Brazil launches operation in Javari Valley where Guardian reporter and Indigenous activist were killed

By March 2, 2023

São Paulo, Brazil – Eight and a half months after the brutal murders of British journalist Dom Philips and Brazilian indigenous rights activist Bruno Pereira, Brazil’s government launched an operation to remove illegal miners from the Javari Valley Indigenous territory where the two were killed.

On Monday, a delegation from the federal government visited the region in the northwestern Amazonas state.

The group was comprised of Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sônia Guajajara; President of the National Indian Foundation (Funai), Joênia Wapichana; along with representatives from the ministries of justice and public security, human rights, and health as well as officials from the Federal Police. 

Beatriz Matos and Alessandra Sampaio, widows of Bruno Pereira and Dom Philips (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil courtesy)

Beatriz Matos, Pereira’s widow and an anthropologist and indigenous activist who recently took over as Director of Territorial Protection and Isolated Peoples within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples also joined the delegation along with Philips’ widow, Alessandra Sampaio and the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Brazil Stephanie Al-Qaq.

On her Twitter account, the ambassador published a message about the visit.

“I would like to thank Minister Guajajara and Joenia Wapichana, chair of Funai, for the opportunity to join this landmark restart of the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land. We will remain in close contact with the government for further cooperation.”

The initial objective of the mission will be to map the vulnerability points in the region to define strategies to combat criminal actions such as illegal hunting, mining, fishing, and logging in a territory that houses the largest number of isolated indigenous peoples in the world.

Brazilian authorities are also eyeing drug trafficking in the region. In recent years, the Javari Valley has become a strategic route for the flow of cocaine and marijuana produced in Peru and Colombia to supply the Brazilian market and be exported from Brazil.

In a  speech at the event, Minister Guajajara said that President Lula’s intention is to remove all land invaders from the region.

“It is no longer possible for Indigenous peoples to live, cornered, in their own territory,” she said.

In addition to the removal of land invaders, Indigenous leaders are also demanding that security forces be permanently stationed in the Javari Valley to prevent their return.

Javari Valley Indigenous Land

The Javari Valley Indigenous land is the second-largest indigenous reserve in Brazil, behind the Yanomami Indigenous territory. It extends  8.5 million hectares (21,003,957 acres) through the western state of Amazonas, near the border with Peru and Colombia. The Javari Valley is home to 6,317 indigenous people from 26 different ethnic groups, 19 of whom live in complete isolation.

The Indigenous land was demarcated by the Brazilian government in 2001 via a decree signed by then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The demarcation process is meant to protect Indigenous lands from incursions by land invaders, but enforcement in recent years has failed.

In December 2021, the indigenist Pereira himself produced a report in which he warned of an increase in invasions in the Javari Valley.

“I’ve been working there for 11 years and I’ve never seen such a difficult situation. The indigenous people say that today the number of invasions is comparable to that of the period before the demarcation monitoring capable of curbing violent conflicts,” Pereira wrote in an excerpt from the document.

In 2022, the association that represents the indigenous peoples from Javari Valley, UNIVAJA, sent at least six letters to the Brazilian government denouncing the intense pace of invasions in the territory and the growth of illegal activities such as mining, fishing, in addition to threats and shootings by invaders against indigenous people.

Pereira and Philips were killed on June 5, 2022 while reporting on the growth of illegal fishing in the region.

According to investigators, the reporter for The Guardian and the activist were intercepted by fishermen who shot them and disposed of their bodies.  
Four people are currently in custody for the crimes, including drug trafficker Rubén Dario da Silva Villar, known as “Colombia,” who was identified as the mastermind.