A British journalist and a Brazilian expert disappear in the Amazon

A British journalist and a Brazilian expert on indigenous peoples, who had received threats, have disappeared in a remote region of the Amazon, authorities and indigenous rights groups announced on Monday.

Freelance journalist Dom Phillips, 57, disappeared while researching a book in the Javari Valley, along with renowned indigenous peoples expert Bruno Araujo Pereira, reports The Guardian, a journal with which Phillips collaborates regularly. The two men have not been seen since Sunday morning.

Initial searches turned up nothing.

Located in the southwest of the Amazon, not far from Peru, the Javari Valley is very difficult to access and is home to tribes, twenty of which are totally isolated. This region is experiencing an escalation of armed violence due to the presence of miners, artisanal gold miners or clandestine hunters.

Initial research by indigenous people “with excellent knowledge of the region” turned up nothing, said the Union of Indigenous Organizations of the Javari Valley (Univaja) and the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated Indigenous Peoples and recently contacted (OPI).

The prosecution announced that the police had been in charge of a search operation, under the direction of the Navy, while these disappearances aroused a lot of emotion all day long in Brazil and on social networks. “We implore the Brazilian authorities to send the national guard, the federal police and all the forces at their disposal to find our dear Dom, wrote on Twitter Paul Sherwood, companion of Phillips’ sister. He loves Brazil and has dedicated his career to the Amazon rainforest”.

The foreign press association in Brazil, Acie, expressed “extreme concern” and called on the authorities to act “immediately”. Former President Lula, favorite in the October election, hoped that the two men “would be safe and sound and found quickly”.

They had been threatened

They had “received threats on the ground the week [précédant] their disappearance”, revealed in a press release the Univaja and the OPI. The latter did not specify the type of threats received, but Bruno Araujo Pereira, a fine connoisseur of the region and who worked for a long time at Funai, a government agency in charge of indigenous peoples, has regularly been the subject of threats from the share of illegal loggers and miners coveting indigenous lands.

According to Univaja and OPI, the two men left Atalaia do Norte, in the state of Amazonas, to interview residents around a Funai base, and reached Lake Jaburu on Friday evening. They then headed back on Sunday morning, and were expected to return around 9 a.m. local time to Atalaia do Norte.

But they stopped in the community of Sao Rafael, where Bruno Pereira had scheduled a meeting with the local chief to discuss the issue of indigenous patrols to combat the increasingly frequent “invasions” of land under the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Two suspects arrested

According to the newspaper O Globo, two fishermen were arrested by the police on the night of Monday to Tuesday. The newspaper does not specify whether it is in particular this local chief. The latter not arriving, the two men would have decided to return to Atalaia do Norte, two hours away by boat, according to the two organizations. They were last seen in Sao Gabriel, downstream, not far from Sao Rafael. They were traveling on a new boat, with 70 liters of gasoline, “enough for the trip”, and had satellite communication equipment, according to the same source.

The Guardian said he was “very worried” about his occasional contributor, whose articles are also regularly published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media. “We condemn all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. We hope that Dom and those who traveled with him will soon be found safe and sound,” the daily added.

Funai’s base in the Javari Valley has been attacked several times in recent years. In 2019, a Funai representative was shot dead there.

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