HomeWorld NewsBruno Pereira, specialist in indigenous communities in Brazil, died at 41

Bruno Pereira, specialist in indigenous communities in Brazil, died at 41

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SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Bruno Araújo Pereira, a Brazilian expert on isolated indigenous communities who led grueling expeditions into remote corners of the Amazon rainforest, was killed in an attack in the Javari Valley in western Brazil. Brazil, authorities confirmed on Saturday. He was 41 years old.

Authorities said human remains recovered from a remote forest belonged to Mr Pereira and Dom Phillips, a Brazilian contributor to the Guardian and former contract writer for the Washington Post. This week a fisherman confessed to killing the two men as they traveled an uninhabited stretch of river leading to the town of Atalaia do Norte, police said. Fishermen led investigators to where the remains were buried.

Police said Mr Pereira and Phillips were shot. At least three men are in custody.

Mr Pereira, a longtime civil servant with Brazil’s indigenous protection agency, was accompanying his friend and frequent travel companion on a reporting trip for a book the British journalist was writing. on conservation in the Amazon. The men traveled the Itaquai River to interrogate Indigenous surveillance teams who mapped criminal activity and defended their lands from invaders.

This is the kind of work Mr. Pereira has dedicated his career to, working closely with indigenous communities and studying the plight of isolated peoples threatened by the encroachment of modernity. A passionate advocate for the Amazon, Pereira has earned the trust of indigenous partners by integrating and investing in their communities, according to friends and colleagues. He could understand several languages ​​of the Javari Valley. She was often heard singing native songs. He enjoyed telling stories, say his friends and colleagues, and had a witty and universal sense of humor that allowed him to connect with groups that are often skeptical of outsiders.

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“When everyone was desperate, it was Bruno who calmed the team down,” said Lucas Albertoni, a doctor who accompanied Mr Pereira on several expeditions. “Even in the most serious, tense situations, he makes a joke and everyone laughs. And the jokes are so global that white people and native people laugh. »

Since his disappearance on June 5, friends have joked that if he had been found, he would have cursed them: “You took too long!

Mr. Pereira has frequently made week-long expeditions by boat and on foot into the thick jungle of the Javari Valley, believed to be home to the world’s largest concentration of isolated people: indigenous communities who have shunned and are supposed to be protected from the outside world. It is a lawless territory larger than South Carolina where the absence of the state has allowed illegal mining, fishing and logging to take hold.

Mr Pereira had received death threats over the years, most recently from illegal fishermen shortly before his last trip. But he was known as a meticulous researcher and guide, carefully planning routes and strategy with the help of local indigenous communities.

“He was a person who studied and researched extensively,” said Leonardo Lenin, a friend who works with the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples. Mr Pereira believed in the importance of rooting oneself in the region, Lenin said, saying that “our feet must be on the ground, we must feel the fire together, feel it within ourselves”.

Lenin said it made it is particularly “painful and revolting” to hear President Jair Bolsonaro accuse Mr. Pereira of having embarked on an “adventure”.

“Two people in a boat, in a completely wild area like this, is an adventure that is not advisable for one person,” said Bolsonaro, a right-wing advocate for the development of the Amazon and a critic of environmental restrictions.

Mr Pereira’s wife, Beatriz Matos, told Brazilian TV Globo she was hurt and offended by the president’s words.

“These are statements that contradict Bruno’s extreme dedication, seriousness and commitment to his work,” she said. “If his workplace, our workplace and that of many others, has become a dangerous place, where we need an armed escort to be able to work, there is something very wrong there . And the problem is not with us. It is with the one who allowed this to happen.

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Mr. Pereira met Matos, an anthropologist, in the Javari Valley in 2015, according to a family friend. Mr Pereira was the father of three children, a 16-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and two children, aged 2 and 3, with Matos.

Mr. Pereira was born in Pernambuco, a state in northeast Brazil along the Atlantic coast. He first went in the Amazon in the early 2000s as an employee of a company carrying out reforestation work around a hydroelectric plant near Manaus. He joined the indigenous government agency, FUNAI, in 2010 and became general coordinator for isolated communities, working in Brasilia.

Under his leadership, in 2019 the agency carried out the largest indigenous contact expedition since the 1980s. That same year, he coordinated an operation to dismantle an illegal mining system in the Javari Valley.

Then Bolsonaro came to power – and quickly cut funding to the agency. Mr. Pereira was dismissed from his post.

Mr Pereira accompanied Phillips on a 17-day trip to the Javari Valley for a 2018 article in the Guardian. Phillips began the story with a description of a morning with Mr Pereira: “Clad in just shorts and flip flops as he crouches in the mud by a fire, Bruno Pereira, a civil servant from Brazilian government’s indigenous agency, cracks open a monkey’s boiled skull with a spoon and eats its brains for breakfast as it discusses politics.

Mr. Pereira said Phillips on the challenges of working with a government that starved the agency of essential resources. But he downplayed the difficulties for officials like himself.

“It’s not about us,” Mr Pereira said. “The natives are the heroes.”

Until his death, he worked as an adviser for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley, or Univaja. He had trained natives who did not speak Portuguese to use satellite technology to map invasions on their territory. When he accompanied Phillips on his last trip, he was not working in an official capacity.

Throughout his career, Mr. Pereira has believed in the importance of avoiding contact with isolated indigenous peoples. But as Phillips wrote, his monitoring expeditions provided “invaluable intelligence” to help protect these communities.

Mr. Pereira only approached isolated communities to avoid conflicts with other groups. In 2019, he helped broker an agreement between the Korubo and Matis in the Javari Valley so that one would not encroach on the territory of the other, said Artur Nobre Mendes, former president of FUNAI. When Mr. Pereira approached the Korubo, Nobre said, he brought with him people from the Korubo whom he had already contacted.

“There are several dilemmas we went through to make this decision, and many more even to make these images visible to the whole world,” Pereira told TV Globo about the expedition in 2019. “But people also have the right to choose how to live and own their land, and we will continue to fight for that. It’s time for everyone to come out of their own bubble and understand that there are other Brazils.”

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Albertoni, the doctor who accompanied Mr. Pereira on expeditions, said Mr. Pereira was keen to learn ancestral songs important to the culture of the communities where he spent time. He recalled seeing Mr. Pereira singing with a Kanamari community while they all drank ayahuasca, a traditional psychoactive brew that is sacred in many indigenous cultures.

“You could see what an enlightened soul Bruno was,” Albertoni said. “There, in the dark, you couldn’t tell the difference between him and the indigenous people singing in their language, because his relationship with them and their culture was so intense.”

He had started teaching his young children Kanamari songs, Albertoni said.

“What surprised me was his sensitivity and his desire to learn more,” said Beto Marubo, coordinator at Univaja and member of the Marubo community. He described Mr. Pereira as a “cheerful and cheerful person” who managed to connect with often reserved indigenous people. “The natives came to respect him as a knower of the jungle… of the dangers and knowledge the jungle offers.

A member of the Kanamari community who was with Mr Pereira in the days and hours before his disappearance described his death as “a great loss for all the people of Javari”.

“We have lost a great man, who fought for indigenous lands and the Amazon rainforest,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety. “He always motivated us, in the most difficult times, to walk and lift our heads.”

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