In Brazil, the bodies of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian anthropologist Bruno Pereira who went missing in the western Amazon on June 5 have been found while two suspects have been detained in the case.
“It was really very brutal the way our companions were executed. Their bodies were buried really far from the river,” said Kora Kanamari, an Indigenous leader from the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, in a message sent to friends over WhatsApp on Wednesday night that was also shared with The World.
Pereira had worked for many years at Brazil’s Indigenous Agency. Their work called attention to the increasing numbers of illegal fishermen, hunters, loggers and narcotraffickers on Indigenous land.
Indigenous and environmental leaders are mourning the deaths and asking questions about the government's role in protecting the Amazon.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. That area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
The police have arrested two brothers in the case: Amarildo and Oseney da Costa de Oliveira. They are both illegal fishermen who allegedly threatened Phillips and Pereira earlier in their trip. On Wednesday, the federal police said that Amarildo had confessed to killing the men using a firearm and led them to the remains.
“A crime was committed. We have the material evidence. We are now in the phase of uncovering all of the authors of this criminal act and the circumstances and the real motivation of the crime.”
“A crime was committed,” said a top member of the Federal Police in Manaus during a press conference on Wednesday night. “We have the material evidence. We are now in the phase of uncovering all of the authors of this criminal act and the circumstances and the real motivation of the crime.”
Authorities said Wednesday that they expected to make more arrests in the case. None had been made as of Thursday, but police said searches for the boat the two had used were about to restart while Phillips’ and Pereira’s bodies will arrive in Brasilia on Thursday evening for further investigation.
Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas state police said that the missing men's boat had not been found yet but police knew the area where it purportedly was hidden.
“They put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink,” he said. The engine of the boat was removed, according to investigators.
Authorities have said a main line of investigation has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory.
Pereira, who previously led FUNAI's local office in the region, had taken part in several operations against illegal fishing, which usually lead to seizure of fishing gear and fines for violators. Only the Indigenous can legally fish in their territories.
But police have not ruled out other motives, such as drug trafficking.
The Portuguese word luto, or “mourning,” has been shared by friends over WhatsApp, posted to social media and published on top of a black background on the front page of an environmental journal in Brazil.
Composer André Abujamra remixed a song featuring Pereira singing in an Indigenous language.
Pereira’s wife wrote on Twitter: “Now that Bruno’s spirits are wandering in the forest and spread among us, our strength is much greater.”
"Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love,” said Phillip’s wife Alessandra Sampaio, in a statement. “Today, we also begin our quest for justice. I hope that the investigations exhaust all possibilities and bring definitive answers on all relevant details as soon as possible.”
“It’s sad but we need to take advantage of this moment, so we can ensure that their death is not in vain. “We need to organize in their memory. We need to continue their work.”
“It’s sad but we need to take advantage of this moment, so we can ensure that their death is not in vain,” said anthropologist Barbara Arisi, who has lived and worked closely with communities in the Javari Valley. “We need to organize in their memory. We need to continue their work.”
Illegal invasions into Indigenous territories have spiked under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He has vocally backed development in the Amazon and gutted resources to state agencies that once protected reserves, conservation areas and Indigenous territories.
Bolsonaro has been a frequent critic both of journalists and Indigenous experts and his government was accused of being slow to act in the disappearances. Before the bodies were discovered on Wednesday, he criticized Phillips in an interview, saying that locals in the area where he went missing didn't like him and that he should have been more careful in the region.
“We are concerned for the safety of our region and the Indigenous peoples after everything that has happened here,” said Eliesio Marubo, one of the leaders of the Union of Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley. “We have been abandoned by the state. And we will surely continue to be abandoned. We have done our part. But the state must assume the responsibility of protecting the lives of those here.”
UNIVAJA, an association of Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley, mourned the loss of “two partners” in a statement Wednesday, adding they only had help and protection from local police.
Colleagues of Pereira called a vigil outside FUNAI's headquarters in Brasilia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.