A child looks at a banner during a tribute on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro (REUTERS / Pilar Olivares)
British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were honored Monday in Brazil, marking the first anniversary of their murders in the Amazon while investigating environmental crimes in the world’s largest rainforest.
Phillips and Pereira disappeared on June 5, 2022 in the Javarí Valley, a remote indigenous reserve in northern Brazil, close to the borders with Colombia and Peru, where drug traffickers, illegal gold miners and poachers operate.
Police said fishermen with suspected ties to a drug network confessed to shooting the two men, dismembering their bodies and hiding them in the jungle, where their remains were found after a 10-day search.
A year later, the case has become a symbol of the combination of violence, greed and poverty that fuels the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and of the dangers faced by those who try to draw attention to the plight of the area.
Several tributes to remember “Bruno and Dom” were programmed in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Salvador, as well as in London.
Alessandra Sampaio, widow of British journalist Dom Phillips, speaks during the tribute in Rio de Janeiro (REUTERS / Pilar Olivares)
Alessandra Sampaio, Phillips’ widow, asked to honor the memory of her husband and Pereira by learning about the “wonderful” Amazon: “We have to be more aware of what is happening… stop depredating the jungle,” she said before a small group gathered on Rio’s Copacabana beach, in whose waters the British journalist used to stand up paddle.
Sampaio, 52, wore a T-shirt with the inscription “Amazônia sua linda” (Amazon, you are beautiful), the last message Phillips posted on Instagram.
Beside her, the indigenous leader Beto Marubo, a friend and colleague of Pereira, said that for the indigenous groups that fight to protect the Javarí Valley, the situation has not changed: “The Brazilian State owes the world an explanation, because the The whole world was shocked by the murders.”
Commemorations are also planned in Atalaia do Norte, the border city from where they left for their last trip.
On his tour, Pereira planned to show Phillips his work organizing native patrols on the reservation, home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous peoples on Earth.
“We will not abandon this fight for the planet, nor will we forget Dom Phillips or Bruno Pereira,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said in a statement to The Guardian newspaper, with which Phillips was collaborating.
“We are fighting to resume policies to protect indigenous peoples and the Amazon,” added Lula, who took office in January vowing to stop the environmental destruction aggravated under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.
Emotional tribute in Rio de Janeiro to the British journalist Dom Phillips and the Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira (REUTERS / Pilar Olivares)
Phillips, 57, a respected correspondent who has also published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Financial Times, was working on a book titled “How to Save the Amazon.”
Pereira, 41, a senior official with Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency (FUNAI), was on leave after clashing with the agency’s then-director, Marcelo Xavier, a Bolsonaro-appointed police chief.
He was working as a consultant helping indigenous groups protect their lands from environmental crimes, which had earned him death threats.
His disappearance triggered an international avalanche of condemnations.
The tragedy “is actually something bigger; it had a huge impact,” he told the AFP Sampaio news agency. “I heard from many children that they see Dom and Bruno as heroes of the jungle… (Their murders) have made people more aware” about the Amazon, he added.
Three fishermen are currently on trial for the murders.
One year has passed since the murders of Dom Philips and Bruno Pereira in the Brazilian Amazon (REUTERS / Pilar Olivares)
In addition, last week the authorities accused Rubens Villar, known as “Colombia” and identified as the mastermind of the crime, and Janio Freitas de Souza, an illegal fisherman from Javarí, for killing and hiding the bodies. The information was confirmed on Sunday by Brazilian TV Globo.
Xavier, for his part, was accused in May of indirectly contributing to the murders by failing to protect officials in the Amazon.
The fight to protect the Amazon, a key resource in the race to curb climate change, gained new momentum in Brazil when Lula defeated Bolsonaro in elections.
But the threat was made clear last week when congress approved bills curtailing the powers of Lula’s environment and indigenous affairs ministries and restricting the protection of indigenous lands.
Violence continues to be commonplace in the Javarí Valley, indigenous activists said at the premiere of a documentary on Thursday by the Brazilian platform Globoplay, which chronicles the life and work of Phillips and Pereira.
“Nothing has changed,” Marubo said.
(With information from AFP)
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