Indigenous Lawyer from the Brazilian Amazon Builds Solidarity and Support in DC | Amazon Watch
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Indigenous Lawyer from the Brazilian Amazon Builds Solidarity and Support in DC

Following increased violence and the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in Brazil, attorney Eliesio Marubo travels to the U.S. to demand justice

August 4, 2022 | Gisela Hurtado and Andrew Miller | Eye on the Amazon

Credit: Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

“We hold the Bolsonaro administration responsible for the crimes that happened, and this is not mere discourse. It’s an analysis of reality. It’s an analysis of the facts we have.”

Eliesio Marubo, UNIVAJA attorney

Eliesio Marubo’s advocacy for justice in the brutal assassination of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips isn’t just about his conviction for human rights. He knew both men personally, and he has witnessed the increasing violence impacting his community. In fact, right now the Indigenous people who were directly involved in the search for Bruno and Dom are also receiving threats. Unsurprisingly, the federal government hasn’t paid any attention or provided any protection to this group.

“Support from U.S. congresspeople is vital so that we can continue to pressure the Brazilian government to protect the Javari Valley,” Marubo told U.S. Congressional offices in mid-July. Eliesio is a lawyer for UNIVAJA, an Indigenous organization of the Vale do Javari, who traveled to Washington, DC, at the invitation of a coalition of organizations, including Amazon Watch, Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), and Greenpeace USA. 

He continued, “President Joe Biden said that protecting the Amazon would guide his administration’s environmental policy. So we hope that the recent letter drafted by Representatives Susan Wild (D-PA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to publicly call on Brazil to conduct an impartial, exhaustive investigation into criminal organizations in the Valley will lead to concrete measures in defense of the forest and its peoples.” 

The disappearance of Bruno and Dom generated an international outcry and extensive media coverage. The tragedy drew global attention to escalating violence in the Amazon, where land disputes between Indigenous peoples and illegal miners, fishers, and loggers have exploded since Bolsonaro took office in 2019. “The problems in our region are not new but the violence has escalated to unprecedented levels because under Bolsonaro, illegal operations have gone unpunished,” Eliesio told The Guardian. Human rights groups accused the Brazilian government of not employing sufficient resources to fully investigate the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.

Located in the far west of the state of Amazonas, where Brazil shares a border with Colombia and Peru, the Javari Valley Indigenous Land occupies an area of 8.5 million hectares – making it the second largest Indigenous land in Brazil. Seven Indigenous peoples currently inhabit settled villages: the Matis, Matsés, Marubo, Kanamari, Kulina-Pano, Korubo, and Tsohom-dyapa, the latter two of which are considered by the Brazilian National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) to be “recently contacted.” In addition, there are ten confirmed records of the presence of “isolated” Indigenous peoples within the Javari Valley. The territory is the region of the world with the highest concentration of uncontacted Indigenous individuals.

Eliesio Marubo and fellow UNIVAJA leader Beto Marubo played a crucial role in the community’s independent search and rescue efforts for Bruno and Dom. He was also the Indigenous lawyer who led the case against the illegal entry of missionaries into the Javari Valley Indigenous Land during the pandemic. UNIVAJA became the first Indigenous organization to file and win this type of lawsuit successfully. The Washington Post profiled his legal action in October 2021. 

During his visit, Eliesio found a receptive group of allies within the U.S. Congress. A number had already taken to social media in June to express concern when Bruno and Dom initially disappeared. Despite a busy week of hearings and votes, several House Representatives took the time to meet with him and hear his gripping testimony about life as a defender of the Javari Valley. 

Following the visit, a group of 23 congresspeople – led by Representatives Raul Grijalva and Susan Wild – sent a public letter calling on the Biden Administration to not allow this case to fade into oblivion, as has happened with so many previous killings of environmental defenders. 

Eliesio also visited the headquarters of the Organization of American States (like a UN for the Western Hemisphere). There he spoke with the body’s Secretary General, Luis Almagro. 

Following an intensive week of meetings and media interviews, Eliesio has returned to an uncertain future in the Javari. The critical work now – yours and ours – is to keep the international spotlight on the lack of government response in the Javari Valley region. Today it remains overrun by violence and criminal networks, two months after the murders of Bruno and Dom. We must continue to amplify the ongoing advocacy efforts of Eliesio, UNIVAJA, and the people who live in the Javari Valley. 

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