Dozens of protesters gathered outside the offices of Brazil’s indigenous protection agency Funai in the riverside town of Atalaia do Norte, renewing calls for justice for the murders of journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous lawyer Bruno Pereira.
The protesters – mostly natives of the Javari Valley – held orange and yellow banners that read: “Protection for our Amazon rainforest”, “Amazon resists! Who ordered the murder? and “Out Bolsonaro!”, amid growing fears that the criminal investigation into the killings is slowing.
“In my country, the white man comes to impose fear. But we won’t be afraid of the white man,” said Waki Mayuruna, an indigenous leader and member of the Univaja collective. “We will continue to defend our land. It’s not just today, this fight for our land goes back a long time. We fight until the last Indian is alive.
Many carried large banners and wore t-shirts bearing the faces of Phillips and Peirera next to a photo of Maxciel Peirera dos Santos, the Funai agent who was shot dead in the nearby town of Tabatinga in 2019.” Justice for Dom and Bruno and Max,” a sign said.
Three men are currently in custody for the murder, but state police said Sunday they were preparing to arrest five other suspects linked to the murder. The five men, investigators told the Guardian, allegedly assisted the suspected killers a day after the shooting by moving and burying the remains.
But, as of Wednesday evening, no arrests had been made. Atalaia do Norte police chief Alex Perez said investigators have yet to recover the alleged murder weapon used to shoot the two men, believed to be a shotgun usually used for hunting .
The shooter reportedly dumped him somewhere in the Itaquai River, where the murder took place, but state police currently have no divers to support the investigation.
On Thursday, Federal Police forensic investigators were examining two boats, one belonging to Pereira and the other to Jefferson da Silva Lima, said Pelado, the suspected shooter. The illegal fisherman reportedly confessed to killing the men and led investigators to where their remains were buried.
The visit revealed how the alleged killer’s boat was much smaller and had a significantly more powerful engine, supporting the police theory that Phillips and Peirera were ambushed from behind.
Investigators reportedly found a shotgun lead hole in the steering wheel of Peirera’s boat.
State police also confirmed reports that investigators believe Peirera, who was legally carrying a firearm, returned fire to the assailants, but had already been fatally injured by that time.
Peirera and Phillips were murdered in the Javari Valley, an increasingly dangerous and remote part of the Amazon rainforest. A combination of drug trafficking, illegal fishing, mining and logging has proliferated in the region under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The far-right leader has reduced the government’s presence in the region, with Funai and other government environmental agencies blocked by budget cuts and personnel changes.
Indigenous leaders and security experts argued that the killings were directly linked to organized crime in the area. But Bolsonaro and local investigators said the killings happened because of a personal dispute with Pereira.
Phillips, a renowned journalist who covered the region in depth, was a frequent contributor to The Guardian. Pereira, a former senior Funai administrator, had worked in consultation with local indigenous groups to strengthen the protections guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution.
The Javari Valley region, an area the size of Portugal, is home to one of the largest concentrations of isolated indigenous communities in the world.