- Journalists in Brazil and around the world are shocked by the tragic end of a ten-day search for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous peoples advocate Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest near the Brazil-Peru border in northern Amazonas state. Bodies believed to be theirs were found on June 15 following a major outcry against the federal government’s inaction following their disappearance. Indigenous patrols boldly conducted their own search while the government did little.
- The killings of Dom and Bruno are symbolic of the plight of journalists across Latin America as violence against journalists and activists escalates in the region. It also raises an alarm about the need to protect reporters when we cover environmental crime on the frontlines of nature.
- But these crimes won’t stop us: uncovering wrongdoing in Brazil’s critical biomes — from the Mata Atlantica to the Cerrado to the Amazon — is more important now than ever. At the same time, demanding justice for the murders of Bruno and Dom became a struggle for all of us.
- This article is a comment. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily those of Mongabay.
Ever since I became an environmental journalist six years ago, I’ve been labeled “crazy” by family, friends and acquaintances. Why? Because they were extremely scared after reading my articles and hearing my testimonies about fieldwork experiences in the Brazilian Amazon.
The question I’ve heard over and over since then has been, “Aren’t you afraid of the work you’re doing?” By June 5th, I automatically answered, “No.”
But now I’m scared. And devastated, angry and sad.
Journalists in Brazil and around the world are devastated – and frightened – at the tragic end of a 10-day search for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous peoples advocate Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest near the Brazil-Peru border in northern Brazil State of Amazonas. Bodies believed to be theirs were found on June 15 following a major outcry against the federal government’s inaction following their disappearance. Indigenous patrols boldly conducted their own search while the government did little.
Dom and Bruno disappeared on June 5 while returning from a visit to tribal land in the Javari River Valley, home to some 6,000 tribal people, including some of the last groups living in voluntary isolation. This area has recently become known as one of the most “dangerous” in Brazil as illegal trespassers, drug traffickers, miners, loggers and fishermen used violence against indigenous peoples.
I was completely shocked when I read the news of her disappearance on June 6th. Within minutes I received dozens of messages from caring friends. “Do you know her, Karla?” “I’m worried about you, my friend.” “When I read this message, I froze when I thought of you!” “I’m so glad that you are well and safe in Rio are you!”
A movie started playing in my head with several risky situations I put myself in while reporting in the Amazon. The very first happened five years ago when a Canadian journalist and I got on a boat garimpeiros (gold miners) in the Madeira River in northern Rondônia state visiting barges and dredgers to tell a story about illegal gold mining. In early 2019, an English documentary filmmaker and I heard gunshots on our way back from a field report in the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve in northeast Maranhão state, considered one of the most threatened indigenous lands. At the end of the same year, two motorcycles followed me and my reporting team on our way back from the Tembé Indigenous Reserve in the northern state of Pará. These are just some personal experiences – I have heard many similar accounts from other reporters, photographers and filmmakers.
From that moment on, one thought stuck in my mind: “What happened to Dom and Bruno could have happened to any of us.”
I haven’t slept well since that day. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Dom and Bruno and the future of environmental reporting.
I knew Dom and Bruno, who were admired for their work. Dom was one of the first international correspondents I met in Rio when I started working for foreign media and started going to a monthly correspondents’ happy hour in the city. He was always lovely and was a fascinating and engaging person to talk to.
I met Bruno in Brasília in early 2019 when he was the leader of isolated indigenous groups at FUNAI, the Brazilian agency for indigenous affairs. At the time, I was co-directing and co-producing a documentary about the Guardians of the Forest, a group of Guajajara Indians who risk their lives to protect their Arariboia Reserve from illegal loggers and also the isolated Awá Indians to protect those living in the same area. Dom made a great story about the Guardians in 2015 and I remember he congratulated me on the documentary which won three international awards.
In November 2019, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, one of the documentary’s guards, was brutally murdered in the Arariboia Reserve, allegedly by illegal loggers. I remember as if it were today how devastated I was for several months, sleepless thinking about Paulo and his family and Laércio Guajajara, the guard who escaped the ambush. No one has yet been charged with these crimes.
Three years later, Bruno is the second interviewee in the documentary to be murdered. And he was very connected to Dom, who also reported on the Watchers. That just came to my mind as I was writing this. I now see a tragic connection between the three murders: they were all warriors and guardians of the forest.
The murders of Dom, Bruno and Paulo exemplify the plight of journalists across Latin America as violence against journalists and activists escalates in the region. It also raises an alarm about the need to protect reporters when we cover environmental crime on the frontlines of nature.
But these crimes won’t stop us: uncovering wrongdoing in Brazil’s critical biomes — from the Mata Atlantica to the Cerrado to the Amazon — is more important now than ever. But after these killings, getting our jobs done will be harder than ever: aside from the impunity with which these killers act, it’s likely that most news outlets will issue more stringent risk assessments for field reporting to protect employees and freelancers .
At the same time, demanding justice for the murders of Bruno and Dom became a struggle for all of us. Because of this, Mongabay, along with dozens of media outlets, signed a letter to the Brazilian government demanding immediate action to find Bruno and Dom on June 8.
Defending the Amazon and the environment is not an “adventure,” as President Jair Bolsonaro argued in his opening remarks on Bruno and Dom’s disappearance. Being an environmental journalist is a mission: fighting for a better world for future generations.
Our fight isn’t just for the planet – it’s also to honor the memory of all who fell before us and put their lives on the line. Even as they navigated the unbearable grief, Alessandra Sampaio and Beatriz Matos, Dom’s and Bruno’s wives, eloquently expressed what’s at stake.
“Today we also begin our search for justice. I hope the investigations exhaust all avenues and bring definitive answers to all relevant details as soon as possible,” Dom’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said in a statement. “We will only have peace if the necessary measures are taken so that such tragedies never happen again.”
“Now that Bruno’s spirits are roaming the forest and spreading among us, our power is much stronger,” said Beatriz Matos, Bruno’s wife in a tweet.
Editor’s note: A large group of journalists in Brazil and abroad are crowdfunding to help Dom and Bruno’s families. Donations can be made here.
Banner image: The killing of British journalist Dom Phillips (left) and Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira (right) in the Brazilian Amazon is emblematic of the plight of journalists and activists across Latin America as violence in the region escalates. Composite: João Laet/AFP/Getty Images (left); Daniel Marenco/Agência O Globo (right).
The deaths of Phillips and Pereira shine a light on a violence-stricken Amazon region
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