Dom Phillips and Amazon Indigenous Brazilian official missing

RIO DE JANEIRO — A British journalist and an Indigenous Affairs official are still missing in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon, as authorities say they are stepping up search efforts in the area where violent clashes have raged between fishermen, poachers and government agent came.

Dom Phillipswho writes regularly for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, and Bruno Araújo Pereira were last seen early Sunday in the Sao Rafael community, reported the Univaja association of people in the Vale do Javari indigenous territory, for which Pereira was an adviser.

The couple returned by boat from the Vale do Javari and headed to the town of Atalaia do Norte, about an hour away, but never showed up.

Pereira is one of the most experienced employees of the Brazilian Agency for Indigenous Affairs, which operates in the Vale do Javari region. He oversaw the agency’s regional office and the coordination of isolated indigenous groups before beginning his current leave. He has received a torrent of threats from illegal fishermen and poachers and usually carries a gun.

Univaja said the two had been threatened during their reporting trip. On Saturday, while camped outside, two men traveled down the river to the indigenous territory border and pointed a firearm at a Unijava patrol, the association’s president, Paulo Marubo, told The Associated Press.

Dom Phillips on a hike.
Phillips has been working on a book on Amazon conservation.
Dom Phillips / Twitter

Phillips, who has been reporting from Brazil for more than a decade, has been working on a book on Amazon conservation with support from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which awarded him a year-long environmental reporting grant through January.

The couple disappeared while returning from a two-day trip to the Jaburu Lake region where Phillips was interviewing local aborigines, Univaja said. Only the two were on the boat.

The place where they disappeared is the main access route to and from the Vale do Javari, the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil, larger than Maine and where several thousand indigenous people live in dozens of villages. Local people say it is highly unlikely that the men would have gotten lost in this sector.

“He is a cautious journalist with an impressive knowledge of the complexities of Brazil’s environmental crisis,” Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, wrote in an email. “And he’s a beautiful writer and a lovely person. The best of our business.”

Brazil’s federal prosecutors said in a statement Monday they had opened an investigation and the federal police, Amazonas state civilian police, the National Guard and the Navy had been mobilized. The Navy, from which prosecutors coordinated the search, said it had dispatched a seven-man search and rescue team and would deploy a helicopter on Tuesday.

The Itaquai River flows through the Vale do Javari region in Amazonas state, Brazil, June 16, 2021, on the border with Peru.
The couple disappeared while returning from a two-day trip to the Jaburu Lake area where Phillips was interviewing local aborigines.
AP/Fabiano Maisonnave

The Army’s presence and personnel is far greater than that of the Navy in the area, and there has been no indication from officials as to why it was not involved in the initial search effort. But late Monday, a spokesman for the army’s Amazon Division told the AP it has since received orders to deploy a search mission.

Phillips has also written for The Washington Post and The New York Times. He currently resides in Salvador, a city in the Brazilian state of Bahia, with his wife Alessandra Sampaio, who shared a series of messages on Twitter through a friend.

“I can only pray that Dom and Bruno are somewhere safe and prevented from moving on for some mechanical reason and that all of this becomes just another story in a lifetime full of them,” Sampaio wrote. “However, I know the moment when the Amazon flows through and I know the risks that Dom has always denounced.”

In the Vale do Javari region, there have been repeated shootouts between hunters, fishermen and official security agents who have a permanent base in the region, home to the world’s largest population of uncontacted tribal peoples. It’s also an important route for cocaine, which is manufactured on the Peruvian side of the border and then smuggled into Brazil to supply local towns or shipped to Europe.

In September 2019, a worker from the Department of Indigenous Affairs was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest city in the region. The crime was never solved.

“It is extremely important that the Brazilian authorities use all available and necessary resources to conduct searches immediately to ensure the safety of the two men as soon as possible,” said Maria Laura Canineau, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch , said in a statement on Monday.

Journalists working for regional media in the Amazon have been killed in recent years, although there have been no such cases among journalists from national or foreign media. However, there have been multiple reports of threats and the press has limited access to several areas dominated by criminal activity, including illegal mining, land grabs and drug trafficking.

“I hope that they are found soon, that they are well and that they are safe,” wrote former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Twitter. President Jair Bolsonaro had not commented until late Monday. Dom Phillips and Amazon Indigenous Brazilian official missing


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