At the beginning of the last century, Euclides da Cunha wrote a series of reports about his trip to the Amazon that, being so raw and precise, cross time. When Cunha arrived at the border between Brazil and Peru – the very same region where the English journalist Dom Phillips and the indigenist Bruno Pereira disappeared (this Monday, mixed information about the location of the bodies circulated) –, he recalled the description that one of the most important Peruvian politicians of that time made about the place. “ Colonel Pedro Portillo, current Mayor of Loreto, who visited her in 1899, denounced her indignantly: ‘Alli no hay leyes… El más strong that you have more rifles, it’s the dueño de la justice’. (…) And, in tune with the same tone, a countless number of other excursionists, whom it took a long time to cite, denounce, in expressive narratives, the regime of tropelias that normalized in those lands — and expands following the tracks of the man who passes through the desert with the sole purpose of barbarizing its own barbarism.”
What makes Cunha’s account bear resemblance or even be precise with many of the Amazonian realities is not it is just the result of his colossal ability to observe and describe. The Amazon that the journalist saw is still very similar 123 years later. At that time, it was rubber tappers who separated and killed Indians to free up the forest for latex extraction. As well as this sinister practice, caucheiros, regatões and other characters of the pioneer expansion of the frontier no longer exist. They were replaced by prospectors, land grabbers, illegal fishermen and, mainly, drug traffickers.
In the Amazon, violence is endemic.
And the The cause of this evil can be explained by several means, but none of them can ignore the fact that until today the State has not occupied the Amazon. Throughout history, the region has received migratory waves under the pretext of occupation. But taking people to the region without taking the State and its institutions is the continuing error, which since before Cunha’s trip, between 1905 and 1905, it only served to “barbarize barbarism itself”.
All, or almost all, the occupation and “development” efforts of the Amazon go through extractivism. The inexplicable insistence on an economic model supported by the exploitation of the forest – whether in a predatory or “sustainable” way. An illusion that not only condemns the region to poverty, but also to crime and all kinds of illegalities related to the economic model imposed on the region, which, in essence, boils down to exploiting the forest and its resources.
Life at the bottom of rubber plantations, on the banks of rivers or even on stilts, which outline long strips over canals and slopes of medium-sized cities and Amazonian metropolises, should be recognized as the antithesis of the vision of paradise that we insist on ter from the Amazon.
The man who is arrested, suspected of having killed the duo, is a riverine man like any other. Forged in the same Amazon where, almost always, villains and victims have similar stories. His clothes, his lifestyle and even his caboclo skin are just like those who, his bad reputation indicates, are his daily victims. Indians and riverside people under constant threat in a territory where our laws only appear from time to time, in special operations.
Transporting to the Brazilian urban reality, the riverside people who leave the position of victim to the executioner is like the traffic soldier. Despite being born and raised in his favela, he transmutes into a machine of violence that subjugates his neighbors and whoever threatens his status within that social ecosystem. They oppress and kill people who, in many ways, are just like them.
The leap between being the victim or the villain can be a combination of choice and pragmatism. When there is no burden, it pays to be in the position of one who subdues, oppresses, threatens and kills. In the favelas, trafficking is an instrument of power and ascension in the community. In the forest, pistoling and other forms of violent imposition are commonplace resources. Those who live there are well aware of the fine line that separates life and death in the Amazon.
And as Euclides da Cunha well defined when reporting the daily life of violence in the Amazonian confines, from time to time times this reality overflows “ from the shadows of the woods, showing it, naked, in its terrifying form, to distant humanity”.
One more Once again, the probable brutality imposed on Phillips and Pereira puts us face to face with the horror.
In 1988, Darly Alves da Silva and her son Darci Alves – mastermind and author of the murder of Chico Mendes – shocked the world. Rachitic, poorly dressed, full of “malaria crosses” from their medical records, hardened to deal with the land and forests, which they were willing to tame, they embodied the symbol of evil over the Amazon. Although they were the mirror image of Mendes, with the fact that they added the element of violence that turns the victim into a villain, father and son were never seen as part of the same environment of institutional abandonment in that region.
Those who experienced that conflict environment say that death only entered the account when the dispute left the field of ideas and concepts and went to the personal level. The Alves saw themselves as victims as Chico and by crooked ways they thought they were as threatened as he was.
And it’s not about justifying murders and deaths. It is evident that the victim is the victim and the murderer is the murderer, but the unwillingness to understand what led Xapuri to become the scene of that crime can explain all the other crimes that came later.
For example, if she were alive, the American nun Dorothy Stang would have turned years old last week. She was murdered in the city of Anapu (PA) in February 2005 in the midst of a conflagration, the result of land grabbing and illegal deforestation with subsequent sale of wood.
Stang had to cross a lot of lines. She became a buffer between the people she defended and her tormentors. Assuming a role that should belong to the State, the religious embraced the challenge as a personal mission. Therefore, she gave her name and surname to a cause that should not exist in a minimally civilized place. And just like that, she turned into an enemy. And that’s why she was killed.
Seventeen years later, we see again the naked and raw Amazon jumping “from the penumbra of the forests, showing it, naked, in its terrifying form. , to distant humanity”. Dom Phillips, an English journalist with years on the road in Brazil, went to the Amazon to try to tell part of the institutional emptiness and loneliness of the Amazonians. Phillips was accompanied by indigenist Bruno Pereira – a former Funai employee who was in the crosshairs of miners and deforesters. The same type of character in the stories of Mendes and Stang.
Local sources say that Pereira was in the crosshairs of criminals. He collected death threats. Like Stang, he had placed himself as a buffer between villains and victims. Pereira had called upon himself the responsibility that should never belong to a citizen, but to the State. One of them was the organization of an indigenous surveillance group that acts as a parastatal force in the inspection and denouncement of environmental crimes.
The evolution of the conflicts placed Pereira in the condition of an enemy, or even of aggressor. For on the other side, believe me, the predators of the forest see themselves as victims. In their minds, Pereira was the enemy that threatened their business and livelihood.
Only investigations can confirm. But, apparently, Dom Phillips was certainly not the target of the criminals who would have decided to carry out the death sentence they imposed on the indigenist. Phillips may have been put on the firing line simply for being next to someone marked for death. Pereira, in turn, may have let his guard down, believing that the company of a foreign journalist would protect him.
These are just the conjectures of someone who, for more than a decade, had to make this type of calculation to know when, how and how far to go in the Amazonian terrain.
If confirmed, the deaths of Phillips and Pereira will fill family, friends and those who work for the Amazon with sadness . But, beyond that, they should shame those who say they are worried about the region, but who refuse to face an issue that goes far beyond deforestation. There is no solution for the Amazon without going through the people who live in the forest.
The absence of the State, combined with the illusionism of ongueiro environmentalism, is the backdrop to the tragedy. As long as this does not change, the Amazon and the Amazonians will remain on the sidelines of history.