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Brazilian indigenous agency workers strike after Amazon killings spark outrage

<i>Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Indigenous groups searched for missing British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous affairs specialist Bruno Pereira
AFP via Getty Images
Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images
Indigenous groups searched for missing British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous affairs specialist Bruno Pereira

By Rodrigo Pedroso, CNN

Workers at Brazil’s national agency for indigenous people went on strike Thursday amid fury over the killings of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, citing longstanding concerns over illegal activity and violence in the Amazon rainforest.

Staff at FUNAI, the government body responsible for the protection and interests of indigenous Brazilian people, said that working in the Amazon has become dangerous and, in some cases, deadly.

In a statement ahead of the action, strikers had called for “the immediate protection of our indigenist colleagues, Indigenous Peoples and their leaders, organizations and territories,” and demanded the resignation of FUNAI’s president, Marcelo Xavier.

One FUNAI worker on strike told CNN they did not feel that their safety was taken seriously.

“We travel in precarious boats, without equipment such as a radio or satellite phones,” the worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak with the press. The worker complained of a “lack of basic infrastructure, transport, protective equipment (and) inspection crew.”

CNN has contacted FUNAI for comment on the strikes and the claims of the workers participating.

Workers also criticized the investigation into the deaths of Pereira and Phillips for suffering delays and failing to focus on links between organized crime and illegal activity in the Amazon.

Brazilian Federal Police say that no line of investigation has been dismissed. Multiple suspects have already been arrested for the murders, and at least five other suspects are under investigation for alleged involvement in hiding the bodies.

Phillips and Pereira, whose killings were condemned worldwide and sparked a heated debate over the safety of the Amazon, had been traveling in the remote Javari Valley before they were killed. Their boat was later found capsized with six bags of sand to make it difficult to float, according to a report from the Civil Police.

Phillips, a veteran journalist who reported extensively on Brazil’s most marginalized groups and on the destruction that criminal actors are wreaking on the Amazon, had traveled with Pereira to research conservation efforts in the remote Javari Valley.

Though formally protected by the government, the wild Javari Valley, like other designated indigenous lands in Brazil, is plagued by illegal mining, logging, hunting and international drug trafficking — which often bring violence in their wake, as perpetrators clash with environmental defenders and indigenous rights activists.

Between 2009 and 2019, more than 300 people were killed in Brazil amid land and resource conflicts in the Amazon, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), citing figures from the Pastoral Land Commission, a non-profit affiliated with the Catholic Church.

And in 2020, Global Witness ranked Brazil the fourth most-dangerous country for environmental activism, based on documented killings of environmental defenders. Nearly three quarters of such attacks in Brazil took place in the Amazon region, it said.

Indigenous people in Brazil have been the frequent targets of such attacks, as well as suffering campaigns of harassment. In early January, three environmental defenders from the same family who had developed a project to repopulate local water with baby turtles were found dead in Brazil’s northern Pará state. A police investigation is ongoing.

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CNN’s Kara Fox and Rob Picheta contributed reporting.

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