The deaths of indigenous activist Bruno Araújo Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips have exposed the issues of security, environmental protection and respect for indigenous peoples in the Javari Valley in the Amazon, Brazil’s second largest indigenous country. The two had been missing since June 5 and were found tied to a tree.
Located on the borders of Peru and Colombia, with limited access to water and air, the 85,000 km² region (larger than Austria) is home to 6,300 indigenous peoples from 26 different groups, 19 of whom are isolated the largest concentration in the world.
However, data from recent years indicate a shift in the occupation of the demarcated area and the encroachment of drug trafficking, illegal hunting, illegal logging and gold mining, which threaten peoples such as the Marubo, Matís, Mayoruna, Kanamari, Kulina and others des recent contact Tyohom Djapá and Korubo.
Journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenist Bruno Araújo
Recall some episodes of violence on the reservation:
In September 2017, the Amazonas federal public ministry confirmed the killing of at least 20 tribal peoples from a remote village in Vale do Javari by illegal miners in the municipality of São Paulo de Olivença, on the borders with Peru and Colombia. Then the MP received a report of another killing of tribal people from the isolated Warikama Djapar community.
It was this massacre that led to an expedition by the Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio) and the Brazilian army to the reserve in 2017, when illegal miners were discovered inside and outside the area inhabited by isolated indigenous groups, whose language or ethnicity.
Ten mine rafts were destroyed, and gold, equipment and weapons were confiscated. The miners were arrested at the site in unspecified numbers and then released with orders to leave the region.
Itaquaí River in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land region, in Atalaia do Norte (AM)
Image: BRUNO KELLY / REAL AMAZON
Protection base is under attack
Between November 2018 and September 2019, a FUNAI post trying to control access to the territory was the target of armed attacks. The base acts as a guardian of one of the main river entrances in Vale do Javari.
The main suspects in the attacks were prospectors, timber thieves, and hunters looking for turtles and endangered fish like the arapaima.
On September 6, 2019, Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, a FUNAI employee and employee of the same base attacked on Saturday, was shot dead while riding his motorbike on the busiest street in Tabatinga (AM), also on the threecountry border.
Soon after, in October 2019, Bruno Pereira was dismissed from the position of general coordinator for isolated indigenous peoples and recent contact of FUNAI’s Directorate for Territorial Protection by the body’s current president, Delegate Marcelo Xavier, appointed by President Jair Bolsonaro.
To date, the authorities have not solved the crime.
There are four FUNAI bases in the region (on the Ituí, Curuçá, Quixito and Jandiatuba rivers), which according to Univaja (Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley) are “vital for indigenous peoples with recent contact and for those who are isolated are in need of government protection federal government, in accordance with specific laws in force in current official Indigenous policy”.
Maxciel did the same work as Bruno, said Yura Marubo, Univaja’s legal counsel: “Confiscation, detention, presentation, burning of equipment, arrest of fish and hunting material, police, and through this hatred and many enemies were created.”
Invasion of the Jarinal parish
In April of this year, Unijava and the Centro de Trabalho Indígena (CTI) received reports of an invasion by garimpeiros in the municipality of Jarinal, also on indigenous land. They attended a party where indigenous people were sexually abused and forced to drink gasoline with water and ethyl alcohol with juice, according to the CTI.
The Jarinal community is home to 160 Kanamari Indians and 47 Tyohomdyapa Indians, a people who have only recently been in contact and have suffered severe population declines in recent decades due to disease and conflict.
The complaints were forwarded by the Kanamari Indigenous Council of Juruá and Jutaí (Cikaju) and by the Kanamari Association of Vale do Javari (Akavaja).
Arrival of the missionaries
Atalaia do Norte, where the couple went before disappearing, draws attention to the disproportionate number of churches and missionaries. In the small town center with 20,000 inhabitants there are at least 15 denominations.
The city is the gateway to the indigenous land of Vale do Javari and attracts missionaries from the United States, Canada, Spain, Argentina and other regions of Brazil.
Disputes over residents’ “beliefs” have raged for decades, but intensified in 2020 when Bolsonaro appointed pastor, anthropologist, and former missionary Ricardo Lopes Dias as general coordinator of Isolated Indians and Recent Contact at Funai ( Fundação Nacional do Índio), in place by Bruno Pereira.
The election of a nun was part of a Bolsonarian strategy to abandon current Indigenous policies that forbid contact with people who wish to remain isolated and open the way for evangelical missions. Dias left office in November 2020 after harsh criticism.
The resistance against the missionaries was led by Univaja, who has already obtained several positive verdicts from the courts. It was Univaja who reported the disappearance of the indigenous and the journalist.
Indigenous land of Vale do Javari
drug trafficking and environmental crime
Isolation has also made the region attractive to drug traffickers, who take advantage of the absence of the state and a poorly guarded border between key drugtrafficking countries — the route for cocaine made in Peru and smuggled into Brazil passes through part of it into Europe.
The São Rafael municipality, where Bruno had the last meeting before his disappearance, is known to be financially influenced by drug dealers, prospectors and other researchers who invade the protected area.
In recent years, the area has seen a “huge” increase in illegal logging, gold mining and poaching, Survival International has warned. “Land incursions and the violence associated with these illegal activities pose a serious threat,” he said.
According to sertanista Sydney Possuelo, president of the Funai in the 1990s and the greatest national reference for studies of isolated peoples, the invaders enter the gate of the Javari Valley, descend the Ituí and Itaquaí rivers, and reach the heart of the valley’s indigenous lands.
“It’s almost an international area, close to the border. There’s drug trafficking, cocaine. People interested in the indigenous land live there, mainly loggers, fishermen and hunters. They have been constantly threatened there for years,” he explains in an interview with Esstadão Conteúdo.
According to Possuelo and other indigenous leaders like Beto Marubo, “organized gangs” of miners and poachers are “plundering” the region’s forests and rivers because they feel protected by impunity.
The threats have intensified since 2019 after the President spoke out clearly against the demarcation. “The intruders felt empowered and became more aggressive,” says Marubo, who has lost count of the number of reports he’s forwarded to federal police and prosecutors.
The invasion was also confirmed by Fabio Ribeiro, the executive coordinator of the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Indigenous Peoples with recent contact. “There are issues related to drug trafficking, deforestation, illegal fishing and mining, and the indigenous organization is opposed to the land invasion in this confrontation.”
Bruno himself explained in December last year: “It wasn’t like that a few years ago,” he said. “The invaders were afraid of the Indians and especially of the Funai. Now they seem more comfortable because of the permissive attitude of public power. The indigenous people want to face it and it’s not easy to convince them not to do it in a conflict.”
According to the Brazilian Public Safety Forum, the region saw a 9.2% increase in deadly violence between 2018 and 2020, attributed to the dispute between criminal groups and environmental crimes.
In addition, in recent years, journalists working for regional media in the Amazon have been murdered and the press has reduced coverage of criminal activity. (With international agencies and Esstadão Conteúdo)