When the monsters that govern Brazil today thought they had put an end to resistance against the invasion of indigenous lands after transforming Funai into a militarized anti-indigenous foundation, Bruno reinvented himself and continued the fight
By Laura Capriglione
The disappearances of indigenous rights advocate Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips echo like a tragic cry for help from the Amazon rain forest and its original inhabitants. Today, everyone knows that there, in that pile of leaves that you can see on Google Maps, where the Vale do Javari Indigenous Reserve is located (the second largest in Brazil), two heroes gave up their individual lives to defend the collective lives which are destroyed daily by mining, gold, agribusiness, drug trafficking, predatory fishing and even by religious missionaries – unscrupulous defenders of a god of death.
Bruno Pereira was not supposed to be there. He had already been depicted by genocide agents on t-shirts designed with 3 targets: one in the front, one in the back and a third stamped on his forehead. He was marked for death.
The study of National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) service bulletins provides eloquent evidence of Bruno’s commitment to the defense of isolated and recently contacted peoples. On January 2, 2020, for example, the bulletin shows that Bruno helda “meeting with authorities in reference to the the confidential document, Official Letter 219/Office of the Prosecutor/PRM/Tabatinga, of 06/17/2019, which deals with promoting actions to combat illicit acts in lands in the Alto Solimões region where isolated indigenous peoples reside.”
The next day, Bruno took part in protection, monitoring and surveillance actions with the goal of solidifying strategic partnerships to prepare for an inspection in Jutai together with local public security forces and setting up an operation with public security forces to apprehend perpetrators of environmental crimes and illegal mining on indigenous reserves.
In August 2014, Bruno participated in a meeting at the Federal Public Ministry on Indigenous Health about the illegal entry of evangelical missionaries into the Vale do Javari Indigenous Reserve.
In early 2019, Bruno joined the “partnership for strategic and institutional alignment” with the Military Command of the Amazon, Amazonas State Public Security Secretary, Tabatinga Federal Police Station, and the Army’s 8th Infantry Jungle Battalion. The purpose of the partnership was to guarantee safety of the Ethno-environmental Protection Front’s operational teams in the Vale do Javari during the roll out of a Contingency Plan for Contact Situations. That month he also worked to establish strategic and institutional partnerships with the Federal and Amazonas State Attorney General’s Offices.
Bruno was the director of FUNAI’s Department of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (CGIIRC) until October 2019. Shortly after coordinating an operation that expelled hundreds of miners from the Yanomami indigenous reserve in Roraima, however, he was transferred without any type of internal justification.
His transfer, which occurred during the first year of the Bolsonaro administration, was ordered by Justice Minister/ disgraced former Lava Jato judge Sergio Moro’s executive secretary, Luiz Pontel de Souza, who is a former Federal Police agent. In Bruno’s place, Moro’s Justice Ministry appointed an evangelical Christian missionary named Ricardo Lopes Dias, who had worked for a decade (1997–2007) for the New Tribes of Brazil Mission (MNTB), an organization with origins in the US that has worked to convert Brazilian indigenous people to US-style evangelical Christianity since the 1950s. These missionaries believe that the hearts of indigenous people have to be ripped out to impose the vengeful and cruel God of the prosperity gospel churches on them.
Analysis of Funai’s service bulletins show that Bruno’s activities were known to the law enforcement and regulatory agencies that are supposed to guarantee security of indigenous territories. He regularly met with the directors of all of the enforcement agencies including the Army, Police, Navy, Attorney General’s Office and Funai. He was not an irresponsible adventurer, a narrative that Bolsonaro tried to push during the first hours of his disappearance.
The fact is that after Bruno was forced out of his position as Director of CGIIRC, he refused the comfort of an early retirement. Dissatisfied, he asked for a 2 year, unpaid leave of absence from FUNAI and returned to Vale do Javari, to work as adviser to UNIVAJA, the Vale do Javari Indigenous Peoples Union, providing support on defending the indigenous reserve against the intrusion of miners, drug smugglers and illegal fishermen.
Aware that the preservation of the indigenous lands could only be done with worldwide exposure of the humanitarian and environmental crimes underway, Bruno made an existential pact with Dom Phillips, a white English journalist and contributor to some of the World’s most prestigious publications like the Guardian and the New York Times. It was an ideal partnership: an indigenous rights expert and a journalist, a Brazilian and an Englishman. Now, it is because of their disappearance that the world knows that there, in the western corner of Brazil, there is a struggle underway of life and death, of preservation vs. destruction, of respect for the original cultures vs. a tribute to a market god made with gold and precious metals because no one knows how long the dollar will hold up.
