Brazilian indigenous agency workers strike after Amazon killings


Employees of FUNAI, the government agency responsible for the protection and interests of the indigenous Brazilian population, said that working in the Amazon has become dangerous and in some cases deadly.

In a statement ahead of the action, strikers had called for “the immediate protection of our indigenous colleagues, indigenous peoples and their leaders, organizations and territories”, and demanded the resignation of FUNAI President Marcelo Xavier.

A FUNAI strike official told CNN they did not feel their safety was being taken seriously.

“We travel in precarious boats, without equipment such as a radio or satellite telephones,” the worker said on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the press. The worker complained of a “lack of basic infrastructure, transportation, protective equipment (and) inspection personnel”.

CNN has contacted FUNAI for comment on the strikes and the claims of the participating workers.

Workers also criticized the investigation into the deaths of Pereira and Phillips for being delayed and failing to focus on links between organized crime and illegal activities in the Amazon.

Brazil’s federal police say no line of inquiry has been rejected. Several suspects have already been arrested for the murders and at least five other suspects are under investigation for alleged involvement in hiding the bodies.

Phillips and Pereira, whose murders were condemned worldwide and sparked a heated debate over the safety of the Amazon, traveled in the remote Javari Valley before being murdered. Their boat was later found capsized with six bags of sand to make it difficult to float, according to a report from the civil police.

Phillips, a veteran journalist who covered extensively on Brazil’s most marginalized groups and the destruction wrought by criminal actors in the Amazon, had traveled with Pereira to research conservation efforts in the remote Javari Valley.

Although the wild Javari Valley is formally protected by the government, like other designated indigenous lands in Brazil, it is plagued by illegal mining, logging, hunting and international drug trafficking – often bringing violence in their wake as perpetrators clash with environmental and indigenous rights activists.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 300 people were killed in Brazil between 2009 and 2019 amid conflicts over land and resources in the Amazon, citing figures from the Pastoral Land Commission, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Catholic Church.

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And in 2020, Global Witness ranked Brazil as the fourth most dangerous country for environmental activism, based on documented killings of environmental activists. Nearly three quarters of such attacks in Brazil have taken place in the Amazon region.

Indigenous peoples in Brazil have often been the target of such attacks and have suffered campaigns of intimidation. In early January, three environmentalists from the same family, who had developed a project to repopulate the local waters with baby turtles, were found dead in Brazil’s northern state of Pará. A police investigation is underway.

CNN’s Kara Fox and Rob Picheta contributed coverage.

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