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Born in 1974 in Brazil, Benki Piyãko is an Ashaninka spiritual leader and an ambassador of his people. During his lifetime, confronted with constant invasions and criminal deforestation made by illegal wood loggers, cattle farmers and drug dealers in their territory, Benki assumed a leading role in representing his people in many historical events within the human rights and environmental movements since the UN Rio92 Conference.
Without ever being distant from his community, Benki has devoted much of his efforts to reforesting degraded lands within the Western Amazon region through initiatives that engaged many people from the region as well as from other places around the world. Because of these efforts, which included helping to mobilise military forces to defend the Ashaninka territory from illegal wood loggers crossing the border from Peru, Benki earned the Brazilian National Award for the Defense of Human Rights in 2004 and, since then, has focused his efforts in developing local centers for educating communities to improve their relationship with nature through different strategies.
One of the first initiatives led by Benki has been establishment of Yorenka Ãtame Center by Apiwtxa – his community’s association. Translated to Portuguese, it means “Knowledge of the Forest Centre”. This convening space, since its creation, has benefited over 4000 people, the planting of over two million trees and granted the association the prestigious Chico Mendes Award. More recently, Benki was granted the Human Rights Award of 2013 by the City of Weimar, in Germany.
In 2019, Benki founded the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute envisioning the implentation of actions inspired by his indigenous sacred conception of nature as a strategy to tackle anthropogenic impacts on the environment more effectively. In this new effort, Benki is motivated to fight climate change and other environmental crisis through significant, concrete, persistent and locally driven actions, including efforts to the cultivation ten million trees over the next years in the Amazon Basin.
The harm done to the Amazon due to inefficient environmental policies and law enforcement in Brazil has caused major impacts over global warming since preserving the forest helps release oxygen, store carbon dioxide and keep the whole South American water cycle alive.
Brazilian current president, Mr. Bolsonaro, has for a long time argued that environmental and human rights policies hinder economic development. Since his mandate began, in 2019, his government has weakened enforcement of environmental laws by cutting funding and personnel at key government agencies, stopping efforts to fight illegal logging, mining and ranching. The result is a sharp increase of 30% in the deforestation rate of the Amazon forest comparing to the previous year and the highest net loss since 2008. Only from August 2018 through July of this year, an area equivalent to 12 times the size of New York City of pristine forest has been destroyed.
The harm done to the Amazon due to inefficient action to prevent deforestation in Brazil has caused major impacts over global warming since the forest functions as the Earth’s “lungs” for its vast capacity to release oxygen and store carbon dioxide. Many experts say such destruction rate could quickly become an irreversible process transforming the Amazon into a wide savanna area, no longer able to store as much carbon.
Political backlash following Mr. Bolsonaro election fostered invasions into indigenous territories, endangering many of their leaders. Recently, a young indigenous land defender called Paulo Guajajara has been shot dead and another wounded by illegal loggers inside the Arariboia reservation in eastern Amazon. He was a member of Guardians of the Forest, a group formed to combat logging gangs in the area. Besides him, at least other three Guardians have previously been killed, along with many of their relatives, according to information gathered by Survival International. In the rest of the Amazon, the reality is no different. According to Global Witness, Brazil is the country in the world that is almost always at the top of the list in the number of murders of environmental defenders and this tends to increase in the current scenario.