The Evolved Person of the Week: Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Páez Terán 

Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s’ “Evolved Person of the Week” profile. Each week we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved person, famous and non-famous individual alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to the activist, organizer, and forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran. 

Tortuguita was an Indigenous Venezuelan who was also queer and nonbinary. They were a forest defender killed during a SWAT operation to clear a protest camp, per The Appeal. In a statement to multiple media outlets, an anonymous forest defender stated that gunfire was heard Wednesday morning of January 23, 2023, around 9 A.M., Authorities have claimed that officers told Tortuguita to exit their tent and were the first to shoot, injuring a Georgia State Patrol Trooper.

In Georgia, the family members of environmental activist Tortuguita said multiple Atlanta police officers shot the 26-year-old at least 13 times, killing Tortuguita during a raid in January 2023 on a peaceful encampment of protesters opposed to the proposed construction of “Cop City,” a $90 million police training complex in the Weelaunee Forest. The family conducted a private autopsy of Terán, who went by the name Tortuguita and demanded access to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the fatal shooting. Tortuguita’s family, including their mother Belkis, spoke out publicly for the first time at a press conference outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in February 2023. 

GoFundMe for the activist’s funeral costs states that Tortuguita was “always the biggest light in any room they entered.” The Atlanta Press Collective wrote that Tortuguita “spent their time between Atlanta, defending the forest from destruction and coordinating mutual aid for the movement and Florida where they helped build housing in low-income communities hit hardest by the hurricane. They were a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more,” the statement read.

Tortuguita perhaps knew that his activism would put him in conflict with the state power, but he dedicated his life to making the world a little better. Here is Tortuguita in their own words:

“Am I scared of the state? Pretty silly not to be. I’m a brown person. I might be killed by the police for existing in certain spaces. But fear is the mind-killer…you can’t let fear stop you from doing things, from living, from existing, from resisting.”

At the Evolving Man Project, we want to say to Tortuguita, rest in power. We stand in solidarity with the forest defenders in Atlanta and people across the globe fighting to protect Mother Nature’s environment from harm and extraction. Today we honor Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran as our Evolved Person of the Week. 

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