A fisherman confesses to killing Dom Philips and Bruno Pereira in the Brazilian Amazon

A fisherman confesses to killing Dom Philips and Bruno Pereira in the Brazilian Amazon

Relatives and close friends of Dom Philips and Bruno Araújo attend a protest against their disappearance in Rio de Janeiro on June 12.Relatives and close friends of Dom Philips and Bruno Araújo take part in a protest over their disappearance in Rio de Janeiro on 12 June Antonio Lacerda (EFE)

One of the two fisherman brothers arrested over the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous activist Bruno Pereira has confessed to killing them and taken authorities to where they buried the remains, according to the federal police officer Eduardo Fontes in a press release from the conference this Wednesday, assuring that authorities are working with Interpol to confirm the bodies’ identities.

The suspects in the case are the two fisherman brothers Oseney and Amarildo da Costa, both 41 years old. The latter, also known as “Pelado,” was arrested last week for gun possession after his boat was seen pursuing that of the Indigenista and the reporter on Sunday as they neared their destination, the town of Northern Watchtower. The second of the brothers was arrested Tuesday night. That Wednesday, police took one of the suspects, with his face covered and a hood, to the spot where Phillips and Pereira disappeared.

Police found the bodies of what they suspect are those of indigenous activist Bruno Pereira, 41, and journalist Dom Phillips, 57, who disappeared 11 days ago. Fontes, superintendent of the Amazon Federal Police, told a press conference that the bodies were buried in the jungle three kilometers inland. The two professionals were last seen on board a boat. The remains are now being analyzed and compared to DNA samples taken from their families.

Pereira and Phillips were last seen on Sunday June 5, marking the beginning of the agony for their families and loved ones who, as the days went by, lost hope of finding them alive. Those who know the Yavarí Valley region well, one of the most isolated areas of Amazonia, were aware that it was hostile territory and that the chances of survival were rapidly decreasing. Pereira, an expert on tribal peoples with extensive experience in the official organization created to defend them, Funai, has long been in the crosshairs of criminal gangs plundering the riches of the jungle’s ecological reserves.

Amazon veterans can’t remember the murder of any other journalist covering environmental issues in the rainforest, let alone a foreigner. The violent deaths of indigenous leaders and activists are not new, but are nowhere near the numbers in neighboring Colombia. It is a trickle and very seldom are the guilty punished. impunity prevails. And since Jair Bolsonaro came to power, tensions and violence have increased.

This valley, as large as Panama and better preserved than the rest of the Amazon, is home to ten tribes of uncontacted indigenous people, and there is evidence that twenty other isolated groups pass through it. But its almost intact natural riches make it a coveted prey for all manner of illegal activities, be it hunting, fishing, timber or mineral mining.

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The journalist and the Indigenista were threatened with disappearance the day before during a journalist’s trip. Together they went by boat to a surveillance base managed by indigenous peoples who have come together in the Univaja association, União dos Povos do Vale de Javari. There, Phillips interviewed the patrols who have taken over defending their territory in the face of institutional apathy. Pereira was on leave from FUNAI because he was deeply unhappy with the direction the organization was taking after Bolsonaro’s victory. During the visit, some poachers threatened the group by displaying their weapons in the distance. Including at least one of those arrested in the case.

Pereira worked with Univaja to train the indigenous people on the use of technology to document their grievances, thereby putting pressure on the public authorities to enforce the law and prevent invasions. In addition to the aborigines, Funai has several surveillance posts in this and other nature reserves, but both the bases of the aborigines and officials working in the Yavarí Valley have come under fire lately.

The invasions of fishermen or poachers that have been going on for decades. For many locals it was a matter of survival. But in recent years they have multiplied with money from drug trafficking and thanks to the President’s speech that encouraged criminals who feel unpunished. In parallel, government agencies protecting tribal peoples and the environment have been weakened by the government through severe budget cuts and the appointment of chiefs from outside these areas, often linked to military police.