Before disappearing in the Amazon, indigenist and Funai (National Indigenous Foundation) worker Bruno da Cunha de Araújo Pereira worked to train and equip the natives of the Indigenous Land of Vale do Javari to defend their territory. He disappeared on Sunday (5/6) with British journalist Dom Phillips as the two traveled for work in the area.
Fired from his job at Funai, Pereira is the technical coordinator of the Environmental and Territorial Monitoring of the Indigenous Land of Vale do Javari project, which trains indigenous people to use drones, maps, computers for georeferencing and radio equipment.
The idea of the project is to train Indigenous Surveillance – which had been organized by local communities for three years – to carry out local and remote monitoring of criminal activities in indigenous lands using technology.
The indigenous Javari land has an estimated population of 6,300 indigenous people, but of the 26 different groups, 19 are uncontacted peoples.
Between June and December 2020, the União dos Povos Indígenas do Parque do Javari (Univaja) had the technical partnership of WWF-Brasil for the project – the entity donated BRL 58,000 to purchase equipment, hire instructors and translators.
The use of the equipment enables the recording of crimes, evidence which can then be sent to the prosecution and used to report crimes to justice. The idea is precisely to avoid violent conflicts and to ensure that direct confrontation is led by the authorities and not by the natives themselves.
Last year, Pereira told WWF that surveillance staff had already identified a “large number of intruders”.
Drones are used by indigenous peoples for surveillance — Photo: BRUNO ARAÚJO/UNIVAJA via BBC
“They file several complaints about illegal mining, hunting and fishing. They often seize materials and offenders and hand them over to authorities,” Pereira said.
“I’ve worked there for 11 years and I’ve never seen such a difficult situation,” the native said last year. “The natives say that today the number of invasions is comparable to the period before the demarcation (in 2001).”
With 8.5 million hectares, the Indigenous Land Vale do Javari is one of the largest in Brazil and has more than 50 villages.
The indigenist told WWF that invasions and killings in the region have worsened in recent years, with government surveillance continuing to weaken.
“It wasn’t like that a few years ago,” Pereira said in December last year. “The invaders were afraid of the Indians and especially the Funai. Now they seem to feel more comfortable, due to the permissive posture of public power.
In 2019 and 2020, Funai bases in the region suffered several attacks. In one of them, in Tabatinga in September 2019, the collaborator Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was shot dead. He was working to combat illegal hunting, fishing, mining and logging in the territory and was killed in front of his wife and daughter-in-law.
Until 2019, Pereira was the general coordinator of uncontacted and newly contacted Indians, but he was removed from his post after coordinating an operation that evicted hundreds of prospectors from Yanomami indigenous land in Roraima.
Colleagues told BBC News Brasil journalist João Fellet that after being removed from his post, Pereira asked permission from Funai so that he could continue to act on behalf of indigenous peoples at a time when the foundation considerably restricted its actions for the defense of populations.
In a note to the BBC, Funai specifies that it “is following the case, is in contact with the security forces operating in the region and is collaborating in the search”. Federal police said in a statement that they are working on the case. He also informed that two witnesses, whose names have not been disclosed, were heard on Monday.
The Federal Public Ministry claims to have called the Federal Police, the National Force, the Civil Police, the Ethno-Environmental Protection Front of Vale do Javari and the Brazilian Navy. The military command in the Amazon said it had launched a search operation in the area of the municipality of Atalaia do Norte with a team of jungle fighters.
Amazonas State Governor Wilson Lima said he had ordered specialized police reinforcements to be sent to the Atalaia do Norte area to help with the search.
The Guardian newspaper said it was “very worried” and is seeking information on the case. “We are in contact with the British Embassy in Brazil and with local and national authorities to try to clarify the facts as soon as possible.”