Freelance journalist Dom Phillips, 57, disappeared while researching a book in the Javari Valley with renowned indigenous peoples scholar Bruno Araujo Pereira, reported The Guardian, to whom Phillips regularly writes. The two men have not been seen since Sunday morning.
Located in the south-west of the Amazon, not far from Peru, the Javari Valley is very difficult to access and is home to tribes of which about twenty 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 found quickly”.
They had “received threats on the ground the week (preceding) 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.
– “Land invasions” –
Funai told AFP it was collaborating with local authorities in the search.
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 (well: 9 a.m., or 12 p.m. GMT) 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.
The local chief not arriving, the two men 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 it was “very concerned” about its occasional contributor, whose articles are also regularly published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets.
“We condemn all attacks and violence against journalists and people working for the media. We hope that Dom and those who traveled with him will soon be found safe and sound,” added the daily.
Funai’s base in Javari Valley has been attacked several times in recent years. In 2019, a Funai representative was shot dead there.