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Brazil Indigenous expert was ‘bigger target’ in recent years

by The Associated Press | June 19, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Indigenous leader Kamuu Wapichana is backdropped by a banner that show images of missing freelance British journalist Dom Phillips, left, and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, during a protest asking authorities to expand the search efforts for the two men, in front of the Ministry of Justice in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. The search for Pereira and Phillips, who disappeared in a remote area of Brazil’s Amazon continued following the discovery of a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged in a river. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Before disappearing in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, Bruno Pereira was laying the groundwork for a mammoth undertaking: a 217-mile trail marking the southwestern border of the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, an area the size of Portugal.

The purpose of the trail is to prevent cattle farmers from encroaching on Javari territory -- and it was just the latest effort by Pereira to help Indigenous people protect their natural resources and traditional lifestyles.

While Pereira had long pursued these goals as an expert at the Brazilian Indigenous affairs agency, known as FUNAI, he worked in recent years as a consultant to the Javari Valley's Indigenous organization. That's because after Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil's president in 2019, FUNAI began taking a more hands-off approach toward protecting Indigenous land and people -- and the government unapologetically promoted development over environmental protection.

Deeply frustrated, Pereira left the agency and embarked on a more independent -- and dangerous -- path.

He was last seen alive on June 5 on a boat in the Itaquai river, along with British freelance journalist Dom Phillips, near an area bordering Peru and Colombia. On Wednesday, a fisherman confessed to killing Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, and took police to a site where human remains were recovered; they have since been identified as the two men.

Pereira spoke several times with the Associated Press over the past 18 months, and he talked about his decision to leave FUNAI, which he felt had become a hindrance to his work. After Bolsonaro came to power, the agency was stacked with loyalists and people who lacked experience in Indigenous affairs, he said.

"There's no use in me being there as long as these policemen and army generals are calling the shots," he said by phone in November. "I can't do my work under them."

As a technical consultant for the Javari Valley's association of Indigenous people, or Univaja, Pereira helped the group develop a surveillance program to reduce illegal fishing and hunting in a remote region belonging to 6,300 people from seven different ethnic groups, many of whom have had little to no contact with the outside world. He and three other non-Indigenous people trained Indigenous patrollers to use drones and other technology to spot illegal activity, photograph it and submit evidence to authorities.

"When it came to helping the Indigenous peoples, he did everything he could," Jader Marubo, former president of Univaja said. "He gave his life for us."

photo Federal police officers arrive with recovered human remains believed to be of the Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips of Britain, at the Federal Police hangar in Brasília, Brazil, Thursday, June 16, 2022. A federal police investigator said a suspect confessed to fatally shooting Pereira and Phillips in a remote part of the Amazon and took officers to where the bodies were buried. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
photo This photo provided by anthropologist Barbara Maisonnave Arisi shows Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira at a restaurant in Benjamin Constant, Amazonas state, Brazil, June 8, 2014. Pereira was killed along with British freelance reporter Dom Phillips after they disappeared together in Brazil’s remote Amazon region on June 5, 2022. (Barbara Maisonnave Arisi via AP)
photo The Itaquai River snakes through the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Friday, June 10, 2022. British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira were last seen on Sunday morning in the Javari Valley, Brazil's second-largest Indigenous territory which sits in an isolated area bordering Peru and Colombia. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros)
photo Demonstrators take part in a protest following the disappearance, in the Amazon, of British journalist Dom Phillips and expert on indigenous affairs Bruno Araujo Pereira, in Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 12, 2022. Federal Police and military forces are carrying out searches and investigations into the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira in the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, a remote area of the Amazon rainforest in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)
photo A firefighter holds a cell phone with a picture showing the moment when a backpack was found during a search for Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Sunday, June 12, 2022. Divers from Brazil's firefighters corps found a backpack and laptop Sunday in the remote Amazon area where Pereira and Phillips went missing a week ago, firefighters said. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros)
photo Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, center, is brought out of the courthouse by military and civil police officers in Atalia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Police arrested Oseney da Costa de Oliveira and his brother Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, so far considered by police as the main suspects in the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros)
photo Soldiers search for missing British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira from a helicopter over Javari Valley Indigenous territory, Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Friday, June 10, 2022. Phillips and Pereira were last seen on Sunday morning in the Javari Valley, Brazil's second-largest Indigenous territory which sits in an isolated area bordering Peru and Colombia. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros)
photo A Mayuruna Indigenous boy climbs a fence to look at the march against the disappearance of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips, in Atalaia do Norte, Vale do Javari, Amazonas, state Brazil, Monday, June 13, 2022. Brazilian police are still searching for Pereira and Phillips, who went missing in a remote area of Brazil's Amazon a week ago. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros)
photo Federal police officers arrive at the pier with recovered human remains found during a search for Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips of Britain, in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Wednesday, June 15, 2022. A federal police investigator said a suspect confessed to fatally shooting Pereira and Phillips in a remote part of the Amazon and took officers to where the bodies were buried. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros)

Print Headline: Brazil Indigenous expert was ‘bigger target’ in recent years

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