Brazil's indigenous people swear to fight for Amazon 'to last drop of blood'

By Jake Spring

CANUTAMA, Brazil (Reuters) - Members of Brazil's Mura indigenous tribe painted their bodies with orange-red paint and took up long bows and clubs as they headed into the jungle this week, prepared for battle. Their enemy? The deforestation and destruction of their home, the Amazon rainforest.

There are more than 18,000 Mura that live in Amazonas state, the largest and best-preserved state in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, according to data compiled by the non-government organization Instituto Socioambiental.

Members of the tribe showed Reuters an area the size of several football fields near their village, where the forest had been cleared away, leaving a broad dirt hole in the ground pockmarked by the treads of heavy machinery.

"With each passing day, we see the destruction advance: deforestation, invasion, logging," said Handerch Wakana Mura, one of several leaders of a tribal clan of more than 60 people.

"We are sad because the forest is dying at every moment. We feel the climate changing and the world needs the forest."

Indeed, Amazon deforestation has surged 67% in the first seven months of the year from the same period a year ago, according to Brazil space research agency INPE.

This week, the agency said forest fires were up more than 80% in the country year-to-date, hitting their highest point since at least 2013.

Everywhere in the region around the Mura village, pockets of fire were raging.

Environmentalists blame right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has called for the development of protected reserves and railed against environmental fines, emboldening loggers and farmers who seek to clear the land, sometimes by setting fires.

Indeed, the clan has not been able to stop the loggers. Deforestation in the area began four years ago, and only last year did authorities chase out loggers and those extracting rocks to build a nearby roadway.

Logging subsequently jumped across the roadway, with a huge area of downed trees visible by drone.

When that abated, the Mura came upon a path through the jungle nearby that had recently been hewn with chainsaws and machetes - a logging path and the first sign of a new area that would be targeted.

This time, the path runs particularly close to a group of Brazil nut trees the clan harvests, a major traditional food source for indigenous people in the area, Handerch Wakana Mura and other tribal leaders say.

The Mura clan plans to fight against loggers and others exploiting the land by filing complaints with the country's environmental enforcement agency and public prosecutors.

They have struggled for nearly 20 years to have the land around their village demarcated as an official indigenous reserve, a move that would bring added protections, Handerch Wakana Mura said.

The clan says it will be a tough battle, with Bolsonaro having vowed not to set aside any more tribal land.

Leader Raimundo Praia Belem Mura, a 73-year-old who has lived on the land his entire life, has vowed to fight to the bitter end.

"For this forest, I will go on until my last drop of blood," he said.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Bernadette Baum)