Masters of the Lost Land
The Untold Story of the Amazon and the Violent Fight for the World's Last Frontier
by Heriberto Araujo
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Pub Date 17 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 14 Mar 2023
In the tradition of Killers of the Flower Moon, a haunting murder mystery revealing the human story behind one of the most devastating crimes of our time: the ruthless destruction of the Amazon rain forest—and anyone who stands in the way
Deep in the heart of the Amazon, the city of Rondon do Pará, Brazil, lived for decades in the shadow of land barons, or fazendeiros, who maintained control of the region through unscrupulous land grabs and egregious human rights violations. They razed and burned the jungle, expelled small-scale farmers and Indigenous tribes from their lands, and treated their farmhands as slaves—all with impunity. The only true opposition came from Rondon’s small but robust farmworkers’ union, led by the charismatic Dezinho, who fought to put power back into the hands of the people who called the Amazon home. But when Dezinho was assassinated in cold blood, it seemed the farmworkers’ struggle had come to a violent and fruitless end.
What no one anticipated was that this event would bring forth an unlikely hero: Dezinho’s widow. Against great odds, and at extreme personal risk, Maria Joel, now a single mother of four young children, used her ingenuity and unwavering support from union members to bring her husband’s killer to account in court. Her campaign gained unexpected momentum, helping to bring international attention to the dire situation in Rondon, from Brazil’s president Lula to international celebrities and civil rights groups.
Maria Joel’s fight for justice had far-reaching implications: it unearthed a chilling world of corruption and lawlessness rooted in Brazil’s quest to turn the largest rain forest on earth into an economic frontier. As more details came out, it began to look increasingly likely that Dezinho’s killer, a reluctant and inexperienced gunman, was just one piece of a larger criminal consortium, with ties leading all the way up to one of the region’s most powerful and notorious fazendeiros of all.
Featuring groundbreaking revelations and exclusive interviews, this gripping work of narrative nonfiction is the culmination of journalist Heriberto Araujo’s years-long investigation in the heart of the Amazon. Set against the backdrop of appalling deforestation rates and resultant superfires, Masters of the Lost Land vividly reveals the human story behind the loss of—and fierce crusade to protect—one of our greatest resources in the fight against climate change and one of the last wild places on earth.