One year after their killing, loved ones pay tribute to duo slain in Amazon rainforest

A year after the killing of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest, loved ones are gathering in several Brazilian cities to honor their memory

Diane Jeantet,David Biller
Monday 05 June 2023 22:40 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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A year after the killing of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest, friends, colleagues and family members gathered Monday in several Brazilian cities to honor their memory and pledge to carry forward their work.

Dozens of people showed up at demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, capital Brasilia and Bahia state's Salvador. Gatherings also took place in London and Atalaia do Norte, a small Amazon town that is the launching-off point for the remote, sprawling Javari Valley Indigenous territory. Just outside that territory, the men were brutally killed.

Phillips had been conducting research for his book, “How to Save the Amazon: Ask the People Who Know,” which was years in the making. In 2021, he secured a yearlong fellowship with the Alicia Patterson Foundation to write it and, by the time of his death, had completed nearly half.

A main line of police investigation points to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in Indigenous territory.

At the end of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, loved ones on Monday held posters featuring the now-iconic image of the duo set before an orange backdrop, which over the past year has often been displayed at concerts and political rallies and posted on social media. The group swapped hugs and kind words before posing for a photo.

“Dom and Bruno, present!” Alessandra Sampaio, Phillips’ widow, shouted while raising her fist in the air, prompting the others to do the same.

“I am very revolted. I try not to focus on that, I try to move forward and do what I can in the name of Dom and in favor of conservation,” Sampaio said.

Phillips had been reporting on the complex dynamics playing out in the region, where trespassers often enter the protected Indigenous reserves to hunt and fish. He was navigating with Pereira, who had been working with local Indigenous communities for over a decade and acted as Phillips' guide. It was to be one of his final reporting trips for his book.

Ahead of the first anniversary of Phillips' disappearance, his family and friends have launched a fundraiser to complete his work.

A group of journalists from The Guardian, where Phillips regularly contributed as a freelancer, The New Yorker, The Intercept Brazil and Brazilian publications Amazônia Real and Sumaúma will be writing the remaining chapters. Others from the Associated Press, the New York Times or the BBC have offered to help with proof-reading and fact-checking.

“Dom was killed for this book. The least we can do is finish the task to which he had devoted the latter part of his life," Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment writer, said in a statement. "He may be gone, but he won’t be silenced.”

Pereira dedicated his career to helping Indigenous people protect their natural resources and traditional lifestyles. He long worked as an expert at the Brazilian Indigenous affairs agency, known as FUNAI. Under former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration unapologetically promoted development over environmental protection, Pereira had left the agency and embarked on a more independent —and dangerous — path.

“Bruno and Dom deserved, and should have been here today," President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Monday at an event celebrating World Environment Day, also attended by the men's widows. Their “brutal murder shocked the world that came to see the Amazon as a lawless land.”

On Thursday, the documentary “Valley of the Isolated Ones” by television network Globo premiered in Rio. The film showcased previously unreleased footage recovered from Pereira’s cellphone, found in the rainforest months after the crime and retraced the journey of the Indigenous expert in the region.

“This film is a way to honor Bruno’s work in defending our families and our people. Bruno and Dom died in the name of our families,” Indigenous leader Eliesio Marubo said to the audience with teary eyes and a choked voice. “We will continue everything we were doing along with Bruno to strengthen not only his story, his fight, his legacy but also to say that we still exist with the same problems we had before they were killed.”

Speaking at the event beside Copacabana beach on Monday, Beto Marubo — a member of the same ethnic group who is also part of the local Indigenous organization in the Javari Valley — said there must be coordinated planning and action across all government authorities in the area to protect the rainforest and its people, as well as rebuilding of equipment and infrastructure. He added that the nation’s Indigenous affairs agency is still “in shreds”.

In a remote region where crimes often go unsolved, there have been advances in seeking justice. Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira and Jeferson da Silva Lima, two local fishermen, have confessed to the killings and are in prison awaiting trial. A Colombian businessman, Rubens Villar Coelho, stands accused of masterminding the crime, and is also in custody. He denies any involvement in the killings. But there have been questions about the possible violations of due process.

AP reporters Fabiano Maisonnave and Mario Lobão contributed to this story from Rio de Janeiro. Carla Bridi contributed from Brasilia.

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