal death foretold. The film follows Al Jazeera’s Brazil correspondent Gabriel Elizondo as he travels through the Amazon region seeking to discover why Ze Claudio and Maria were killed, and by whom.
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. He meets some of the region’s “walking dead” – marked men and women who have been told they will die for standing up for the forest but who refuse to back down.