The world has lost two great men: British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous rights advocate Bruno Araújo Pereira. Phillips and Pereira went missing on June 5 in the Amazon’s remote Javari Valley region, and their remains were found nearly two weeks later after the Brazilian government was pressured to search for them. Three illegal fishermen, out of eight suspects, have been arrested in connection with the killing. Yet, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro blamed the two men for their own deaths: “Two people in a boat, in a completely wild region like this, is an adventure that isn’t recommendable for one to do.” Mr. Bolsonaro’s victim-blaming is insensitive and immoral; it ignores the multitude of state failures that contributed to the tragedy.
Contrary to Mr. Bolsonaro’s statement, Phillips and Pereira didn’t venture into the Amazon for “adventure.” Phillips, a frequent Guardian contributor and onetime contract writer for The Post, was doing research for a book on conservation efforts in the Amazon. Pereira, a longtime official with the government’s Indigenous protection agency, was documenting illegal activity in Indigenous territory and shoring up local security efforts. With few resources and no state backing, the two men were doing what the Brazilian government should: promoting conservation, protecting Indigenous land and repelling illegal activity.
Mr. Bolsonaro has made clear his disregard for the Amazon and its crucial importance to the planet’s future. Brazil was once a world leader in preventing deforestation, but under Mr. Bolsonaro deforestation reached a 15-year high. He has slashed funding for numerous environmental agencies and sidelined IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, instead charging the Brazilian military with fighting environmental crime,. The Javari Valley, the area where Phillips and Pereira went missing, has the world’s largest concentration of uncontacted tribes and is one of the most sensitive regions of the Brazilian Amazon. But Mr. Bolsonaro only sees its economic value — using the war in Ukraine to justify his longtime desire to pillage its resources. Meanwhile, illegal activity and violence, from fishing to mining to logging to drug trafficking, have exploded: Criminals have been emboldened by Mr. Bolsonaro’s rhetoric.
Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world for environmental activists and journalists: At least 20 environmentalists were killed in 2021 and more than 40 journalists have lost their lives since the 1990s. Phillips’s and Pereira’s killers must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to deter further attacks, as well as to grant their families justice. Given how closely related environmental crime is to drug trafficking in the Javari Valley, Brazil’s government should also explore whether the killers have any connection to organized criminal elements. The United States and other governments should press Mr. Bolsonaro to re-fund and rebuild capacity in IBAMA and FUNAI, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs department. Phillips and Pereira may be gone, but Brazil and the world must continue on with their work.
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