The Brazilian indigenous expert has been a “bigger target” in recent years

Substitute while the actions of the article are loading

SAO PAULO – Before disappears into the Amazon rainforest in BrazilBruno Pereira laid the foundations for a spectacular endeavor: a 350-kilometer (217-mile) trail marking the southwestern border of the local Havari Valley, an area the size of Portugal.

The purpose of the trail is to prevent farmers from encroaching on the territory of Jawari – and this was only Pereira’s latest effort to help indigenous peoples protect their natural resources and their traditional way of life.

While Pereira has long pursued these goals as an expert at the Brazilian Indigenous Agency, known as FUNAI, in recent years he has worked as a consultant to the Havari Valley Indigenous Organization. This is because after Jair Bolsonaro became President of Brazil in 2019, FUNAI began to take a more indifferent approach to protecting the land and indigenous peoples – and the government apologized without apology for promoting development instead of protecting the environment.

Deeply disappointed, Pereira left the agency and took a more independent – and dangerous – path.

He was last seen alive on June 5 on a boat in the Itaquai River, along with British freelance journalist Dom Phillips, near the area bordering Peru and Colombia. On Wednesday, a fisherman admitted to killing Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, and took police to the scene where human remains were found; some remains were identified on Friday as belonging to Phillips, while others are believed to belong to Pereira.

Pereira has spoken to the Associated Press several times over the past 18 months, and he has spoken out about his decision to leave FUNAI, which he says has become an obstacle to his work. After Bolsonaro came to power, the agency was full of loyalists and people with no experience in indigenous affairs, he said.

“There is no point in being there while these policemen and army generals are firing,” he said by telephone in November. “I can’t do my job under them.”

As a technical consultant to the Javari Valley Indigenous Association, or Univaja, Pereira helped the group develop a monitoring program to reduce illegal fishing and hunting in a remote region belonging to 6,300 people from seven different ethnic groups, many of whom had a little without contact with the outside world. He and three other non-natives trained local patrols to use drones and other technology to spot illegal activity, film it and present evidence to authorities.

“When it came to helping the indigenous people, he did everything he could,” said Jader Marubo, a former president of Univaja. “He gave his life for us.”

Like Pereira, Ricardo Rao was an indigenous expert at FUNAI, who in 2019 prepared a dossier detailing illegal logging in the local lands of Maranhão. But fearing to be so outspoken under the new regime, he fled to Norway.

“I asked Norway for asylum because I knew that the men I was accusing would have access to my name and kill me, just as happened to Bruno,” Rao said.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly advocated the use of the vast wealth of indigenous lands, especially their mineral resources, and the integration of indigenous peoples into society. He vowed not to provide more land protection to indigenous peoples, and in April said he would oppose a Supreme Court ruling if necessary. These positions directly contradicted Pereira’s hopes for the Havari Valley.

Prior to taking leave, Pereira was removed as head of the FUNAI department for isolated and recently contacted tribes. The move came shortly after he commanded an operation that drove hundreds of illegal gold diggers out of indigenous Roraima. His position was soon taken by a former evangelical missionary with anthropological experience. The election sparked outrage as some missionary groups openly tried to unite and convert tribes whose voluntary isolation was protected by Brazilian law.

Pereira’s key colleagues at FUNAI have either followed suit and moved away, or moved to bureaucratic positions, far from demarcating protected areas, according to a recent report from the think tank of the Institute for Socio-Economic Research and the Associated Indigenists, which includes current and former FUNAI staff.

“Of FUNAI’s 39 regional focal points, only two are headed by FUNAI staff,” the report said. “Seventeen military, three police officers, two federal police officers and six professionals with no previous connection to the public administration are listed” under Bolsonaro.

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

Responding to AP’s questions about the report’s allegations, FUNAI said in an e-mail statement that it operates “under strict compliance with applicable law” and does not prosecute its employees.

On the day they disappeared, Pereira and Phillips slept at an outpost at the entrance to the main illegal road to the area, without passing the Indigenous Agency’s permanent base at its entrance, locals told the AP.

Two local patrols told the AP that the couple was transporting mobile phones from the surveillance project with photos of places where illegal fishermen were. Authorities say an illegal fishing net is at the center of a police investigation into the killings.

Pereira was not the first FUNAI-linked person killed in the region. In 2019, FUNAI’s active agent, Maxiel Pereira dos Santos, was shot dead while riding his motorcycle through the town of Tabatinga. He was threatened for his work against illegal fishermen before being shot. This crime remains unsolved.

The assassination of Pereira will not prevent the demarcation project on the border in the territory of Havari from moving forward, said Manoel Chorimpa, a member of Univaja, involved in the project. And in another sign that Pereira’s work will continue, efforts to monitor local patrols have begun to investigate, arrest and prosecute lawbreakers.

Prior to his career at FUNAI, Pereira worked as a journalist. But his passion for the deeds and languages ​​of the indigenous people – he spoke four – made him change careers. His wife, anthropologist Beatrice Matos, encouraged him in his work, even though it meant long stretches from their home in Atalaya to Norte and their children. Most recently, they lived in the Brazilian capital, Brazil.

Indigenous people in the region are complaining about Pereira as a partner, and an old photo widely circulated on social media in recent days shows a group of them gathered behind Pereira, shirtless, while he shows them something on his laptop. A child gently leans on his shoulder.

In a statement Thursday, FUNAI mourned Pereira’s death and praised his work: “The civil servant leaves a huge legacy for the protection of isolated indigenous people. He has become one of the country’s leading experts in this field and works with the highest commitment. “

However, prior to the discovery of the bodies, FUNAI issued a statement alleging that Pereira had violated the procedure by suspending its permit in Javari. This prompted FUNAI employees to go on strike, claiming that the agency had released Pereira and demanding that its president be fired. A court on Thursday ordered FUNAI to withdraw its statement, which is “incompatible with the reality of the facts” and to stop discrediting Pereira.

Rubens Valente, a journalist who has covered the Amazon for decades, said Pereira’s work was inherently more risky once he felt the need to work on his own.

“The fish thieves saw Bruno as a fragile man, without the status and power that FUNAI gave him in the region where he was FUNAI’s coordinator for five years,” Valente said. “When the criminals noticed that Bruno was weak, he became an even bigger target.”

Maisonnave reported from Atalaia do Norte. AP writer Deborah Valvares contributed from Brazil.

The Associated Press on Climate and Environmental Coverage is supported by several private foundations. Find out more about the AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.