Nature defenders, colleagues and family of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira expressed anger Thursday as evidence mounted they were murdered in the Amazon, laying the blame at the door of Brazil’s government.
Guardian contributor Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, went missing on June 5 in a remote part of the rainforest that is rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.
Ten days later, on Wednesday, a suspect named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira took police to a place where he said he had helped bury bodies near the city of Atalaia do Norte, where the pair had been headed.
Human remains unearthed from the site were to be brought to Brazilia Thursday to be officially identified by experts. Results are likely expected by next week.
Late Wednesday, the federal police chief of Brazil’s northern Amazonas state said there was “a 99-percent probability” the remains “corresponded” to the missing men.
They had apparently been shot.
Phillips, a long-time contributor to The Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon, with Pereira as his guide, when they went missing.
Pereira, an expert at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, had received multiple threats from loggers and miners trying to invade isolated Indigenous land.
Phillips’ family said in a statement they were “heartbroken” by the discovery of two bodies Wednesday, which they took as confirmation that the pair were murdered.
Greenpeace Brazil said the deaths were “a direct result of the agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro for the Amazon, which opens the way for predatory activities and crimes to be reproduced in broad daylight.”
The Javari Valley where the men went missing — an area near the borders with Peru and Colombia — is home to about 20 isolated Indigenous groups where drug traffickers, loggers, miners and illegal fishermen operate.
“In the last three years, our country has increasingly become a land where the only valid law is that of ‘anything goes,” said Greenpeace of the Bolsonaro term.
“It has become a land of invasion and land grabbing; of mining and illegal logging; of territorial conflicts, and where it’s worth killing to ensure that none of these criminal activities are prevented from happening. All this is fueled by the actions and omissions of the Brazilian government.”
Bolsonaro has pushed to develop the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, since he took office in 2019.
On Wednesday, he drew fresh criticism for saying Phillips was “disliked” for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.
“The level of violence applied to Bruno and Dom makes clear how the Amazon is at the mercy of the law of the most powerful, under which brutality is the rule,” said WWF Brazil.
“The State abandoned the Amazon due to a meaningless project of destruction of the forest and extermination of its peoples.”
The Univaja Indigenous peoples grouping, which had taken part in the search, denounced the suspected killings as a “political crime,” while the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism said “the president and his allies have become protagonists of attacks on the press” uncovering environmental crimes.
Jonathan Watts, a colleague of Phillips at The Guardian, told AFP in London the “monstrous” crime should not deter journalists and others from exposing the truth.
“People dead for defending Indigenous lands and the environment. Brazil cannot be that,” said ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will face Bolsonaro in October elections.
Investigations continue into the motive for the crime as well as the role played by Oliveira and fellow suspect Oseney da Costa de Oliveira.
Brazilian media report there may be three more people involved. Police have not confirmed the information, but have not ruled out more arrests