National Indian Foundation (Funai) employee Bruno da Cunha Araújo Pereira is cleared by the agency to work on a project to improve surveillance in indigenous territories against drug traffickers, prospectors and loggers operating in Vale do Javari, State of Amazonas. The mission, given to him by an organization that represents the isolated and recently contacted peoples of the region, challenged the economic power of Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian criminals who use the villages and neighboring communities to exploit the forest and for the traffic.
Pereira has been missing since last Sunday morning, the 5th, when he left the community of São Rafael for the city of Atalaia do Norte (AM), for a trip that should have taken two hours. Experienced, he has worked in the region since 2010 and was in the company of the English journalist, Dom Phillips, of the British newspaper The Guardian. The whereabouts of the duo are still unknown. The affair had an international impact and mobilized the federal police, the army, the navy, the national force and the federal public ministry. President Jair Bolsonaro and Justice Minister Anderson Torres have yet to speak.
Shipping through São Rafael is considered extremely dangerous. Specialists in crime dynamics around the Indigenous Land (TI) of Vale do Javari do not recommend visiting the community in small groups due to the movement of foreign and domestic criminals. Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips were alone in a new 40 HP boat, with enough fuel for the return trip.
According to experienced indigenists interviewed by the Stadium, the community of São Rafael has a strong financial influence of criminals and is used as a starting point for explorers in protected territories. This is one of the reasons for the existence of a Funai base, at the confluence of the Ituí and Itacoaí rivers. The facility, built decades ago, is constantly under fire.
Inspection by environmental agencies interferes with criminal activities by non-Indigenous people. A simple net used in predatory fishing can cost R$5,000 and be part of larger investments for the structure needed for exploration. Moreover, according to indigenists, the crimes tend to overlap. Different organizations work in deforestation as well as in mining and drug trafficking.
Threats against servers and members of non-governmental organizations are common. The report collected testimonies from Funai employees who preferred to sleep with their families in a single room in an attempt to protect themselves from fire threats against wooden houses.
The tension in the locality has existed for decades and according to professionals working in the locality, it is only getting worse. They complain that the authorities did not react to the murder of Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, a Funai collaborator, killed in September 2019. He worked in a Funai base in Vale do Javari.
The most detailed account of the latest steps taken by Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips was carried out jointly by the Union of Indigenous Organizations of the Javari Valley (Univaja), whose indigenist was responsible for the technical coordination of the monitoring work, and by the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (OPI).
They first visited the indigenous monitoring team in the locality of Lago do Jaburu, near the Funai base, and Phillips was able to conduct a series of interviews on Friday the 3rd. According to the report, both are left on Sunday morning 5. , return to the city of Atalaia do Norte. Along the way, however, they stopped in São Rafael because Bruno Pereira had scheduled a meeting with a local chief identified as “Churrasco” to discuss the monitoring project in indigenous lands.
GPS equipment recorded that the two arrived in the community around 6am on Sunday. “Barbecue” was not there, despite the scheduled meeting and, according to the report, Pereira spoke with the chief’s wife before returning to Atalaia.
The agenda of the meeting was the Univaja project, coordinated by Pereira, which aims to “train and equip” indigenous peoples to defend their own territories with strategies for face-to-face and remote monitoring of illegal activities. The Javari Valley is 80 times larger than the city of São Paulo and is accessible from Peru and Colombia.
In an interview published by WWF-Brasil in December, Bruno Pereira said the storyline was dramatic. As part of the project, locals have formed teams to be trained, for example, in the operation of drones and computers. “I’ve been working there for 11 years and I’ve never seen such a difficult situation. The natives say that today the number of invasions is comparable to the period before the demarcation. This is why it is absolutely necessary for indigenous peoples to seek their own forms of organization, putting in place a surveillance system capable of stopping violent conflicts,” he said.
In a note, Funai informed that Bruno Pereira “was not in the region on an institutional mission” and that “he is in contact with the security forces operating in the region”.
President Jair Bolsonaro has chosen delegate and evangelical pastor Marcelo Xavier to head Funai. For the first time since the dictatorship, no new indigenous lands have been demarcated. Xavier has links with rural people and became a defendant for not having respected a court decision which forced him to proceed with the demarcation of a Munduruku territory.