What happened to British journalist Dom Phillips of The Guardian and his Brazilian guide Bruno Araujo Pereira who disappeared in the Amazon last Sunday? This has been keeping family members, but also the entire Brazilian community, indigenous organisations, national and international journalists and politicians busy for days now.
The Brazilian police were strongly criticized. They would initially have started a search operation late, and only flew a helicopter over the area on Tuesday morning. But after the attention of well-known journalists and politicians, including presidential candidate Lula, the case now seems to be on the radar of the Brazilian authorities. A criminal investigation has now also been launched into the disappearance and four men have been arrested.
Dom Phillips, a renowned and internationally recognized journalist who has been working in Brazil for 15 years for The Guardian and The New York Times, among others, was on a report with Pereira, who worked for a long time at the national advocacy group for indigenous peoples FUNAI. The two men were last seen on Sunday morning in the Javari Valley, a very remote area deep in the Amazon near the border with Peru. A region with various indigenous groups, some of whom have little or no contact with the outside world.
Threats from fishermen and hunters
Phillips has been writing about the Amazon for years, especially the violence against the indigenous people and environmental problems such as illegal logging and mining. He is also currently working on a book about the area. Bruno Pereira has been committed to the protection of indigenous people for years, he knows the area well and has good contact with various indigenous groups in the region. Initially within FUNAI, but this journey he was out with Phillips on his own initiative. Together they worked on a story about indigenous patrols trying to protect their land from illegal invaders.
According to indigenous human rights groups, the two have already received repeated threats during their trip from illegal fishermen and hunters operating in the area, among others. They left on Sunday morning with a small boat via the Itaguai River to the Amazon town of Atalaia do Norte, which is about two hours away by boat.
But they would never have arrived in this town, after which their local contact sounded the alarm. Indigenous groups in the area started searching that same day. In addition to illegal fishermen and hunters, the area is also plagued by criminal activities by illegal loggers, gold prospectors and drug traffickers. A reconstruction made by both Brazilian and international media shows that the two may have been chased by illegal fishermen with whom they have allegedly confronted them before.
Also read: Indigenous residents protect their own land in the Brazilian Amazon
A possible ambush
The local website Amazonia Real interviewed anonymous witnesses who spoke of an ambush by drug dealers who may have been working with illegal fishermen. Brazilian President Bolsonaro says he will do everything he can to find the two. But he thought Phillips and Pereira’s journey was “an adventure that is inadvisable.”
“Two men in a boat in a wild area is dangerous,” Bolsonaro said. It was during his reign that illegal activities in the Amazon increased. Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has advocated opening the Amazon to economic activity. As a result, illegal loggers, garimpeiros and hunters have increasingly taken up space in the Amazon, including in protected areas where indigenous people live.
Indigenous leaders and activists, environmentalists and local journalists dealing with Amazonian issues have been under threat for years. Every year dozens of people are killed in Brazil because of their commitment to the Amazon and the struggle of the indigenous people. Meanwhile, in Brazil, there is hope that the two men will be found. Alessandra Sampaio, wife of journalist Dom Phillips, exclaimed in an emotional video message the Brazilian authorities to keep looking.
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