A horror ending for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in the Brazilian Amazon after 11 days of agony | International
The discovery of two bodies buried in an area of very difficult access in the jungle in the Brazilian Amazon put an end this Wednesday to the agony of the relatives and colleagues of the indigenist Bruno Pereira, 41 years old and father of three children, and of the British journalist Dom Phillips, 57. The police were able to locate the place where the bodies were hidden only after a poacher, the first arrested after the disappearance, confessed that they had been murdered, buried and sunk their boat in the Itaquaí River. It was the feared outcome after an agony of 11 days with intense searches in the stretch of river where they disappeared on June 5. The violent death of both in the Yavarí Valley – a territory the size of Panama where at least ten uncontacted indigenous peoples live – is much more than an event. “The tragedy exposes the Amazon as a lawless land sponsored by Bolsonaro,” he says this Thursday the editorial From the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.
The 11 days of agony
Wednesday, June 15. The indigenous trackers who mobilized hours after the track of the indigenista and the journalist were lost complete the 11th day of searches in a jungle area crossed by a meandering river. The security forces joined the day after the disappearance was reported. The survey focuses on an area of 10 square kilometers, in which the river makes several turns, which is relatively close, in Amazonian terms, to the city of Atalaia do Norte. After one of those arrested, fisherman Amarildo da Costa, 41, alias Bare, will confess the crime, one of the two arrested leads the police to the ditch where they were buried. Hours later, the police inform a press conference that two bodies have been located and offer some first details about the circumstances of the disappearance.
Ten days before, Sunday June 5. Reporter Phillips, a regular collaborator of Guardian, and the indigenista, who for a decade worked at Funai, the official body created to protect the indigenous, were returning to Atalaia do Norte after a journey upriver. They had sailed to Lake Jaburu, so that the first one could interview the native patrolmen who manage a surveillance post to prevent invasions of Yavarí land. They are colleagues of the men who have searched for them for 11 days. Belong to Univaja, an association that has assumed the defense of their land in the face of the withdrawal of government agencies. Pereira works with them. They are seen for the last time by the residents of a village called São Gabriel.
All this happens in the best preserved Amazon, 1,100 kilometers west of Manaus, on the border with Peru and Colombia, it is the front line of a war. An area where fishermen and poachers, illegal loggers and miners, and drug trafficking converge. The indigenous expert helped the members of Univaja to document their denunciations of invasions in order to activate the public authorities in the hope that they would apply the law. A task in which they combine the knowledge inherited from their ancestors with cutting-edge technology.
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According to the police report, on the way back, Pelado, armed with a shotgun, chases the boat of the British and the Brazilian at full speed. The fisherman, a known poacher, opens fire. He goes with four other people on board, a confrontation ensues and they neutralize the duo. The indigenista had been repeatedly threatened and used to be armed; he, as well as Phillips and the Univaja team, were threatened to disappear the day before by Pelado and other poachers. The attackers sink the duo’s engine into the river.
When the British and the Brazilian do not arrive at the scheduled time, the alarm goes off in the Univaja association. The indigenous patrollers, who know read in the jungle if someone has passed through a place, how long ago, how many there were or if there was violence, they start the search. Without result. There are also no signs of an accident. Pereira has made multiple expeditions in the jungle, he knows how to survive in that hostile environment.
Days before the event, Pereira provided the police and the public ministry with detailed information about a criminal network allegedly involved in fishing and poaching. And the information collected on the ground by the indigenous people has also been used in recent months to confiscate illegal catches.
Monday, June 6. The indigenous people report the disappearance to the authorities. The first police officers join the search. The Government announces the sending of means, which take time to materialize on the ground. Relatives and colleagues of the two disappeared are pressing them because time is of the essence. They criticize that they do not deploy aircraft. The Ministry of Defense announces in a note that it is ready to join, but is awaiting orders from above. Outrage spreads among the colleagues of one and the other due to the slow government response.
Meanwhile, the attackers move the remains of the disappeared to a point three kilometers into the jungle and bury them. They load their boat with sandbags and sink it, according to the police version, based on Pelado’s confession. Tests must confirm their identities and the cause of death.
Tuesday, June 7. The authorities deploy a search operation with divers, police and soldiers in two boats and a jet ski. Relatives denounce that aircraft are needed. The police open a criminal investigation. The colleagues of both are mobilized to launch a national and international campaign that cries out: Where are Bruno and Dom?
Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, implores authorities in a video: “Even if I don’t find the love of my life alive, they have to be found. Please intensify these searches.” Pereira’s companion, Beatriz Matos, emphasizes in a note: “Every minute counts, every untraveled stretch of river and jungle could be this (the place) where they await rescue.”
President Jair Bolsonaro, who considers NGOs, indigenous people and the press to be real enemies, disqualifies the two professional veterans: “Two people on a boat, in such a completely wild region, is an adventure that is not recommended. Anything can happen. They could have had an accident or been executed.”
Wednesday, June 8. Several people are questioned and the fisherman known as Pelado is arrested after a witness says that he saw the chase on the 5th. missing. (The two lawyers who assume their defense are justice officials, according to the Brazilian press, something not so strange in the most isolated Brazil, but that draws attention. When the news spreads, both leave the client).
Thursday, June 9. Bolsonaro and Biden hold their first bilateral meeting in parallel to the Summit of the Americas, which is being held in Los Angeles. The campaign that demands the authorities to reinforce the tracking operations reaches that far.
Friday, June 10. Police find “apparently human organic material” in the river.
An indigenous source who knows this remote region of the Yavarí Valley well explains to this newspaper: “Everything leads one to believe that it was not an accident, but that they were ambushed. A ship does not disappear, just like that, with seven empty gasoline drums. They and all the evidence evaporated.”
Saturday, June 11. Pelado’s family assures that he has been tortured. “They wanted him to confess, but he is innocent,” Oseney da Costa, brother of the first detainee, who days later will become the second detainee, tells the Associated Press.
Sunday, June 12. First tangible news in the case. Univaja indigenous trackers locate a backpack strapped to a tree in a flooded area near where they were last seen. Among the belongings, the health card of Pereira, the boots of both, some flip-flops and clothes.
Monday, June 13. The deputy of the Brazilian Embassy in London, Roberto Doring, tells the Phillips brothers that he has news, and wants to tell them. The diplomat’s information came from “an official Brazilian contact,” the family later said. “He told us that they had found two bodies, but that (as it was early in Brazil) the identification process had not been carried out.” Phillips’ wife made the find public. Many national and international media, including this newspaper, published the apparent information, which the Brazilian police later denied in a note saying: “The information that the bodies have been located does not come from.” The ambassador later apologized to the Phillipses.
President Bolsonaro refers to the case again. This time in strikingly graphic terms. “The indications lead us to believe that they did something evil with them, because human viscera have already been found floating in the river, which are in Brasilia to identify their DNA.”
Tuesday, June 14. A second suspect arrested, Pelado’s brother and fisherman Oseney da Costa.
Wednesday, June 15. The head of the Federal Police of Amazonas confirms in an appearance late at night in Manaus the location of two bodies and offers some details of Pelado’s confession.
“Now we can bring them home and send them off with love,” says Phillips’ wife. And she adds: “Today the search for justice also begins.”
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