According to multiple reports, the two suspects arrested for the disappearance of Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips have confessed to murdering them. Messrs. Phillips and Pereira went missing on June 5 while on a research trip near the remote Vale do Javari indigenous reserve, in the western Amazon.
A court on June 7 issued a 30-day arrest order for fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as “Pelado.” His brother, Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, was detained yesterday. An eyewitness testified to seeing Pelado’s boat pursuing the one in which Messrs. Phillips and Pereira were last seen traveling.
The brothers reportedly confessed to the crime after being questioned by law enforcement agents — and are said to have led marshals to the site where they disposed of the bodies.
Days before the crime, Mr. Pereira apprehended tons of valuable fish (which were illegally obtained) in the possession of Pelado and his brother. The police believe the fish were part of a money-laundering scheme linked to drug trafficking gangs. (Editor Euan Marshall explains how these schemes work, on our podcast.)
The crime lays bare the lawlessness that reigns in remote areas of the Amazon — a longtime problem made much worse by the hollowing out of federal environmental agencies. As Brasília correspondent Amanda Audi revealed on Tuesday, the government ignored repeated warnings about the dangers in and around the Vale do Javari reserve.
The government was also criticized for its lack of urgency in launching search efforts for the two men last week.
President Jair Bolsonaro has additionally been scolded for his lack of empathy when addressing the case. He at one point said the two men were on an “ill-advised adventure.”
Today, just hours before the confessions were made public, Mr. Bolsonaro said that Mr. Phillips was “not appreciated in the region” for writing stories on wildcat mining. He added that the journalist “should have taken better care of himself.”
When and if confirmed, the double murder will add to South America’s massive tally of lethal attacks against people defending land and environmental activists. In 2020, Global Witness confirmed 227 such cases in the world — Brazil had the fourth-highest number with 20 deaths.