Authorities say they are boosting search operations in the area, which has experienced violent battles between fisherman, poachers, and government officials. A British journalist and an Indigenous Affairs officer are still missing in a remote corner of Brazil’s Amazon.
Dom Phillips, a regular writer to the British publication the Guardian, and Bruno Arajo Pereira were last seen in the Sao Rafael hamlet early Sunday, according to the Univaja group of residents in the Vale do Javari Indigenous region, for which Pereira served as an adviser.
The couple was supposed to return by boat from the Vale do Javari to the city of Atalaia do Norte, approximately an hour away, but they never arrived.
Pereira is one of the most experienced workers of the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency in the Vale do Javari region. Before taking his current leave, he was in charge of the agency’s regional office and the coordination of remote Indigenous tribes. He’s been threatened by illegal fishers and poachers, and he typically carries a gun.
During their reporting journey, the two were threatened, according to Univaja. Two males arrived by river to the Indigenous territory’s border on Saturday, while camping out, and displayed a handgun at a Unijava patrol, according to the association’s president, Paulo Marubo.
Phillips, who has covered Brazil for more than a decade, is working on a book about Amazon preservation with the help of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which provided him with a yearlong fellowship for environmental reporting that ended in January.
According to Univaja, the two vanished while returning from a two-day expedition to the Jaburu Lake region, where Phillips conducted interviews with local Indigenous people. On the boat, there were only the two of them.
The principal access route to and from the Vale do Javari, Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory, which is larger than Maine and home to tens of thousands of Indigenous people living in dozens of settlements, is where they went missing. Locals said it is exceedingly improbable that the men would have gotten lost in that location.
In an email, Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, described him as “a careful journalist with outstanding grasp of the complexity of the Brazilian environmental problem.” “He’s also a terrific writer and a lovely person.” “The finest in our field.”
The Federal Police, Amazonas state’s civil police, the national guard, and the navy have all been deployed, according to a statement released by Brazil’s federal public prosecutors on Monday. The navy, which prosecutors said was in charge of the search, said it had dispatched a seven-person search-and-rescue team and would deploy a helicopter on Tuesday.
The army’s presence and personnel in the region are significantly higher than the navy’s, and officials have given no hint as to why it was not involved in the early search attempts. However, a representative for the army’s Amazon division told the Associated Press late Monday that the division had received instructions to conduct a search expedition.
Phillips has also written for publications such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. He and his wife, Alessandra Sampaio, live in Salvador, a city in Brazil’s Bahia state, where he published a series of messages on Twitter through a friend.
“All I can hope is that Dom and Bruno are fine, someplace, unable to continue for some mechanical reason, and that this is just another story in a life full of them,” Sampaio wrote. “However, I am aware of the current state of the Amazon, as well as the dangers that Dom has constantly warned of.”
Hunters, fisherman, and government security officers who have a permanent presence in the Vale do Javari region, which boasts the world’s biggest population of uncontacted Indigenous people, have had several shootouts. It’s also a main conduit for cocaine manufactured on the Peruvian side of the border, which is trafficked into Brazil and then sold to Europe.
In Tabatinga, the region’s major city, an employee of the Indigenous Affairs Agency was shot and killed in September 2019. The crime went unsolved for many years.
In a statement released Monday, Maria Laura Canineau, the director of Human Rights Watch in Brazil, said, “It is extremely important that Brazilian authorities devote all available and necessary resources to the immediate realization of searches, in order to guarantee, as soon as possible, the safety of the two men.”
Journalists working for regional media outlets in the Amazon have been assassinated in recent years, although no similar occurrences have been reported among journalists from national or overseas media. However, there have been multiple allegations of threats, and access to certain regions dominated by criminal activity, such as illicit mining, land grabbing, and drug trafficking, has been restricted by the press.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stated on Twitter, “I hope they are found soon, that they are healthy and safe.” By late Monday, President Jair Bolsonaro had made no reply.