What made Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira risk their lives

Sao Paulo (CNN) – Amazon veterans Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira must have known the dangers they faced when they set out for Atalaya do Norte, in the remote Javari Valley, in the Brazilian jungle, a journey that seems increasingly to have ended in tragedy. After Brazilian authorities said Wednesday that a suspect had confessed to killing them.

The police followed the suspect’s directions until they reached the human remains in the forest, but the forensic analysis to identify them is not yet complete.

Phillips’ wife Alessandra Sampaio said: “While we are still waiting for final confirmation, this tragic outcome puts an end to the pain of not knowing the whereabouts of Dom and Bruno. Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love.” a permit.

The couple, whose disappearance was first reported on June 5, received death threats before leaving, according to the coordinator of the indigenous organization, known as UNIVAJA. The men were aware of the often violent attacks taking place in the area by illegal miners, hunters, loggers and drug smugglers in the area, but they were equally dedicated to denouncing how this activity was spreading in Brazil’s wilderness protected areas, endangering their indigenous peoples. . accelerate deforestation.

Pereira, 41, a father of three, has spent most of his life serving the country’s indigenous peoples since joining the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Peoples Agency (FUNAI) in 2010. Pereira told CNN that the agency’s coordination unit office for isolated and newly connected indigenous peoples has Under his leadership in 2018, he participated in multiple operations to expel illegal miners from protected lands.

Pereira’s passion was evident in an interview with CNN last year. “I can’t stay away from ‘parents’ for long,” he said, referring to the indigenous people of the area with the term ‘parents’.

Phillips, 57, a respected British journalist who has lived in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, has brought environmental issues and the Amazon to the pages of the Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times, and particularly the Guardian. . Pereira was on leave from FUNAI after a broader restructuring of the agency when he joined forces with Phillips to help research a new book.

The planned book will be titled “How to Save the Amazon”.

In a video filmed in May in the village of Ashaninka in the northwestern state of Acre, and released by the Ashaninka Society, Phillips is heard explaining his efforts: “I came here (…) to learn from you, about your culture, and how they see ‘the jungle, how they live here and how They deal with threats from invaders, gold miners, and everything else.

Dom Phillips (center) talks with two indigenous people in Aldeia Maloca Papiú, Roraima state, Brazil, in 2019.

Risky project

Home to thousands of indigenous people and more than a dozen unconnected groups, Brazil’s Javari Valley is a mosaic of rivers and dense forests that make it extremely difficult to access. Criminal activity there often goes under the radar, or is just off the beaten path, and sometimes ends in a bloody feud.

In September 2019, Indigenous affairs worker Maxel Pereira dos Santos was killed in the same area, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Public Affairs. In a statement, a union group affiliated with FUNAI cited evidence that dos Santos’ killing was in retaliation for his efforts to combat illegal commercial extraction in the Javari Valley, Reuters reported at the time.

Across Brazil, encountering illegal activities in the Amazon can prove fatal, CNN previously reported. Between 2009 and 2019, more than 300 people were killed in Brazil amid disputes over land and resources in the Amazon region, according to Human Rights Watch, citing figures from the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic non-profit organization.

Critics have accused President Jair Bolsonaro’s government of fueling criminal networks involved in illegal resource extraction. Since coming to power in 2019, Bolsonaro has weakened federal agencies responsible for environmental issues, demonized organizations working to preserve rainforests and advocated economic growth on indigenous lands, arguing that it is in the interest of their well-being, with calls for “development” and “colonization.” and “merging” the Amazon.

Dom Phillips Bruno Pereira vigil

Vigil by Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.

Last year, Pereira lamented the decline in the state of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protection agencies under Bolsonaro’s presidency. But he also saw the silver lining, telling CNN that he believed the change would push the indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley to overcome historical divisions and forge alliances to protect their common interests.

However, in another interview with CNN later in the year, he was more cautious about the risks. Having proceeded from a trek through the jungle, his feet and legs covered with mosquito bites, Pereira described the reaction of criminal groups to the wild patrols of the indigenous population.

“[Las patrullas] I think they were surprised. “They believed that since the government withdrew from the operations, they would have free passage in the area,” Pereira said.

But neither Pereira nor Phillips would offer a “free pass” to exploit the Amazon.

“Dom knew the dangers of going into the Javari Valley, but thought the story was important enough to take on those risks,” Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment editor, told CNN.

“We knew it was a dangerous place, but Dom believed it was possible to protect nature and indigenous livelihoods,” his sister, Sian Phillips, said in a video last week urging the Bolsonaro government to step up its search. Men.

On Wednesday, Jaime Matsis, another indigenous leader in the Javari Valley, told CNN he recently met with Pereira to discuss a possible new project to monitor illegal activity on his community lands.

“He seemed happy,” Matsis recalls. “He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing. We saw him as a warrior like us.”

Another local leader, Cora Kamanari, told CNN on Wednesday that if his disappearance was intended to sow fear among those who would follow in his footsteps, it did not happen as they had hoped.

“We are more united than before and we will continue to fight until the last indigenous person dies,” he added.

Julia Koch contributed to this report.

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