Bolsonaro’s war on the Amazon may be linked to the murders of British journalist and Indigenous expert
Brazilian Police investigating the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira have identified five more people linked to the killings, bringing to eight the number of suspects in a crime that has shocked Brazil.
Two suspects were arrested days after the pair went missing, brothers Amarildo and Oseney da Costa de Oliveira. Detective Fontes told journalists Amarildo recounted in detail the crime that was committed and indicated the place where he buried the bodies, but his brother denied any involvement.
A third suspect turned himself in to the Amazon Police with no relation to the brothers, but Investigator David Da Rocha said the five men he expects to arrest are relatives of the two brothers in custody. Police are waiting on a court order to initiate the apprehensions.
At a press briefing last Wednesday, regional police chief Eduardo Fontes said one of the two arrested brothers had led them to where the bodies where buried.
Police said Phillips had been killed with one gunshot to the body, while Pereira had been shot three times. The weapons used in the killing were of the type used by hunters, police said.
A longtime contributor to The Guardian in Brazil, the British journalist was last seen alive in the Javari region of Amazonas state. He was reporting for a book he was writing about conservation, for which he was threatened, according to The Guardian.
Phillips was travelling with Bruno Araújo Pereira, a celebrated Indigenous expert who spent years working to protect the more than two dozen tribes who call the rainforests their home.
The two missing men had been due to reach Atalaia do Norte 10 days ago, having entered the reserve by river, but never made it to their destination.
Image: Isaac Quesada/Unsplash
Indigenous communities were the first ones to alert authorities about the missing men and contributed to the 10-day search.
"It's a huge loss for the indigenous. These are two men who fought and gave their life for the indigenous communities so we could live in peace," one indigenous leader said to the BBC.
Phillips and Pereira helped train indigenous people to defend themselves against the increasing threat of illegal fishermen and poachers. "A fisherman financed by the narcos will do what they probably did to Bruno, end our lives, because they see us as an obstacle", said the indigenous leader.
Investigator Da Rocha maintains that the murder suspects did not act on anyone’s orders and said that the crime is not part of a broader criminal conspiracy. Indigenous activists in the region strongly disagree and argue that the killings are linked to organized crime groups.
Unfortunately, this situation is not rare. Environmental reporters continually face threats, harassment and murder, according to numerous studies.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), two environmental journalists are murdered every year. The murders happen in relation to investigating deforestation, illegal mining, land seizures, pollution and other environmental impacts from industrial activities and major infrastructural construction projects.
RSF registered, from 2015 to 2020, 53 violations of the right to cover the environment, such as murder attempts, threats and harassment, illegal imprisonment, kidnapping and more.
While abuses against environmental journalists occur in all of the world’s continents, 66% of those registered took place in Asia and the Americas, according to RSF.
When it comes to journalists who have been killed, suffered physical attacks, and journalists subjected to threats and prosecution, India holds the record. Almost all of these cases are linked to the country’s so-called “sand mafia.”
"There is a growing awareness globally that sand, after water, is the most precious natural resource and since it is limited in quantity, it is in great demand,” said Indian journalist Sandhya Ravishankar to RSF.
“When journalists report on such a precious commodity and put pressure on authorities to stop the mining of sand, it is a threat to many powerful industries and industrialists whose livelihoods depend on sand. This is the reason there is a lot of violence against journalists who report on illegal mining of sand”, stated Ravishankar.
"Environmental journalism has become considerably more dangerous than it was in the past, and I think much of that is intimately tied up with an increasing awareness of the environment's importance,” says Peter Schwartzstein, a specialist in environmental issues to RSF.
According to the organization Global Witness, In 2020, there were 227 lethal attacks worldwide (an average of more than four people a week) for activists and indigenous people defending their homes, land and livelihoods.
Image: Justin Porter/Unsplash
In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country (where Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo were last seen), according to Global Witness.
Global Witness also found that the Southern Hemisphere is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in this part of the world. Of these attacks, over a third targeted indigenous people trying to protect their land.
Beto Marubo, an Indigenous leader who knew the missing men, told The Guardian that the Javari region, home to more than 20 Indigenous groups, has grown increasingly tense in recent years, particularly after the 2019 murder of an indigenous protection official called Maxciel Pereira dos Santos.
The Indigenous leader also told The Guardian that under the Bolsonaro government the pressure has increased even more because the “invaders” feel empowered, and added that gangs of illegal miners and hunters are “plundering” the region’s forests and rivers with impunity.
Unions working at Brazil’s national indigenous agency, Funai, called a five-day strike for this week aimed at ousting the president of the organisation, who they say is working against the interest of Brazil’s Indigenous people.
Marcelo Xavier, Funai’s current president, was appointed by Bolsonaro in 2019 and fired Bruno Pereira (one of the two murdered men) a year ago.
Pereira said he believed Xavier had fired him because he had led a successful operation against illegal mines on Indigenous land. After leaving Funai, he went to work with Indigenous communities in the Javari Valley, where he and Phillips were last seen alive.
Xavier said that in the days after the pair went missing, they had not secured the necessary permits for entering Indigenous land, as required in Brazil.
However, Indigenous groups said they did not need the permits because they had not ventured on to Indigenous territory. A judge agreed, and told Xavier to remove his statement from the Funai website and refrain from denigrating the two missing men.
Priscila Colotetti, the executive director of Indigenistas Associados of Funai told The Guardian that besides outing Xavier, they are also pushing for a proper investigation into the killing of Dom and Bruno “so they find out who ordered the crime.”
Coletetti also told The Guardian that staff were being threatened with dismissal if they went ahead with the strike. “People in senior positions are being warned they will be removed, and those here on secondment are being warned they will be sent back. The directors are trying to put a brake on it”, she said.
The Indigenous foundation has been underfunded by Brazil’s far-right president, current and former officials there said to The Guardian. Bolsonaro wants to open up Indigenous land to loggers and miners, further threatening the communities who have lived in the area for thousands of years.