“We will not give up”: Brazil demands justice for Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips

Political and societal figures denounce the federal government’s disregard for the Amazon region and demand the protection of indigenous peoples

June 17, 2022 by Brasil de Fato
Indigenous leaders protest against the federal government in front of the Ministry of Justice - Evaristo Sá/AFP

Figures from Brazilian politics and society have expressed their regret and indignation over the probable murders of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips. The Federal Police (PF) reported on Wednesday night, June 15, that it had found bodies that may belong to the British journalist Dom Phillips and the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) Indigenous rights activist Bruno Pereira, and had secured the confession of one of those involved in the deaths. 

“Hard to wake up in one of the countries that kills the most environmental defenders. They want us to give up, but we will not give up. Brazil is Indigenous land and we will make our whole lives a life of struggle for our peoples!”, said the executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil and pre-candidate for federal deputy Sônia Guajajara (PSOL-SP), in her Twitter account.

In a joint note, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and former Governor Geraldo Alckmin expressed solidarity with the families of Bruno and Dom, who “dedicated their lives to doing good. That is why they traveled the interior of Brazil, helping, protecting, and telling of the life, values, and suffering of indigenous peoples.”

“The world knows that this crime is directly related to the dismantling of public policies to protect Indigenous peoples. It is also directly related to the encouragement of violence by the current government of the country,” they denounced.

Indigenous entities and civil society demand investigations into the deaths of Bruno and Dom

The Union of Indigenous Peoples of Vale do Javari (UNIJAVA), an Indigenous organization that closely followed the search for the two men, considered the deaths as “inestimable losses” and demanded the continuation of investigations both to elucidate the case, which they classify as a “political crime”, and to guarantee the protection of other threatened people in the region.

In the letter, UNIJAVA states that it sent letters to the Federal Public Ministry and the Federal Police indicating the “composition of a gang of professional fishermen and hunters, linked to drug traffickers, who illegally enter our territories to extract our natural resources and sell them in neighboring municipalities. But measures were not taken fast enough. That is why today we are witnessing the murder of our partners.”

The organization demands the continuation of the investigations. “Pelado and Dos Santos are part of a larger group, we know. We express concern for our lives, the lives of the people threatened (because it was not only Bruno Pereira), components of the Indigenous movement, when the armed forces and the press leave Atalaia do Norte. What will happen to us?”

The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) recalled in a statement the “staunch activism” of Dom and Bruno in defense of Indigenous peoples, which gave them “true recognition and extraordinary esteem by the Indigenous peoples, their allies and all good people.” The text also demands that the murders “be immediately investigated, reaching all the actors who profit and participate in the invasion and illegal exploitation schemes in the Vale do Javari IT. We also demand that the political responsibilities that allowed the death of Bruno and Dom be investigated. 

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) expressed its solidarity with the families and its “regret and deep sadness” over the loss on its Twitter account. “Our solidarity with the families of those who were defenders of indigenous peoples, allies of our struggles.” 

The victims

Bruno Pereira was a licensed public servant at the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), and had been working in partnership with the leaders of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of Vale do Javari since 2019. In the same year, he was removed from his position as head of the unit in Vale do Javari after supporting operations to combat illegal mining. 

Rubens Valente, a journalist who had known Bruno for more than 9 years, also spoke out. “He was faithful to the noblest tradition of Brazilian indigenism, humanistic, altruistic,” he said. “He was murdered when the government turned its back on him, that is, betrayed one of its best. He was abandoned to his own fate by a state he represented so well.”

Dom Phillips was a prestigious international reporter who lived for 15 years in Brazil, first in São Paulo, then in Bahia. He switched from covering the music world in England to devote himself to the socio-environmental problems in Brazil, with recurring contributions to the British newspaper The Guardian.

Before his disappearance, Phillips was invited by Pereira to do interviews with riverbank dwellers and indigenous people. The reporter’s goal was to get a closer look at the reality of the Amazon region, where residents suffer from illegal fishing and hunting, drug trafficking, and mining. 

Since 2019, when he left FUNAI, Pereira had been working in partnership with the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA), conducting a surveillance and monitoring program of the territory and strengthening the self-defense of the indigenous people. For this reason, he had been the target of death threats days before his disappearance. 

“Who ordered the killing of Bruno and Dom?”

With the possible end of the search for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, after the Federal Police (PF) located what could be their bodies, the feeling of insecurity grows among Indigenous leaders who fight for the defense of their territories, as do the peoples of the Javari Valley (AM). It was in this region that the FUNAI indigenist and the British journalist disappeared on June 5.

“The impact that these deaths have on our territories is immense,” points out Telma Taurepang, representative of the Taurepang people of Roraima. “Our companions are being killed, assassinated and tortured because of the greed of the white man against the life of indigenous peoples and the right to land,” adds the coordinator of the Union of Indigenous Women of the Brazilian Amazon (UMIAB) and pre-candidate for federal deputy.

In her assessment, it is essential that the investigations identify who gave the order and who are the people involved in all stages of the crime. Only in this way will the sense of impunity not spill even more blood in conflicted territories. “It is necessary to punish all those who think that the lives of indigenous peoples are of no importance,” she says.

“We, Indigenous peoples, have a banner to fight for today: who ordered the killing of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips? We need to know,” she said.

Victims of war

“Who was in the wrong place? Garimpeiros, illegal fishermen, drug traffickers, or a journalist and an indigenist who defended the Amazon and denounced an interminable sequence of crimes in the region?”, asked journalist Rafael Colombo, from CNN Brazil. 

Another journalist, Eliane Brum, declared: “This is a war. Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips are victims of war.” She listed actions needed at this moment, starting from the investigation of the crimes. “There will only be justice for Dom and Bruno when the crime is elucidated and the perpetrators identified, judged and punished,” she said, also calling for the non-re-election of President Jair Bolsonaro (PL) and support for Indigenous peoples and traditional communities in the Amazon. 

“Each person threatened in the forest has to be treated as if they were family. Not one less. Every day is a day of struggle. No more blood!” he asked. 

Adapted from several articles originally published on Brasil de Fato.