Of course we have to mourn the probable murder of these two heroes. But we must also honor their sacrifice. When the monsters that govern Brazil today thought they had put an end to resistance against the invasion of indigenous lands after transforming Funai into a militarized anti-indigenous foundation, Bruno refused to abandon his reason for living. He reinvented himself and continued the fight.
There are people like this all over Brazil who continue to resist despite their persecution, risk of being murdered, ostracism and criminalization.
Honoring these lives now means demanding not only the punishment of those who interrupted their heroic trajectories. We will not accept that everything remains the same and that the blame falls only on an impoverished, disposable, half white, half black, half indigenous suspect. If so, it will only be a matter of time before another wretch is hired kill a new indigenous leader, a journalist, a human rights worker and there will be another media circus and hurried investigation to capture another scapegoat.
The war machine installed in Vale do Javari against the environment and native peoples has to be shut down.
Who is paying for the speedboats, the tractors and plows, the huge dredgers, and the planes to transport all of the minerals?
How is it possible that, in a heavily militarized region with a civil police station, a federal police station, a military police battalion, a state prison, a national police force, the Tabatinga Airspace Control unit, an army border patrol battalion, a Brazilian naval base and a firefighter brigade , the main local economic activities continue to be smuggling, illegal mining and drug trafficking? Why don’t all these armed forces do their jobs? Why does the western border of Brazil continues to be a net for opportunists to invade indigenous lands, as has been happening in Brazil since 1500?
How does drug trafficking connect to the mining industry, provide resources, exploit prostitution, corrupt the military, maintain the labor flow needed for mining and sustain an army of hired assassins?
How is illegal and predatory fishing on the Solimões River and its tributaries connected to drug trafficking? How was the fishing industry hijacked by organized crime in order to provide boats and motorized canoes for the transport of drugs?
How does the gold trade work in Tabatinga and neighboring towns? Who buys and who sells the gold in the small shops scattered around the towns of Alto Solimões and Vale do Javari? It’s weird that these little shops even exist and are as banal and seemingly harmless as the illegal animal lottery stands in Rio and São Paulo. But these little stores are only harmless in appearance, due to the fortune they have enabled for a single company that resells nearly all the gold extracted from the indigenous reserve to international speculators.
FD Gold is owned by Dirceu Frederico Sobrinho, who is also president of the Brazilian National Gold Association (Anoro). In August 2021 the Federal Police accused him of feeding 1,370 kilograms of illegal gold into the international market between 2019 and 2021. An important detail is that Dirceu is very close to Vice President, General Hamilton Mourão, who is the former military commander of the Amazon, as well as other top-level officials in the Bolsonaro administration.
FD Gold’s headquarters are located on Avenida Paulista, the financial heart of São Paulo. In May, FD Gold declared itself as the owner of 77 kg of gold apprehended on a private plane in Sorocaba. The cargo, valued at R$23 million was being escorted by Lieutenant Colonel Augusto Tasso who is responsible for the security detail for São Paulo Governor Rodrigo Garcia (PSDB). Is this just a coincidence? It’s not the only proven connection between Brazilian public security forces and the predatory exploitation of the Amazon.
It’s not enough for the investigation into the disappearance of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips to stop at the arrest and conviction of a poor guy with the suggestive nickname of Pelado (Naked). This guy is naked in every way. He has no money, no prestige, no freedom, nothing. At some point Pelado will turn up dead and we’ll all say, “He deserved it.” But he is weakest link in this chain of evil, greed and horror.
We have to follow the money and avenge our heroes. We have to chase down and condemn the sharks who are financing the death of indigenous people and the destruction of the rain forest. They are cowards who use miserable poor people as cannon fodder while they remain hidden behind the walls of expensive, air-conditioned buildings on Avenida Paulista as they tread on the carpeted floors of economic power.
Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, we will follow your examples of love and solidarity.
For the immediate end of the exploitation of gold and other riches in Indigenous Lands.
Down with Bolsonaro and his genocidal government!
This article originally appeared in Jornalistas Livres, was translated by Brian Mier, and can be read in its original form here.