Brazil Indigenous Leader, Fighter For Rainforest Dies Of COVID-19

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Brazil Indigenous Leader, Fighter For Rainforest Dies Of COVID-19
Paulinho Paiakan drew international attention in the 1980s when he led an indigenous campaign against a hydroelectric dam in Brazil's Amazon basin.
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As the coronavirus pandemic reaches deeply into Brazil's Amazon basin, it has claimed the life of a renowned indigenous leader and defender of the rainforest.

Paulinho Paiakan, who died Wednesday, was chief of the Kayapó people. He drew international attention in the 1980s when he led an indigenous campaign seeking to protect the remote rainforest from construction of a giant hydro-electrical dam. 

Brazil's Belo Monte Dam ultimately opened in 2016. But Paiakan established himself as a leading voice for rainforest protection. He also fought illegal mining and logging and - more recently - vast land clearing for development, including with deliberately set fires.

Brazil is second in the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. The spread has now killed nearly 300 people in remote indigenous regions, including several Kayapó tribal elders.

In 2012, Paiakan reflected on his legacy with the help of an interpreter.

“I am known as Paiakan. In modern society, people call me Paulinho. I’m chief of my indigenous family. I am a warrior and I fight for my forest.”

He was 66.