Saturday, March 25, 2023

Brazil: Missing indigenous expert was “prime target”

So Paulo ( Associated Press) — Before disappearing into Brazil’s Amazon jungle, Bruno Pereira was laying the foundation for a massive undertaking: marking a 350-kilometre (217-mile) trail on the southwestern border of the Javari Valley indigenous region, a Region size of Portugal

The aim of the trail is to prevent pastoralists from encroaching on the area of ​​the Javari, and was Pereira’s latest effort to help indigenous peoples protect their natural resources and traditional lifestyles.

While Pereira pursued these goals for a long time as an expert at Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency, known as FUNAI, he worked in recent years as a consultant to the Javari Valley Indigenous Organization Is. That’s because after Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s president in 2019, the National Indian Foundation began to take a more low-key approach to protecting indigenous lands and people, and the government promoted development on top of environmental protection.

Deeply disappointed, Pereira left FUNAI and embarked on a more independent and dangerous path.

Pereira was last seen alive on June 5 in a boat on the Itaqui River with British freelance journalist Dom Phillips near the border with Peru and Colombia. On Wednesday, a fisherman admitted to killing 41-year-old Pereira and 57-year-old Phillips and led police to the site where human remains were recovered; Some of the remains were identified to have belonged to Phillips on Friday, and others are believed to be related to Pereira.

Pereira has spoken to The Associated Press several times over the past 18 months, commenting on his decision to leave FUNAI, which he felt had hindered his work. After Bolsonaro came to power, the agency was filled with loyalists and people who lacked experience in indigenous issues, he said.

“As long as these policemen and generals are in charge of the army, there is no use for me to stay there,” he said over the phone in November. “I cannot do my work under them,” said the indigenous expert.

As a technical advisor for the Federation of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Uniwaja), Pereira assigned the group a watchdog to reduce illegal fishing and hunting in a remote area belonging to 6,300 people from seven different ethnic groups. programs, many of which had little or no contact with the outside world. He and three other non-Indigenous people trained indigenous patrols in the use of drones and various techniques to detect illegal activities, take photographs and present evidence to authorities.

“When it comes to helping indigenous people, he did everything he could,” said Jadar Marubo, the former president of Uniwaza. “He gave his life for us.”


Like Pereira, Ricardo Rao was a FUNAI indigenous expert who, in 2019, prepared a dossier detailing illegal logging on indigenous lands in Maranho State. But fearing to be so assertive under the new regime, he fled to Norway.

“I applied for asylum in Norway because I knew that the men I am accusing would reach out to my name and kill me, just like Bruno did,” Rao said.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly advocated for using the vast wealth of indigenous lands, especially their mineral resources, and integrating indigenous peoples into society. He warned in April that he would challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling if necessary, not to give further protection to indigenous lands. Those positions were in direct opposition to Pereira’s hopes for the Jawari Valley.

Before saying goodbye, Pereira was dismissed as FUNAI’s new liaison and head of the separate tribal division. This change came when he took charge of an operation in which hundreds of illegal gold seekers were driven out of an indigenous region of Roraima State. His position was quickly filled by a returned evangelical missionary with a background in anthropology. The election sparked outrage as some missionary groups have openly tried to approach and convert the tribes, whose voluntary segregation is protected by Brazilian law.

FUNAI’s key Pereira colleagues followed suit, leaving the agency or moving away from protected land demarcation to bureaucratic positions, according to a recent report by the think tank Institute of Social Economic Studies and the non-profit Associated Indigenous, in which FUNAI’s Former officers included.

“Out of 39 FUNAI Regional Coordination Offices, only two are run by FUNAI personnel,” the report said. “Seventeen soldiers, three police officers, two federal police officers and six professionals without previous links to public administration have been employed” during the Bolsonaro government.

A 173-page report released on Monday said many of the agency’s experts were fired, unfairly investigated or maligned by their leaders while trying to protect indigenous peoples.

Responding to the Associated Press’s questions about the allegations in the report, FUNAI said in an emailed statement that it operates “in strict compliance with existing law” and does not persecute its officers.


Locals told the Associated Press that on the day they disappeared, Pereira and Phillips slept at a checkpoint at the entrance to the main secret passage in the area, bypassing the indigenous agency’s permanent base.

Two indigenous patrols told the Associated Press that Pereira and Phillips were carrying mobile phones from the surveillance project with pictures of places where illegal fishermen were. Officials have said illegal fishing nets are the focus of a police investigation into the killings.

Pereira was not the first person associated with FUNAI to be killed in the region. In 2019, Maxsil Pereira dos Santos, an active agent of the agency, was shot and killed while riding his motorcycle through the city of Tabatinga. He was threatened for working against illegal fishermen before he was shot. That crime remains unsolved.

Pereira’s killing will not stop the progress of the Jawari area boundary demarcation project, assured Manoel Chorimpa, a member of Uniwaza involved in the project. And in another sign that Pereira’s work will continue, police efforts by indigenous patrollers have led to investigations, arrests, and prosecution of lawbreakers.

Prior to his career at FUNAI, Pereira worked as a journalist. But his passion for indigenous issues and languages ​​(he spoke four) inspired him to change careers. His wife, the anthropologist Beatriz Matos, encouraged him in his work, even though it meant a long distance from his home in Atalia do Norte and his children. More recently, he lived in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

The indigenous people of the region mourn the death of an ally. An old photo shared widely on social media in recent days showed a group of them gathered behind a shirtless Pereira as he showed them something on his laptop. A boy gently leans on her shoulder.

In a statement on Thursday, FUNAI mourned Pereira’s death and praised his work: “The public servant leaves a vast legacy for the protection of isolated indigenous peoples. He became one of the country’s foremost experts on the subject and acted with the greatest of commitment.

However, before the body was found, FUNAI issued a statement stating that Perera violated procedure by staying inside the Jawari area for longer than authorized. This upset the FUNAI rank and file, who claimed the foundation had defamed Pereira and demanded that the agency’s chairman be removed. A court on Thursday ordered FUNAI to withdraw its claim that it is “inconsistent with the reality of the facts” and to stop defaming Perera.

Rubens Valente, a journalist who covered Amazon for decades, said Pereira’s work naturally became more risky after he realized the need to work independently.

“The fish thieves saw Bruno as a fragile person, without the status and power that FUNAI had given him in the area where he was the FUNAI coordinator for five years,” Valente said. “When the criminals realized that Bruno was weak, he became an even bigger target.”


Maisonnave reported from Atalaia do Norte. Associated Press writer Deborah Alvares contributed from Brasilia.


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about Associated Press’s climate initiative here. The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for its coverage of water and environmental policy. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
Latest news
Related news