We speak with Indigenous lawyer Eliésio Marubo in Brasília, about calls to independently investigate the murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira. When they went missing in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, he helped to coordinate a search-and-rescue mission. He went to Washington, D.C., to coordinate support for the investigation and to raise awareness for the safety of the Indigenous communities, and coordinated a public letter signed by 23 congressmembers that read in part: “This human-level tragedy is a symptom of a broader assault on the Amazon rainforest, which is pushing the vast ecosystem to an ecological tipping point.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We’re joined now by the Indigenous lawyer Eliésio Marubo. When the British journalist Dom Phillips and the Indigenous researcher and advocate Bruno Pereira went missing in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, Marubo helped to coordinate a search and rescue mission. He’s just back from Washington, D.C., where he called for their murder to be investigated and to raise awareness for the safety of the Indigenous communities. Today, Eliésio Marubo sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed by 23 congressmembers that urges the State Department to call for an independent investigation into the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.
First of all, welcome to Democracy Now!, Eliésio Marubo, and our deepest condolences on the deaths of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] It’s always good to collaborate with our partners in the press. We’ve always had a very good relationship with this very important sector of society. And that is why, ’til his last minutes, his last moments, Dom was working with us in the Javari region.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could start off by talking about exactly what you understand happened, from the beginning, what happened to Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, and your efforts to find them, and then what you’ve been calling for since the murder?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] First, the initial thing we were concerned about, as Univaja, the Indigenous organization in the Javari region, was our commitment to find the bodies — find them initially alive, but then the bodies — and to understand what had happened. And as soon as that, we heard what had happened, their disappearance, then we went to look, search for them.
So, after we had located their remains, the second part of what we went about was to share information that we had collected with the authorities and to demand for an investigation so we could understand who had committed such horrible things to our companions.
And the third part of our action was to really engage in broad action to ask the authorities to do their work, to demand an independent and thorough investigation. And that’s why we reached out not only to the Brazilian authorities but also abroad. And that’s what I came to do in the U.S.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Eliésio, could you talk about the — Dom and Bruno were working on a book called How to Save the Amazon. Can you tell us about the Javari Valley and the people who live there?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] The Javari Valley is a very important area for Brazil. It is the entryway to two other countries. We’re in a triple frontier there. There are several social problems there to be faced, mainly the most important of which is security. Our work has focused on safeguarding our communities, especially access to public policies, and also to protect them from non-Indigenous people, who have other interests in our territory. Most of the Indigenous people in the region have given us the mandate to represent them. So we are an organization that represents all the Indigenous peoples living in that region.
So, the reflection we bring, the problem we bring is: How is Brazil taking care of its borders? And how is Brazil taking care of its original Indigenous people? Because we are dying, and our partners are dying, and we’re dying in a very abrupt and cruel manner. What we’ve observed in the region is a deliberate lack of action by the Brazilian government, and that has led to the victimization of our peoples, nonprotection of our peoples and of our territory, in the national and international scenario. This is the great issue and the great dilemma in the Javari Valley.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Can you describe how life has gotten worse for Indigenous people under the current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] The losses have been suffered by the whole population, not just by the Indigenous population, under this Bolsonaro’s administration. But the Indigenous peoples have suffered more, because we are much more dependent on public policies. When the president dismantles public policies and public institutions that should serve Indigenous rights, when the government persecutes its civil servants whose mandate it should be to protect the Indigenous peoples and the policies applied to them, we become more vulnerable. And that is why Indigenous organizations, and specifically here Univaja, have had to take on the role of protection of fundamental rights in our region. I do believe that time will change this. But I don’t know how much time we can continue to endure this, how much time we have left before help comes to us. We have so many people who have been murdered. We have many others who are being threatened. So we don’t know how long we’ll be able to endure this.
AMY GOODMAN: Eliésio Marubo, if you could tell us — I mean, you are incredibly brave to have launched the investigation into Dom and Bruno, because, of course, what they faced in their murders is — as you’re explaining, is the threat to so many people in the Javari region and the Amazon. Talk about what you found and if you feel that there’s any connection to the highest ranks of the Brazilian government right to Jair Bolsonaro, at least the attitude toward preserving the Amazon.
