Remembering Bruno Pereira, Indigenous Advocate, and Colleague Dom Phillips

The thoughts I have translated below were written by Aline Almeida Bentes, a professor in the Medical School of the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Her cousin was married to Bruno Pereira, an Indigenous advocate who, along with the British journalist Dom Phillips, was killed while conducting interviews with natives of the Brazilian Amazon. Pereira is believed to have been the main target of the killings. As reported in The Guardian (6/20/2002), “A defender of Indigenous peoples and a former official with the federal government’s Indigenous foundation, he knew of the illegal fishing that was rife in the area and it has been alleged he was threatened before by at least one of the men detained by police.”  The following remarks were written when the deaths of the two were suspected but not yet confirmed. They came to my attention through one of my Portuguese teachers in a 1968 Peace Corps training group that now stays in touch via Zoom.  Professor Bentes’ comments appeared in a Medical School newsletter. She has granted permission to post them here.

What Brazil Do We Want? (June 15, 2022)

“I have such a clear sense about the Brazil that can be, and will be, that the Brazil that is pains me.” Darcy Ribeiro

How painful it has been to live in Brazil in recent years. Every day our chests tighten with the news of another young black man murdered in the favelas, of a woman or child victim of violence, of an immigrant beaten to death at work, of Indians and forest defenders murdered in land conflicts. Brazil has reached the sad point of ranking as the third country in the world for the number of murders of activists and human rights defenders. The number of deaths in conflicts in rural areas of the country increased 10 times from 2020 to 2021. I agree with Eliane Brum, in her latest essay: “It is not incompetence or neglect: it is method”, we are living a war. And we need to be clear about this to choose who we will fight alongside.

The indigenist Bruno Pereira is married to my cousin Beatriz. In 2018, I was at their house in Belém and was able to read some of the diaries of Bruno’s forest tours. I remember being amazed, because he wrote down all the details, from the time he woke up, if it was raining, if he found any snakes, the conversations he had with the Indians. I felt like I was with him in the forest. It was magical. Bruno, Beatriz and Dom Phillips are among the few people who are not content just to dream about another possible Brazil. Perhaps because they have lived and learned so much from different indigenous groups, they are able to truly see our power, our riches, our diversity. It’s people like them, who work tirelessly for the Brazil that will be, who strengthen us to stand firm in the trenches of resistance.

On June 5th, Bruno and British journalist Dom Phillips disappeared while sailing up the Itaquaí River to Atalaia do Norte in the state of Amazonas.

Bruno, a licensed employee of FUNAI (the National Indian Foundation), was working in collaboration with Unijava (the Union of Indigenous Peoples in the Valley of Javari) to create a permanent surveillance team for the forest. He trained various indigenous groups on how to use drones and satellite images to monitor the forest and thus denounce illegal mining, hunting and fishing in the Vale do Javari indigenous territory. For carrying out his work, Bruno was dismissed from his position at FUNAI in 2019, after leading an operation to repress illegal mining. Bruno had to ask permission from the agency to continue protecting the indigenous people.

Dom Phillips, a journalist passionate about the forest, committed to the truth, was on another expedition through Javari, talking to the Indians, riverside dwellers, miners, trying to hear and understand all who live there, as he was writing a book about the Amazon.

Today, in an action carried out at the UFMG Faculty of Education, attacking the disappearance of the two, a student of the Xacriabá ethnic group said in a very beautiful way that Bruno and Dom Phillips, as well as all the other Indians and forest defenders killed or disappeared, were like seeds that would sprout in many fruits, in many other men and women willing to fight for the forest, for life. He asked for love, kindness and unity among all and ended by praying in their language. I was touched and my heart was comforted by their love and brotherhood, after such difficult days for my family. Stirred by so many overwhelming feelings in the last few days, I leave you with this reflection: which Brazil do we want? A country that respects the Constitution, the sovereignty of peoples, diversity, indigenous territories or a country of violence, hunger and death?

Aline Almeida Bentes, Adjunct Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, UFMG

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