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A slow investigation: The murder of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

“Bolsonaro has blood on his hands and doesn’t have the courage to say he is very pleased,” said Bruno’s father-in-law, who doubts the minimal efforts of the government and the police to find out the truth behind this double crime.


Sara Vivacqua*


The double murder has made headlines in all the newspapers, mainly in Britain and Brazil.

Although the facts became known three weeks ago, there are still too many shadows about what, in the depths of the Amazon jungle, unleashed this tragedy.

In this interview with the indigenist expert and father-in-law of Bruno Pereira, Kleber Gesteira Matos, it is possible to see how there has been misinformation and slowness in the investigation, and how this negligence seems to be protecting some people.

“My daughter Beatriz only had scant news from the Federal Police. Nothing from the Military Police, the Civil Police, the Army – from the Brazilian State, nothing. She is very well informed by Univaja, by the indigenous people, not by the security professionals who should guarantee the health and peace of mind of all Brazilians,” says Matos.

The Army said in an official statement that it had no orders to begin the search. How do you interpret that?

An excuse. These commanders have the power to act independently in ordinary activities, like guarding a river, in the search for a supposedly injured citizen. The Army has a total phobia of indigenous reserves, especially on the borders. Going back in Brazilian history, Indians actually worked with the Portuguese empire.

This idea that the Indians represent a problem for national sovereignty is enormously lacking in general culture. Father Vieira said that the Indians were the walls of the Sertão (hinterlands) because they defended it from external aggression.

Today they defend Brazilian land against colonialist extractivism, especially in Amazonia. For example, the Macuxi and the Wapichana guard the border with Guyana. The military are profoundly mistaken when they think of indigenous people as a national threat. The threat to national sovereignty is the trafficking and exploitation of wealth.

I was in Brasilia for ten years. And working in government one meets with military personnel. They need training and a very different technical preparation: to learn to listen to opinions divergent from their doctrine. A training limited to the military field is very weak. Euclides da Cunha said: “either we improve the Army greatly or we give it up, it is not possible for it to stay the way it is. The Academia Militar de Agulhas Negras should be a university. We need an Army that does not declare itself to be the ‘land force of the Amazon’, a region that only has water”.

The Brazilian Embassy admitted a mistake over the ambassador’s false report that bodies had been found. Did you received this information?

We did not received any information from the Indians that bodies have been found. The Indians found a health card in Bruno’s name and perhaps his sandals and shorts. It seems that the wallet was together with a rucksack tied to a tree with the branches submerged in the river. This last part was the one I read in the press. The Indians were the ones who started the search, they are the ones who have worked longest in the search so far.

The most precise information comes from the Indians. It is an enormous arrogance on the part of the authorities not to seek the collaboration of the Indians, who deeply know the land.

This atmosphere will weigh on the objective record of what occurred.

The Brazilian Ambassador to the United Kingdom owes the family some transparency about who gave him the false information.

Bolsonaro corroborated the false news from the embassy and speaks of mischief done to them.

First it is necessary to highlight the fact that the president of the republic of Brazil is a profound prophet of death.

If he can speak of guns, of shooting, of explosions and of death in every interview and declaration, he does it. He was alluding to torture, another sport of his, and that they both suffered at the hands of those who ambushed them. But we don’t know anything for sure.

Why was Bruno dismissed from FUNAI?

Simply because he did his job. He was dismissed by the president of FUNAI in the Bolsonaro government, Marcelo Augusto Xavier da Silva, because of a disagreement about the entry of missionaries. There are two basic profiles supported by this government: the truculent profile, which believes that Indians should have disappeared in the 500 years of Brazil’s history; and the untruthful friends, who seek to be paternalistic, catechise and exploit the resources by co-opting the leaders. The current government is openly and actively anti-indigenous. Of every ten measures [introduced by this government], at least nine [negatively] affect education, heritage or indigenous health. In addition to government action, the president has a symbolic role that he knows how to exploit very well, authorising mid-level operators, who are much worse because they have access to the resources, the region and the people. Whoever wants to exploit Ianomami land will have a lot of peace of mind and the means to do so. The government doesn’t do it directly, because it doesn’t even know how to. From the agribusiness point of view, the Bolsonaro government is a success, selling a lot, exploiting more, without limits.

What kind of protection should people like Bruno, with risky professions, receive from the state?

This implies discussing government programmes. If there was preventive surveillance, a nucleus of the police who were supervising rivers, associated with an official policy, whether from the State or Federal Government regarding the work of FUNAI, Chico Mendes (who was murdered) and other public servants, the risks would be much lower. Today they are maximised by the State and Federal Governments. The president shows contempt for the lives of public servants.

Bolsonaro has blood on his hands, and he doesn’t have the courage to say he is very satisfied. He has responsibility, the Brazilian government will have to explain and compensate the families of all the victims of his government who were left without protection and assistance, like Maxciel’s, for example.

How is it possible to manage these illegal workers who are mostly poor servants of big traders, who illegally buy and export forest resources and are the real culprits of the conflicts in the Amazon?

It is necessary to review how the authorities see the Amazonian population. How can they be understood by the south ? Between 1920 and 2008 the Ministry of Education, for example, didn’t have a single leader from the Amazon region. How is this possible? The political culture of the administration of the country is completely ignorant of Amazonia.

The Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) has not yet  declared the time limit. Why has it not done so?

There is no denying that the Indians are great political mobilisers. No one can mobilise so many people for a cause. They have a great sense of opportunity and representation of ideas. Remember Ailton Krenak in the 1988 Constituent Assembly. He was full of revolt, and he showed it with a soft, delicate, elegant voice, painting himself with black graffiti. It has such a great visual impact that it cancelled out hours and hours of speeches by many leaders. The indigenous Brazil has slowed down even our unshakable Supreme (court).

*Sara Vivacqua, Lawyers for Assange, contributor to the Brazilian media Diario do Centro do Mundo.

(All photos have been supplied to The Prisma by Sara Vivacqua and authorised by her for free publication)

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