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] Bolsonaro’s omission, in terms of protection in the Javari region, has opened wide doors to the presence of organized crime in the region. And what I did was to give visibility to our region, to the Javari Valley, because we have gone through problems for many decades. I’ve paid a price, a very high price, for speaking up. And I know I will continue to pay a price. But I am too tired of the persecution we’ve suffered. I am too tired of just watching the difference between what the policies are and what we actually get. So, it was really important to come to the U.S., to go to the U.S. and speak to members of Congress. I told them I don’t know how long I have left in this life, but it was very important that we could establish this initial dialogue for our cause.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this letter that many, more than a dozen, U.S. congressmembers have signed to Antony Blinken, that puts the killing of Dom and Bruno, of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, in the tradition of the major defenders of the Amazon who were murdered, like Chico Mendes in 1988, Sister Dorothy Stang in 2005, Maxciel Pereira in 2019, Paulo Paulino Guajajara in 2019, Brazil being one of the most dangerous places for environmentalists on the face of the planet, and what you feel the U.S. can do?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] I’ve been asked this question several times. And the vision that we had in our organization, Univaja, was that it was very important to establish an international dialogue with communities from other countries. Brazil is a signatory of several treaties and agreements and declarations of human rights that established that Brazil should safeguard fundamental rights, such as the right to life, the right to safety, the right to health, and we want to show that Brazil isn’t observing these rights, isn’t following what it signed, the country signed, that it would respect. So, we felt that we needed to ask for help in the international community. And we are sure that this diplomatic and political conversation can help us reestablish Brazil on a path of observing these rights.
As long as I have life, I will continue to endeavor to have this dialogue with other countries to pressure Brazil into respecting its own laws and international treaties, these for the protection of important and fundamental rights. I will continue to establish this dialogue so that Brazil can fight organized crime in my region, something that would be relatively simple to do if only it treated its own citizens with respect.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Eliésio Marubo, I wanted to ask you — you went to Washington. You appealed to the lawmakers here in this country. But to the American public, who doesn’t — many of whom do not know what is going on in Brazil, are there major American companies that are directly exploiting the resources of the Amazon to the detriment of the people of Brazil and the Indigenous people? And if so, can you name some of those companies?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] So, first to say that we have endeavored to establish communication not just with politicians, but with the public in general, with common people and society as a whole, because we believe that society as a whole should be involved and should care about these issues. What is going on there is a relevant theme for fundamental rights, namely the right to life. It’s important that society is made aware of what is happening in our region, in the same way that they’re made aware of what’s going on in Ukraine with the war, in the Middle East. They need to know that there is immense suffering in Brazil, that we are suffering many losses. And it’s Brazil, what they say in the international arena, there lies, and we have to bring this information to the public.
When you ask about U.S. enterprises in the area, not directly. But we, of course, know that we have illegal wildcat mining in the area. And there are many tons of gold, for example, that are extracted from our region illegally. And where do they go? They go abroad, and they go to the U.S., and they end up in U.S. stores and in U.S. storefronts. So, the gold that is decorating someone’s arm or someone’s earring or is given as a gift, that costs lives. That costs — it comes with our blood. It comes with our Indigenous blood.
And also the issue of meat. The meat that ends up in your restaurants is meat that came from the Amazon region, with big companies. So, the meat that is consumed abroad carries the flesh of Indigenous people. The way it is produced is a way that is harmful to Indigenous people. It costs lives, especially in the westernmost part of our region.
And I believe we could solve these issues through a concerted, grand conversation between nation-states, where we would point out the costs of production of all of these products that leave Brazil, and, of course, in an international scenario, where we would be able to discuss the importance of preservation and the importance of respect for Indigenous lives.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you two last questions, Eliésio. One, have the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira — have they discouraged other journalists for going down to the Amazon and exposing what’s happening there?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] No, actually, it was quite the opposite. And that is why I like the press so much. They’ve been very brave and courageous. We will not lose this battle. Dom’s death gave rise to a lot of interest in the region. And we will continue to struggle, and we will continue, together with the press, to denounce these issues. As long as I have life, I will continue to ask for justice for Bruno and for Dom.
AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you, finally, Eliésio, on another subject that affects the Amazon — you were the Indigenous lawyer who led the case against the illegal entry of missionaries into the Javari Valley. Can you talk about why this is so significant, and its relation to the pandemic, to COVID spreading through the Amazon?
ELIÉSIO MARUBO: [translated] Yes, there is a lot of significance around the missionary issue. Today we are repeating history. We are repeating the past that’s in the literature, where missionary groups decimated peoples, decimated their cultures, and then left them with little to no resources. That, for example, is what’s happening with the Guarani-Kaiowá people, which, after having suffered the effects of an evangelical mission, now live by the roadside with no resources, left to their own devices and without a territory.
During the pandemic, we noticed the heightening of the illegal entrance of missionaries in our Indigenous territories in the Javari region. So we had to take a stand against it, and we started to reach out to the justice and start lawsuits against their, as it were, crusade into our territories. We needed to safeguard justice. We needed to safeguard our culture. We needed to safeguard our religion and our traditional lifestyles. We don’t want to have to go through what our ancestors went through. We have enough problems as it is. We need to maintain our culture. And it’s important to note that a lot of these missionaries come from the U.S. They are funded from the U.S. Millions and millions of dollars come into the territory with these invaders. And they want to destroy our lifestyles and leave us dependent on the city, without our traditional ways of life.
AMY GOODMAN: Eliésio Marubo, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Indigenous lawyer for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley in the Amazon of Brazil. Please be safe. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.