What drew Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira to the Amazon?

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Police followed the suspect’s leads to human remains in the jungle, but forensic analysis to identify them has not yet been completed.

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

The couple, first reported missing on June 5, had received death threats before their departure, according to the Coordination of the Indigenous Organization known as UNIVAJA. They were all well aware of the often violent incursions of illegal miners, hunters, loggers and drug traffickers in the area, but they were equally committed to exposing how such activities are plaguing Brazil’s protected wild areas, putting the indigenous peoples at risk. and accelerate deforestation.

Pereira, a 41-year-old father of three, has spent much of his life serving the country’s indigenous peoples since joining the Brazilian Government’s Indigenous Body (FUNAI) in 2010. led a major expedition under his leadership in 2018 to contact isolated indigenous peoples, and that he had participated in multiple operations to expel illegal miners from protected areas.

Pereira’s passion was revealed in an interview with CNN last year. “I can’t stay away from the parenting‘ he said, referring to the region’s indigenous people with the affectionate term ‘relatives’.

Phillips, 57, a widely respected British journalist who had lived in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, brought environmental issues and the Amazon to the pages of the Financial Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times and most importantly The Guardian. Pereira was on leave from FUNAI amid wider agency turmoil when he joined Phillips to help research a new book.

The planned book would be titled ‘How to Save the Amazon’.

In a video filmed in May in a village in Ashaninka in the northwestern state of Acre, and released by the Ashaninka Association, Phillips can be heard explaining his efforts: “I came here . . . to meet with you. learn about your culture, how you see the forest, how you live here and how you deal with threats from invaders and prospectors and everything else.”

Dom Phillips (C) talks to two indigenous men in Aldeia Maloca Papiú, Roraima State, Brazil in 2019.

A dangerous undertaking

Brazil’s vast Javari Valley, home to thousands of indigenous people and more than a dozen uncontacted groups, is a patchwork of rivers and dense forest that makes access very difficult. Criminal activity there often goes under the radar, or only encounters indigenous patrols – sometimes ending in bloody conflict.

According to the Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office, Indigenous Affairs officer Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was murdered in the same area in September 2019. In a statement, a FUNAI union group cited evidence that the murder of Dos Santos was in retaliation for his efforts to fight illegal commercial mining in the Javari Valley, Reuters reported at the time.

Across Brazil, standing up to illegal activities in the Amazon can be deadly, as CNN has previously reported. More than 300 people were killed in Brazil between 2009 and 2019 amid conflicts over land and resources in the Amazon, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), citing figures from the Catholic nonprofit Pastoral Land Commission.

Critics have accused President Jair Bolsonaro’s government of encouraging criminal networks involved in the illegal extraction of resources. Since taking power in 2019, Bolsonaro has weakened federal environmental agencies, demonized organizations committed to rainforest conservation and promoted economic growth on indigenous lands — arguing it’s for the good of indigenous groups — with calls to “develop, “colonize” and “integrate” the Amazon.
Candles flicker at a wake for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.

Pereira last year lamented the deteriorating state of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protection agencies under Bolsonaro’s presidency. But he also saw a bright side, telling CNN that he thought the shift would push the indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley to overcome historical divisions and form alliances to protect their shared interests.

However, in another interview with CNN later in the year, he was more cautious about the dangers. Just back from a trip to the rainforest, feet and legs covered in mosquito bites, Pereira described a response of criminal groups to indigenous territorial patrols.

†[The patrols] surprised them, I think. They thought that as the government pulls out of operations, they would have free access to the region,” Pereira said.

But neither Pereira nor Phillips would give a “free pass” to the exploitation of the Amazon.

“Dom knew the risks of visiting the Javari Valley, but he thought the story was important enough for him to take those risks,” Jonathan Watts, global environmental editor for the Guardian told CNN.

“We knew it was a dangerous place, but Dom believes it is possible to protect the wildlife and livelihoods of the indigenous people,” his sister, Sian Phillips, said in a video last week in which he joined the government of the United States. Bolsonaro urged to intensify her search for the indigenous people. couple.

On Wednesday, Jaime Matsés, another local indigenous leader in the Javari Valley, told CNN that he recently met with Pereira to discuss a new potential project to monitor illegal activities on his community’s territory.

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

And if their disappearance was intended to sow fear among those who would follow in their footsteps, it has backfired, Kora Kamanari, another local leader, told CNN on Wednesday.

“We are more united than before and will continue to fight until the last native is killed.”

Julia Koch contributed reporting.



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