Before disappearing into Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, Bruno Pereira was laying the foundation for a vast undertaking: a 350-kilometre (217 mi) trail marking the southwestern boundary of the Javari Valley indigenous region, an area the size of Portugal.
The trail aims to prevent cattle ranchers from encroaching on the Javari region – and was the latest effort by Pereira to help indigenous peoples protect their natural resources and traditional lifestyles.
While Pereira had long pursued these goals as an expert at Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency, known as FUNAI, he has spent more recent years as an adviser to the Indigenous Organization of the Javari Valley. Worked. That’s because after Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s president in 2019, FUNAI began to take a more pragmatic approach to protecting indigenous lands and people – and the government promoted development over environmental protection.
Deeply disappointed, Pereira left the agency and embarked on a more independent – and dangerous – path.
He was last seen alive on 5 June on a boat in the Itacai River with British freelance journalist Dom Phillips, near an area near the border of Peru and Colombia. On Wednesday, a fisherman admitted to killing 41-year-old Pereira and 57-year-old Phillips and led police to the site where human remains were recovered; Since then they have been identified as two people.
Pereira has spoken with the Associated Press several times over the past 18 months, and he has spoken about his decision to leave FUNAI, which he felt has hindered his work. After Bolsonaro came to power, the agency sided with loyalists and those lacking experience in indigenous affairs, he said.
“As long as these policemen and army generals are calling the shots, there is no use for me to be there,” he said over the phone in November. “I cannot do my work under him.”
As a technical advisor for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley, or UNIVAJA, Pereira assigned the group a watchdog to reduce illegal fishing and hunting in a remote area belonging to 6,300 people from seven different ethnic groups. helped develop programs, many of which have little to no contact with the outside world. He and three other non-Indigenous people trained indigenous patrols to use drones and other technology to detect illegal activity, photograph it, and submit evidence to authorities.
“When it came to helping indigenous people, he did everything he could,” said former UNIVAJA president Jadar Marubo. “He gave his life for us.”
Like Pereira, Ricardo Rao was an indigenous expert from FUNAI who, in 2019, prepared a dossier detailing illegal logging in the indigenous lands of Maranho State. But fearing to be so assertive under the new regime, he fled to Norway.
“I sought refuge from Norway, because I knew that the men I’m accusing would reach out to my name and kill me, just like it happened with Bruno,” Rao said.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly advocated the exploitation of the vast wealth of indigenous lands, especially their mineral resources, and the integration of indigenous peoples into society. He has pledged not to provide any further indigenous land protection, and said in April that he would defy a Supreme Court ruling if necessary. Those positions directly opposed Pereira’s hopes for the Jawari Valley.
Prior to taking leave, Pereira was removed as the head of FUNAI’s division for isolated and recently contacted tribes. The move came shortly after he took command of an operation that expelled hundreds of illegal gold prospectors from an indigenous region of Roraima state. His position was soon filled by a former Evangelical missionary with an anthropological background. The choice caused outrage as some missionary groups have openly tried to approach and convert the tribes, whose voluntary segregation is protected by Brazilian law.
Pereira’s key colleagues at FUNAI either followed his lead and retired or were sent to bureaucratic positions away from the demarcation of protected lands, as indicated by the Institute of Social Economic Studies think tank and an organization of the non-profit Associated Indigenous Peoples. According to the most recent report, which includes the current and. Former employee of FUNAI.
“Out of 39 FUNAI Regional Coordination Offices, only two are headed by FUNAI employees,” the report said. Under Bolsonaro “seventeen military men, three policemen, two federal policemen and six professionals with no prior ties to the public administration are designated”.
route in the area
Locals told the Associated Press that on the day they went missing, Pereira and Phillips slept at a checkpoint at the entrance to the main secret passage in the area, without passing the indigenous agency’s permanent base at its entrance.
Two indigenous patrollers told the Associated Press that the pair were carrying mobile phones from the surveillance project with pictures of places where illegal fishermen were. Officials have said an illegal fishing network is the focus of a police investigation into the killings. Police said in a statement on Saturday that Perera had died of three bullets, two in the stomach and one on the head, with the ammunition of the victim.
Manoel Chorimpa, a UNIVAJA member involved in the project, said Pereira’s killing would not stop the Javari region’s boundary demarcation project from progressing. And in another sign that Pereira’s work will continue, indigenous patrols’ surveillance efforts have led to investigations, arrests, and prosecution of lawbreakers.
Prior to his career at FUNAI, Pereira worked as a journalist. But his passion for indigenous affairs and languages – he spoke four – inspired him to change careers. His anthropologist wife, Beatriz Matos, encouraged him in his work, even though it meant far away from their home in Atalia do Norte and their children. Recently, he was living in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
The indigenous people of the region have mourned Pereira as a companion, and an old photo shared widely on social media in recent days shows a group of them gathered behind shirtless Pereira as He shows them something on his laptop. A child gently leans on his shoulder.