From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters
After journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous solidarity activist Bruno Pereira were murdered in the Brazilian Amazon, condemnations and calls for justice rang out around the world. Scores, mostly Indigenous, protested in Atalaia do Norte at FUNAI, Brazil’s Indigenous protection agency, with banners such as “Protection for our Amazon forest,” “Amazon resist! Who ordered the killing?” and “Bolsonaro out!”
They challenged the government’s claim that the three arrested, plus five more the police said will be arrested, acted alone. President Jair Bolsonaro and local officials blamed the killings on a personal dispute, but Phillips and Pereira were investigating and documenting illegal logging, mining, fishing and drug trafficking by organized crime groups that menace Indigenous peoples in the area and exploit and degrade their environment. Phillips had photographed one suspect fishing illegally.
It was Indigenous people who began the search for the two after they disappeared, while the government stalled. Then Bolsonaro and FUNAI blamed the victims.
“The bullets that kill journalists, activists and Indigenous people in Amazonia are bought with money from land grabs, illegal mining and logging,” said Marcio Astrini of the environmental group Observatório do Clima. “Through his omission in the search efforts or the way he has encouraged these criminals, the Bolsonaro government’s fingerprints are all over this tragedy.”
STRIKE AT FUNAI
The protest came after unions at FUNAI called a five-day strike demanding broadening of the investigation into the murders, as well as the removal of FUNAI’s president, Marcelo Xavier—the same Bolsonaro henchman who had fired Pereira from FUNAI in 2019 after he shut down illegal mines on Indigenous land.
Xavier, who is notorious for undermining protections of the Indigenous and allowing their lands to be grabbed, had immediately blamed the victims when they went missing, falsely claiming they lacked required permits. His statement was so outrageous that a judge ordered him to remove it from the FUNAI website.
Bolsonaro has systematically undermined protection of the environment as well as of Indigenous peoples and encouraged the takeover of their land by capitalist exploiters. His vision of opening the entire Amazon to this kind of destructive “development” goes hand in hand with his genocidal policies toward its peoples. He has openly stated his envy of the U.S. cavalry for its decimation of Native Americans.
The fruits of his vision include 8,729 killings in the Brazilian Amazon in 2020, mostly related to agrarian and environmental conflicts. This is consistent with a worldwide trend of murders of environmental and land defenders such as Pereira, which reached 227 in 2020.
The vicious threats, silencing, and murders of these defenders show the exploiters fear their actions and messages, which move people around the world to solidarity.