A group of 23 House Democrats sent a letter to the Biden administration Tuesday morning urging it to step up pressure on Brazil and its right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro over the high-profile killing of a journalist and indigenous affairs expert. Amazon rainforest.
British journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira, a former top official at Brazil’s main indigenous agency, disappeared on June 5 in the vast Amazon region of Vale do Javari, near Brazil’s borders with Peru and Colombia. Phillips was working on a book about sustainable development in the Amazon, and Pereira was a passionate defender of indigenous rights and the environment that faced threats in the past. They were confirmed dead about two weeks later, and police have arrested several suspects linked to illegal fishing interests in the area.
The tragedy drew global attention to rising violence in the Amazon, where land disputes between indigenous tribes and illegal miners, fishermen and loggers have exploded since Bolsonaro took office in 2019. He began to restore the protection of forests and tribal lands within it, and some leaders in the area are involved make a call A “comprehensive and comprehensive anti-tribal project.”
Indigenous leaders in Vale do Javari are now demanding a deeper investigation into the killings and more accountability for Bolsonaro, and have sought to build global support for their cause in the United States and Europe.
The letter, drafted by Reps. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and addressed to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, urges the Biden administration to publicly call on Brazil to conduct “fair, comprehensive investigations” into criminal organizations that The killings may be behind what tribal leaders and human rights groups argue is the “carte blanche” Bolsonaro has given illegal interests to exploit the forest and target its tribes.
Lawmakers also asked the administration to send a delegation to Brazil to meet with indigenous leaders, something indigenous peoples have demanded since the White House began engaging Bolsonaro in climate and environmental talks last year.
The meetings will allow Biden officials to understand how the administration can support indigenous peoples and “shape the U.S. policy agenda to address their concerns.” The letter says the US should work with international organizations to “monitor and respond” to human rights abuses in the Amazon.
“This human-scale tragedy is symptomatic of a widespread assault on the Amazon rainforest, which is pushing the vast ecosystem to an ecological tipping point,” the lawmakers wrote. “Impunity is the watchword for killings in the Brazilian Amazon, and this case for the future of the Amazon cannot simply fade into memory.”
The list of signatories includes progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Barbara Lee (D). – California). Amazon Watch and Greenpeace, two environmental groups working in Brazil, helped organize the letter.
“President Biden and Secretary Blinken must use the full weight of American diplomacy to reflect our commitment to human rights for all people, hold perpetrators responsible for human rights abuses, and protect our planet’s natural resources, which are critical to combating the climate crisis.”
– Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
It is the latest result of a campaign to create more international pressure on Brazil’s killings and widespread environmental crisis. The European Union parliament approved a resolution this month calling on the Brazilian government to launch an independent investigation into the killings and do more to protect human rights within the Amazon.
“The Biden administration should call for an independent investigation into the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira,” Grijalva said. “Their deaths follow unusual circumstances as they seek to uncover the truth behind the exploitation of the Amazon and the attacks on its indigenous people.”
“For too long, the Bolsonaro regime has undermined environmental and indigenous protections for corporate gain,” he continued. “President Biden and Secretary Blinken must use the full weight of American diplomacy to reflect our commitment to human rights for all people, hold perpetrators responsible for human rights abuses, and protect our planet’s natural resources, which are critical to combating the climate crisis.”
Eliseo Marubo, a lawyer with Univaza, a coalition of tribes from Vel do Javari, traveled to Washington last week to build more international awareness of the current threats facing the Amazon and its tribes. He also sought to explore possible “tools” that could be used to hold Brazil accountable globally. Two indigenous leaders sued Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court last year, accusing him of crimes against humanity for his treatment of indigenous peoples. That case is still pending, and Univaza is considering additional legal claims against Bolsonaro, Marubo said.
“We hold the Bolsonaro administration responsible for the crime, and it’s not just the speech,” Marubo said in an interview. “It’s an analysis of reality. It’s an analysis of the facts we have.”
Marubo met with Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). Both lawmakers signed the letter, which said the EU proposal and US officials’ recent warnings to Bolsonaro about threats to Brazil’s electoral system “are a strong signal to the Brazilian government that its actions may have consequences,” Marubo said.
Marubo argued that more “concrete measures” from the US may be warranted in response to Bolsonaro’s sanctioning of human rights abuses.
“The support of members of the US Congress through this letter is important so that we can continue to pressure the Brazilian government to protect the Javari Valley,” said Marubo. “President Joe Biden has said that protecting the Amazon will guide his administration’s environmental policy, so we hope this letter will lead to concrete measures to protect the forest and its people.”
A longtime climate skeptic and opponent of aggressive protections for the environment and indigenous lands, Bolsonaro has targeted the Amazon for much of his presidency. He has blocked both the rules and government agencies meant to protect forests and tribal areas. He has approached the Amazon as a source of economic development and has effectively given the green light to illegal miners, fishermen, farmers and other illegal interests to enter the forest as they please. His allies in Brazil’s Congress have this year sought to further open up indigenous lands to mining, against the wishes of many indigenous leaders.
Deforestation rates have risen to record levels under Bolsonaro. Illegal incursions into tribal lands have also increased, often resulting in violent conflicts resulting in a sharp increase in the number of killings of tribal leaders and environmental activists.
The Brazilian government’s response to Phillips and Pereira’s disappearance sparked outrage at home and abroad. Despite the fact that Phillips was an experienced reporter and Pereira an expert in the field, Bolsonaro dismissed the tragedy as the result of a foolish “adventure” in the Amazon. Univaza, who had warned government agencies that illegal actors were threatening tribal lands in Valle do Javari before the killings, also criticized the government’s initial search and rescue operation as slow and inadequate.
Bolsonaro’s approach to the Amazon had generated significant global backlash before Phillips and Pereira were killed. The European Union has sought promises to increase Amazon protection as part of a potential trade deal with a group of South American nations that includes Brazil, while Germany and Norway have suspended payments to the Amazon Fund, an international financing mechanism for forest conservation. A record outbreak of fires in the region in 2019.
Biden last year engaged Brazil in a series of high-level talks on new climate change targets and environmental protections. He has tried to create an economic aid package that would encourage Brazil to protect its forests from further destruction.
Tribal leaders and environmentalists, however, warned the White House and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the talks as Biden’s special climate envoy, not to trust Bolsonaro’s promises as a result of the on-again, off-again talks. And they characterized the new commitments as cosmetic changes that would have little benefit to forests, the climate or indigenous peoples.
Two days after Phillips and Pereira disappeared, Brazilian indigenous activist Sonia Gujajarra urged Kerry at an event in New York City to press Bolsonaro and Brazil about their disappearance. Kerry vowed to pursue the case.
In their first meeting with Bolsonaro at the Summit of the Americas last month, four days after Phillips and Pereira first met, Biden praised Brazil for making “some real sacrifices you’ve made as a country to save the Amazon.” Reported lost. They did not discuss the disappearance, according to a White House transcript of the meeting.
If Bolsonaro continues on his current path, there will be catastrophic consequences for the Amazon and Brazil’s indigenous peoples, Marubo said.
“The consequences of continuing on this path are the worst possible, but even if things escalate, our leadership will stand up and fight back,” he said. “We understand that we are in the trenches of the last defense of the forest.”