Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Open letter signatures sought for students arrested in Brazil

The following email from UA geosciences professor Andy Cohen seeks signatures for an open letter calling for the release of 3 geology graduate students arrested in Brazil for collecting soil samples without the proper permits. The letter is below Andy's message:

Dear Colleagues,
As many of you are no doubt aware from the press, three US and two Brazilian
graduate students in geosciences were recently arrested while doing
paleoclimate/paleolimnology field work in the Pantanal region of western
Brazil. The students are Mike McGlue and Mark Trees from the University of
Arizona, Kelly Wendt from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Aguinaldo
Silva and Fabricio Corradini from the State University of Sao Paulo (UNESP). I
am the co-director of this research project (alongwith Mario Assine of UNESP)
and am writing to ask for your assistance by adding your name to the open
letter attached. Two of the US students were from the University of Arizona
working directly with me-the third Minnesota student was accompanying the UA
students to assist with sediment coring.

The circumstances of the student's arrest were that the UNESP permits which our
UA group thought in good faith covered our part of the team, turned out not to
be applicable to us. The initial charges were that the students were extracting
natural resources (there is gem smuggling from Bolivia in this area) and that
they were doing this extractive work without permits. The police were also
suspicious because one of the UA students is retired military. Finally, the
students were in Brazil on tourist visas, although this does not seem to be the
critical issue of why they were detained.

After their arrest the Brazilian students were released on bail after 2 days.
The American students were held in a jail cell for 9 days awaiting release on
bail. They were released on bail on June 25th, but must remain in Brazil
awaiting the outcome of the legal process. In Brazil this happens very slowly,
and could take months or even years. In the meantime these student's lives and
academic work are on hold.

I am writing to ask your help by simply adding your name to the attached letter
of support, which can be used to further demonstrate the nature of the
student's activities and the importance of their research to the Brazilian
authorities. Several similar letters have been circulating among the Brazilian
scientific community. I would be happy to share these with anyone who is

If you are willing to add your name to this letter simply write back a brief
note AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to let me know how you want your name and affiliation
to appear. If you hold a position as an officer of a professional society that
would add weight to the statement and are willing to be identified as such
please add that information. And finally, please send this message along to
anyone else not on this email who you think might be interested in signing. I
will take care of the rest. Time is critical because the police are finishing
their part of the investigation, which will determine charges to be brought
forward-it is important to act now to help insure that the most serious of the
charges (which have potential prison time) are dropped.

Thank you very much for your help in advance

Andy Cohen

Andrew S. Cohen
Professor of Geosciences and Joint Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

Andrew S. Cohen
Department of Geosciences
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
Tel 520-621-4691
Fax 520-621-2672

Statement for signature by American scientists (to be translated and issued in both English and Portuguese):

Three American graduate students, Michael McGlue and Mark Trees (U. Arizona), and Kelly Wendt (U. Minnesota), working with two Brazilian colleagues, Aguinaldo Silva and Fabricio Corradini (Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul ) were arrested on June 17, while doing paleoclimate and environmental change field work in the Pantanal, north of Corumba. This research project has investigated how changing climate conditions in the recent geological past have affected the Pantanal ecosystem, world famous as one of the Earth’s largest wetlands. The UA research team, under the direction of Professor Andrew Cohen and in collaboration with Prof. Mario Assine of UNESP does this research by collecting short sediment cores from the bottom of lakes and wetlands in the Pantanal region. The cores provide records of past climate as particles sensitive to climate change settle to the bottom of the lake. Lake and wetland deposits are well known for their ability to provide detailed information about global warming and other aspects of environmental change.

Since its inception the project has offered an opportunity for Brazilian and American scientists to work together, and obtain important training on climate and environmental research methods. Two UNESP scientists spent 3 months at the University of Arizona in 2008 working on this project in Tucson and taking advantage of UA facilities for the collaborative effort and UA scientists have made several visits to the Pantanal with the Brazilian team.

The five researchers were initially arrested and charged with Article 2nd, paragraph 1st, law # 8176/91 and Articles 44 and 55, law 9605/98, charges primarily related to the extraction of mineral resources and permit violations. The charge that these researchers were involved in minerals or natural resource exploitation of any kind is simply untrue-the sediment cores are only collected to interpret signals of environmental change such as global warming and its affect on the Pantanal region. The Students were working in good faith under the Geosciences Research Project grant on research and collaborating with Brazilian scientists at the time of their arrests. The University of Arizona and the Students each believed that all of the necessary Brazilian research permits were in place to authorize the research The Brazilian environment, and especially the Pantanal region benefits greatly from this type of environmental research from sediment cores, since it gives clear signals of how such changes have affected and will affect the region in the future.

We the undersigned can understand why the authorities initially may have questioned the legality and appropriateness of what the researchers were doing. But with a clear understanding of the beneficial nature of this research program, we urge the authorities to treat this issue as a simple misunderstanding on the researcher’s part of permit requirements. We respectfully request that the US students be permitted to return to the United States as soon as possible to continue their education and research.


  1. Would it be ok to post a link to this from my blog?

  2. Kim, I think my colleagues at U. Arizona would greatly appreciate you doing so.

    I'm just back from the monthly dinner meeting of the Arizona Geological Society and there was a lot of interest and requests on how to sign onto the letter.

    Thanks for helping get the word out.

  3. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Could I sign just as a friend? One of these students is a good friend of mine and I would like to do anything I can. I am not part of the scientific community.

  4. Andy Cohen has been asking people to contact him directly about signing the letter, so I recommend you email him and pose this question.

    He told me this morning he's being inundated with offers to sign, so he may not be able to respond immediately. Thanks for your support.

  5. I found this thanks to the cross-posting on numerous geoscience and environmental science blogs. I hope that the Brazilian authorities are prompted to act by all this attention, and I will be contacting Professor Cohen directly.

  6. Anonymous11:20 AM

    I appreciate all of your interest and desire to help in this matter. We are OK and hope this saga ends soon. At this point, we just want to go home.

    Mark T

  7. I would like to sign the letter.

    Kush Tandon
    Project Geoscientist
    Fugro-Jason, Inc.