Search underway for British journalist and Brazilian expert missing in the Amazon

A British journalist and an indigenous affairs expert are missing in a remote part of Brazil’s Amazon region, a local indigenous association said on Monday. The area has been marked by violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.

Dom Phillips, who has been a regular contributor to the Guardian newspaper, and Bruno Araujo Pereira were last seen Sunday at 7 a.m. local time in the community of Sao Rafael, according to the Univaja association of indigenous peoples of the Vale do Javari, for which Pereira was an advisor.

They were returning by boat from Vale do Javari and heading for the town of Atalaia do Norte, about an hour away, but never showed up.

Pereira, currently on leave from her job with the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency, is one of its most experienced employees operating in the Vale do Javari region. He oversaw the agency’s regional office and the coordination of uncontacted indigenous groups before taking his leave. He has received a steady stream of threats from illegal fishermen and poachers, and usually carries a gun.

Univaja said the couple were threatened during their current reporting trip.

They disappeared while returning from a two-day trip to the Lake Jaburu area, where Phillips interviewed local natives, according to Univaja. Only the two men were on the boat, according to the association.

Journalist writing a book on rainforest preservation

Phillips is writing a book about preserving the Amazon with support from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which awarded her a year-long fellowship for environmental reporting that ran through January.

The Itaquai River flows through the Vale do Javari region in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, on the border with Peru. This is the area where the pair disappeared. (Fabiano Maisonnave/Associated Press)

The place where they disappeared is the main access route to and from the Vale do Javari, where several thousand natives live in dozens of villages. Locals say it is highly unlikely that they got lost in this area.

“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 in our business.”

Brazil’s federal prosecutors said in a statement they had opened an investigation and mobilized the federal police, the Amazonas state civilian police, the national guard and the navy. The latter will coordinate the search efforts, according to the press release. In a separate statement, the navy said it was sending a search and rescue team.

The footprint and manpower of the army is much larger than that of the navy in the region. He did not respond to an Associated Press email seeking comment on progress on Monday afternoon.

The Guardian quoted a spokesperson saying he “is very concerned and is urgently seeking information on the whereabouts and condition of Mr Phillips. We are in contact with the British Embassy in Brazil and local and national authorities to try to establish the facts as soon as possible”.

Phillips, who currently resides in Salvador, Bahia, has also contributed to The Washington Post and The New York Times.

“I hope they will be found soon, that they are well and that they are safe,” former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva posted on Twitter, recalling that Phillips interviewed him in 2017.

Volatile region

The Vale do Javari region has seen repeated gunfights between hunters, fishermen and official security guards, who have a permanent base in the area, which is known to have the world’s largest population of uncontacted indigenous people. It is also an important route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border and then smuggled into Brazil to supply local towns or for shipment to Europe.

In September 2019, an employee of the indigenous affairs agency was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest town in the region. The crime was never solved.

“It is extremely important that the Brazilian authorities dedicate all available and necessary resources to the immediate execution of the searches, in order to guarantee, as soon as possible, the safety of the two men,” said Maria Laura Canineau, director of Human Rights Watch. in Brazil, said Monday in a statement.

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

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