Very close to the place where the British journalist Dom Phillips and the indigenist Bruno Pereira they undertook their final journey in the Amazon Brazil, a group of people break stones with hammers under a scorching sun.
It looks like a scene from biblical times, but it is the Brazil of the 21st century, in the city of Atalaia do Norte, the starting point for adventurers, missionaries, poachers and smugglers attracted by the Javarí Valley, a vast expanse of jungle on the border with Peru and Colombia.
Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, were returning by boat to Atalaia after an expedition in the region when they were killed on June 5.
indigenous leaders they assure that the crime was a revenge of illegal fishermen for Pereira’s fight against poaching on native lands.
The case has drawn international attention to the Javarí Valley, home to the indigenous reserve with the largest concentration of uncontacted tribes on Earth.
Members of indigenous communities in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas, Brazil. AFP photo
The region has been affected by an increase in illegal fishing, logging and mining, and drug trafficking, crimes that experts say they are being fed by poverty.
Sitting on a block of wood on the ground, Carmen Magalhaes da Roxa explains that she is breaking stones to sell them to construction projects for four reais (less than a dollar) a bucket.
“There is no other job. If I don’t break these rocks, I won’t have any money. to pay the electricity bill, or buy my medicine,” says Roxa, 54, pounding along with half a dozen other “rock-breakers,” as they are known.
An aerial view of Atalaia do Norte. AFP photo
“I break my fingers, I get hurt by fragments. But what can you do to it?” he asks, holding up his bruised hands.
75% of the population lives in poverty in Atalaia do Nortea quaint but run-down riverside town of 20,000.
Almost everything in the city is produced locally or brought by boat from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, on an eight-day trip.
There are few ways to escape poverty.
75% of the population lives in poverty in Atalaia do Norte, a picturesque but run-down riverside town of 20,000. AFP photo
Locals say they have three job options: farming, fishing, or the mayor’s office, the largest employer in the municipality.
Analysts claim that the growing anarchy has created a fourth: environmental crimebacked by the money of drug gangs that prosper in the triple border.
“Drug traffickers insert themselves into impoverished local populations, presenting their networks as an opportunity,” security specialist Aiala Colares of Pará State University wrote in a recent article.
Poverty and anarchy have turned out to be a violent cocktail in this remote area.
Critics say that weak state presencea long-standing problem in the Amazon, has worsened since 2019 under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, who has reduced the weight of environmental protection agencies and the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI.
In the Javarí Valley there was also an increase in violence. AFP photo
In the Javarí Valley there was also an increase in violence.
The FUNAI base located next to the indigenous reserve was the target of multiple firearm attacks in 2019.
The same year, FUNAI’s anti-poaching chief in the region was assassinated in the nearby town of Tabatinga. The crime remains unsolved.
Just across the border, gunmen attacked a Peruvian police post in January, wounding four officers and stealing a shipment of weapons. The police station has not reopened.
Marivonea Moreira de Mello, a 45-year-old mother of four who works in the Atalaia mayor’s office, remembers that a decade ago she used to sleep with her front door open. Now he wouldn’t dareHe says.
“Our young people are getting addicted to drugs. My own son is. He’s 20 years old,” he says.
He was glad when the army, navy, police and world media arrived in Atalaia after Phillips and Pereira disappeared.
Now that almost everyone is gone, he is worried about what will happen.
“Lack of police, lack of security, lack of everything”He says.