Monday, September 26, 2022

The disappearance of the pair in the Brazilian Amazon linked to the ‘fish mafia’

ATALAIA DO NORTE, Brazil ( Associated Press) — A main line of a police investigation into the disappearance of a British journalist and an Indigenous official in the Amazon points to an international network that is illegally driving poor fishermen into Brazil’s second-largest indigenous territory. Pays for fishing from, the official said.

Freelance journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous official Bruno Pereira were last seen last Sunday morning near the Javari Valley indigenous region, an area the size of Portugal bordering Peru and Colombia. Both men were from the Sao Rafael community. They were returning by boat to the nearby town of Atalia do Norte but never arrived.

After a slow start, the army, navy, civil defence, state police and indigenous volunteers have been pressed into action. On Saturday, federal police said they were still analyzing human cases found in the area where they disappeared. No further details given.

The scheme is run by local traders, who pay local fishermen to enter the Jawari valley, catch the fish and distribute them. One of the most valuable targets is the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales, the Arapaima. It weighs up to 200 kg (440 lb) and can reach 3 m (10 ft). The fish is sold in nearby cities, including Leticia, Colombia, Tabinga, Brazil, and Iquitos, Peru.

The only known missing suspect is the fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as Pellado, who is under arrest. According to the accounts of the indigenous people who lived with Pereira and Phillips, the day before the pair disappeared, he had fired a rifle at them. He denied any wrongdoing and said military police tortured him for trying to confess, his family told the Associated Press.

Pereira, who previously headed the government’s indigenous agency known as FUNAI, has participated in several campaigns against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, fishing gear is confiscated or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and detained for some time. Only indigenous people can legally catch fish in their territories.

“The motive of the crime is some personal squabble over the fishing inspection,” Atalia do Norte mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without providing further details.

The Associated Press had access to police information shared with the indigenous leadership. While some police, mayors and others in the area link the couple’s disappearance to the “fish mafia,” federal police do not rule out other methods of investigation. There is heavy drug trafficking activity in the area.

Fisherman Lorimar Alves Lopes, 45, who lives on the banks of the Itakai River where the pair disappeared, told the Associated Press that he quit fishing inside the indigenous territory after being detained three times. He said he endured beatings and starvation in prison.

“I made many mistakes, I stole a lot of fish. When you see your child starving, you take him where you need to go. So I would go there to steal fish to be able to support my family. But then I said: I’m going to finish it, I’m going to plant, ”he said during an interview on his boat.

He said he was taken three times to the local federal police headquarters in Tabatinga, where he was beaten up and left without food.

One of the arrests was made by Funai officer Maxsil Pereira dos Santos. Lopez said she was falsely accused this time of hunting in an indigenous area. He said he spent a night at the local FUNAI base before being sent to Tabatinga.

In 2019, Santos was shot in front of his wife and daughter-in-law in Tabatinga. Three years later, the crime is still unsolved. His FUNAI colleagues told Associated Press that they believe the crime is linked to his work against fishermen and poachers.

Lopes, who has five children, says her family’s primary income from federal social programs is $80 a month. He also sells watermelons and bananas in the streets of Atalia do Norte, earning him about $1,200 last year. He claims that he only catches fish near his house to feed his family, not to sell.

Rubber tappers established all the riverside communities in the area. In the 1980s, however, rubber tapping declined and they resorted to logging. That too ended when the federal government created the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in 2001. Since then fishing has become the main economic activity.

The fishing trips last about a month in the vast Javari Valley, according to Manoel Felipe, a local historian and teacher who also works as a parishioner. For each illegal infiltration, a fisherman earns at least $3,000.

“The financiers of the fishermen are Colombians,” said Felipe. “In Leticia, everyone was angry with Bruno. This is no small game. It’s possible that they sent a gunman to kill him.”

In the view of Mayor Paiva, it is no coincidence that the only two murders of Funai officials in the region occurred during the administration of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who often advocated the exploitation of indigenous areas’ resources, especially minerals, by non-state actors. Is. Swadeshi and companies.

“This government has made people more vulnerable to violence. You talk to someone today and he says he has to take up arms. It was not like this before,” he said.

Nation World News Desk
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