Illustration of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira by Cristiano Siqueira (@crisvector).
Today, June 5, 2023, marks one year since the brutal murders of our friend, the Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, and of British journalist Dom Phillips. Both were ambushed and killed in a remote area of the Amazon rainforest in the Vale do Javari region – the second largest Indigenous territory in Brazil on the border between Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. The crime shocked the world and put a spotlight on the problems that afflict the Amazon.
Bruno Pereira was an advisor to the organization União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (Unijava) and worked to monitor Indigenous lands and defend Indigenous People in voluntary isolation. Journalist Dom Phillips, a contributor to the British newspaper The Guardian, was accompanying Bruno to document his work with Univaja when they were both murdered.
Even with the worldwide repercussion of the murders, a year later, little has changed in the reality of the region according to Univaja advisors who continue the work of monitoring and protecting the Indigenous land, and denouncing invaders such as illegal fishermen, hunters, and loggers. They inform that the territory continues to be invaded and the leaders who try to prevent this from happening continue to experience threats. “Every time we go out with the Indigenous surveillance team, we find new traces or flagrant signs (of invasion of Indigenous land),” says Orlando Possuelo, an Indigenous expert who worked with Bruno Pereira at Univaja.
Despite the threats, the Univaja Surveillance Team continues to carry out monthly activities to monitor the territory. Among the traces of invasions found during these incursions are camp marks, animal remains, and even signs of mining and logging rafts. “Recently we went out on surveillance and found wood that was being extracted at the time. In my opinion, nothing has changed, the invasions continue to happen,” points out Possuelo. The region is also known for the presence of organized crime and drug trafficking.
The Vale do Javari Indigenous Land has an area equivalent to the territory of Portugal and is home to around 6,000 Indigenous Peoples, in addition to 16 isolated groups. Nia Tero has been supporting Univaja since 2018 in its efforts to protect its territory and deeply regrets the loss of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips.
The murder defendants' defense strategy seeks to defame the victims:
The brothers Amarildo and Osenery da Costa de Oliveira are in prison awaiting trial for the murders of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips, as is the fisherman Jefferson da Silva Lima. In a statement that took place in early May at the Federal Court in the city of Tabatinga, in the state of Amazonas, the defendants' defense stated that the crime had occurred in self-defense, attributing the first shots to Bruno Pereira.
This version was contested by the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), which stated to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that this narrative “is not compatible with the technical evidence of the expertise.” A fourth person from Colombia, Rubens Villar Coelho, who is known for financing illegal fishermen, has been accused as the mastermind of the crime and was arrested.
Allies of the Indigenous Peoples in the region see the defendants' defense strategy as a way to undermine the credibility of the monitoring work carried out by the surveillance team in the Indigenous territory so that the invasions can continue.
For Carlos Travassos, an Indigenous expert who also advises Univaja, the conviction of those accused of the crime would send an important message in a region that is historically marked by impunity. “Impunity is the reality in the region, so if punishment comes, it will certainly be something new and that will bring an important message.”
Possuelo agrees and reinforces the importance of justice being done: “We wait for justice and that it be done with the greatest rigor possible so that all those involved are punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Learn more and get updates at www.univaja.org.