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The Disappearance of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips Demonstrates the Impunity Granted to Illicit Activities Under Bolsonaro

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The heartbreaking disappearance of Brazilian Indigenous rights advocate Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips has once again revealed that under Bolsonaro the Amazon has been handed over to illicit networks and industries. Illegal land grabbing, timber theft, prohibited hunting and fishing, and drug and weapons trafficking are not only increasing but advancing deep into the forest. Indigenous people, environmentalists, Indigenous rights advocates, and journalists have become beacons of resistance in Brazilian society, but also targets by those emboldened by Bolsonaro since his campaign for the presidency.

The criminal network has only grown stronger under his administration, threatening forest defenders in every way. The crimes committed go unpunished and those who attempt to create a semblance of justice are retaliated against. In 2019, Indigenous protection official, Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, who worked at Brazil’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) with Bruno Pereira in the Javari Valley, was killed in front of his family. The murderers were never held to account. Afterward, the criminals continued to threaten Pereira in broad daylight in front of other people. Those who witness threats against Earth Defenders in Bolsonaro’s Brazil have found nowhere to turn.

Bruno Pereira was removed from his position in FUNAI as coordinator of the Department for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous peoples in what was seen as a “politically motivated” move soon after far-right president Bolsonaro came to power. His firing in late 2019 came shortly after his team helped destroy over 60 illegal mining barges operating in the Amazon region, one of the greatest environmental achievements against illegal miners. Pereira left FUNAI to continue fulfilling his mission to defend Indigenous peoples’ rights and to advocate for a policy of non-contact with isolated Indigenous groups. “Bruno was a great warrior, he was a man who beat his chest and said: ‘I will defend you, I will remain,’” affirmed the Indigenous leader Koká Matis, chief of the Paraíso Village in Javari Valley.

What happened to Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips is the tip of the iceberg of the Brazilian government’s response to crimes in the Amazon and violence committed against Indigenous peoples. Since taking office, Bolsonaro has militarized key FUNAI positions, purged employees committed to protecting the forest, and reduced enforcement. The lack of urgent response to Bruno and Dom’s disappearance isn’t about a lack of resources, it’s about a systematic dismantling of all human rights and environmental protection programs over time.

Bolsonaro has intensified a ticking time bomb since he became president, keeping true to his promises to not demarcate or grant title to a single inch more of Indigenous land. Indigenous peoples and organizations have been warning of the crimes taking place in the Amazon for a very long time, yet many of us hold on to the illusion that those who come from the outside are safe. But now, Bruno and Dom are victims, maybe not at the hands of Bolsonaro directly, but definitely as a result of his words and policies. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones. We have only to look to the Amazon, to the guardians of the forest, and recognize the weight of violence and rights violations they have carried over the last few years.

When asked about the disappearance, Bolsonaro was callous and dismissive. He blamed Phillips and Pereira, saying they shouldn’t have been there on an “adventure.” But reporting in the field isn’t an adventure. Advocating for Indigenous rights isn’t an adventure. As journalist Lucy Jordan said in the Guardian last Friday: “It’s a public service. It’s a moral imperative. One that this government has made all the more necessary, and all the more dangerous. And that’s why advocates and reporters – brave, kind people such as Phillips and Pereira – will keep on taking these risks. And why we must keep holding the government to account.”

We will continue demanding a thorough investigation into their disappearance until they are found. We all need to carry on their work, advocating for the restoration of the systems and institutions responsible for the care and protection of the Amazon. The Amazon belongs to itself, and it’s our responsibility to defend its protectors." https://amazonwatch.org/news/2022/0614-disappearance-of-bruno-pereira-and-dom-phillips-demonstrates-impunity-under-bolsonaro?utm_source=Amazon+Watch+Newsletter+and+Updates&utm_campaign=4026858867-2019-04-25-blk%2B_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e6f929728b-4026858867-342425650&mc_cid=4026858867&mc_eid=8dd38e5066