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Brazil Indigenous expert was ‘bigger target’ in recent years

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  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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)


    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)
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • 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.


    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.
    Associated Press

  • Workers of the National Indian Foundation, FUNAI, attend a vigil for the missing Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, right, and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips, in Brasilia, 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.


    Workers of the National Indian Foundation, FUNAI, attend a vigil for the missing Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, right, and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips, in Brasilia, 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.
    Associated Press

  • Police navigate the Itaquai River during the search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira in the 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.


    Police navigate the Itaquai River during the search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira in the 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.
    Associated Press

  • SAO PAULO — Before disappearing in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, Bruno Pereira was laying the groundwork for a mammoth undertaking: a 350-kilometer (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; some remains were identified Friday as belonging to Phillips, others are believed to belong to Pereira.

    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,’ said Jader Marubo, former president of Univaja. ‘He gave his life for us.’

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    Like Pereira, Ricardo Rao was an Indigenous expert at FUNAI who, in 2019, prepared a dossier detailing illegal logging in Indigenous lands of Maranhao state. But fearful of being so outspoken under the new regime, he fled to Norway.

    ‘I asked Norway for asylum, because I knew the men I was accusing would have access to my name and would kill me, just like what happened with Bruno,’ Rao said.

            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            

     

    Bolsonaro has repeatedly advocated tapping the vast riches of Indigenous lands, particularly their mineral resources, and integrating Indigenous people into society. He has pledged not to grant any further Indigenous land protections, and in April said he would defy a Supreme Court decision, if necessary. Those positions directly opposed Pereira’s hopes for the Javari Valley.

    Before taking leave, Pereira was removed as head of FUNAI’s division for isolated and recently contacted tribes. That move came shortly after he commanded an operation that expelled hundreds of illegal gold prospectors from an Indigenous territory in Roraima state. His position was soon filled by a former Evangelical missionary with an anthropology background. The choice generated outcry because some missionary groups have openly tried to contact and convert tribes, whose voluntary isolation is protected by Brazilian law.

    Key colleagues of Pereira’s at FUNAI either followed his lead and took leave, or were shuffled to bureaucratic positions far from the demarcation of protected lands, according to a recent report from the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies think tank and the nonprofit Associated Indigenists, which includes current and former FUNAI staff.

    ‘Of FUNAI’s 39 regional coordination offices, only two are headed by FUNAI staffers,’ the report says. ‘Seventeen military men, three policemen, two federal policemen and six professionals with no prior connection with public administration have been named’ under Bolsonaro.

    The 173-page report published Monday says many of the agency’s experts have been fired, unfairly investigated or discredited by its leaders while trying to protect Indigenous people.

    In response to AP questions about the report’s allegations, FUNAI said in an emailed statement that it operates ‘with strict obedience to current legislation’ and doesn’t persecute its officers.

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    On the day they went missing, Pereira and Phillips slept at an outpost at the entrance of the main clandestine route into the territory, without passing by the Indigenous agency’s permanent base at its entrance, locals told the AP.

    Two Indigenous patrollers told the AP the pair had been transporting mobile phones from the surveillance project with photos of places where illegal fishermen had been. Authorities have said that an illicit fishing network is a focus of the police investigation into the killings.

    Pereira wasn’t the first person connected with FUNAI to be killed in the region. In 2019, an active FUNAI agent, Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, was shot to death as he drove his motorcycle through the city of Tabatinga. He had been threatened for his work against illegal fishermen before he was gunned down. That crime remains unsolved.

    Pereira’s killing will not stop the Javari territory’s border demarcation project from moving ahead, said Manoel Chorimpa, an Univaja member involved in the project. And in another sign that Pereira’s work will endure, Indigenous patrollers’ surveillance efforts have begun leading to the investigation, arrest and prosecution of law-breakers.

    Before his career at FUNAI, Pereira worked as a journalist. But his passion for Indigenous affairs and languages – he spoke four – led him to switch careers. His anthropologist wife, Beatriz Matos, encouraged him in his work, even though it meant long stretches away from their home in Atalaia do Norte, and their children.

    The Indigenous people of the region have mourned Pereira as a partner, and an old photo widely shared on social media in recent days shows a group of them gathered behind Pereira, shirtless, as he shows them something on his laptop. A child leans gently onto his shoulder.

    In a statement on Thursday, FUNAI mourned Pereira’s death and praised his work: ‘The public servant leaves an enormous legacy for the isolated Indigenous people’s protection. He became one of the country’s top specialists in this issue and worked with highest commitment.”

    Before the bodies were found, however, FUNAI had issued a statement implying Pereira violated procedure by overstaying his authorization inside the Javari territory. It prompted FUNAI’s rank-and-file to strike, claiming that the agency had libeled Pereira and demanding its president be fired. A court on Thursday ordered FUNAI to retract its statement that is ‘incompatible with the reality of the facts’ and cease discrediting Pereira.

    Rubens Valente, a journalist who has covered the Amazon for decades, said Pereira’s work became inherently riskier once he felt it necessary to work independently.

    ‘Fish thieves saw Bruno as a fragile person, without the status and power that FUNAI gave him in the region where he was FUNAI coordinator for five years,” Valente said. ‘When the criminals noticed Bruno was weak, he became an even bigger target.’

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    Maisonnave reported from Atalaia do Norte. AP writer Débora Álvares contributed from Brasilia.

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    Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            
            



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