June 1, 2023 -LADARIO, Brazil (AP) — One year ago on a Friday afternoon, Bruno Pereira, an expert on Indigenous peoples, and Dom Phillips, a British journalist, motored along the Itaquai river in far western Brazil, to the settlement of Ladario. The line of wooden houses here marks a boundary — between the sprawling Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon and the non-Indigenous world.
They were greeted by the man everyone knows as Caboclo, Laurimar Lopes Alves. Pereira’s relationship with people like him in these river communities had often been tense. Pereira had been a lead official with the nation’s Indigenous agency until recently, and these non-Indigenous communities were frequent trespassers onto Indigenous land to hunt and fish. He had fought those practices fiercely, confiscating and destroying fishing gear.
But Pereira now sought a different approach. He was on leave from the government, helping to build alternative livelihoods in these remote and desperately poor communities, which receive virtually no support from the government, although they are legally entitled to it.
“I told Bruno that by the end of the month, I would harvest 700 clusters of bananas. He said, ‘I will go to Brasília and come back with a solution for you to sell bananas,’” Caboclo told The Associated Press.
But Bruno would not return. Within 48 hours, on June 5, 2022, he and Phillips, who was writing a book on how preserve the Amazon, would be ambushed and shot, their bodies burned, dismembered and buried in a shallow river grave.
As the one-year anniversary of the murders approached, The Associated Press returned to the Javari Valley to describe the backdrop against which the murders took place and what unfolded next.
Caboclo, 46, who cannot read and supports five children, did not find a new market for his banana harvest. Instead, the Federal Police came looking for him. They accused him of taking part in illegal fishing and took him to the nearby city of Tabatinga, where the prison is run by criminal organizations. Caboclo admits he had fished illegally in the past, but claims he stopped doing so years ago.
To pay for a lawyer, his mother-in-law had to sell her house. He now lives in the city of Benjamin Constant, far from the banana grove and cassava patch that provided his livelihood. In March, when the AP met him, his home detention allowed him out four hours a day, while his fields are five hours away. Their only income now for a household of ten is $240 per month from a federal benefit.
Caboclo was charged with participation in an illegal fish organization and spent 124 days in prison without trial, which his attorney, Mozarth Bessa Neto, says surpassed the legal limit of 81 days.