Search continues for pair missing in Amazon area known for illegal mining, drug trafficking routes

Jun 8, 2022, 12:32 PM | Updated: Feb 13, 2023, 2:50 pm

British journalist Dom Phillips (L) and Brazilian indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira (R) went ...

British journalist Dom Phillips (L) and Brazilian indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira (R) went missing in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon on June 5. (Getty Images/National Indian Foundation FUNAI via CNN)

(Getty Images/National Indian Foundation FUNAI via CNN)

(CNN) — The families of a British journalist and a Brazilian indigenous affairs expert are calling on Brazilian authorities to intensify their search efforts for the pair, who went missing in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon this weekend.

Concerns are growing over the fate of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira, who were first reported missing in the remote Javari Valley, in the far western part of Amazonas state on Sunday. They had reportedly received death threats just days prior.

Phillips’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio, posted a video on Tuesday pleading for the federal government to step up their search operations, saying, “We still have a little bit of hope that we’ll find them.”

“Even if they don’t find the love of my life alive, they have to be found, please,” she said.

Home to thousands of indigenous people and about 16 uncontacted groups, the Javari Valley — the second largest official indigenous land in Brazil — is a patchwork of rivers and dense forest that makes access very difficult. The area has come under increased threat from illegal miners, loggers, hunters and international drug traffickers exploiting its vast network of rivers.

Phillips is an Amazon specialist and long-time contributor for U.K. newspaper The Guardian. He had traveled to the region with Pereira, a staffer on leave from the Brazilian Indigenous National Foundation (FUNAI), to conduct research for a book project on conservation efforts there.

On Sunday, the men were supposed to take a two-hour trip to Atalaia do Norte, which borders the valley and Peru. According to the Coordination of the Indigenous Organization (UNIVAJA), they never arrived.

Phillips and Pereira had received death threats in the week leading up to their disappearance, UNIVAJA said.

While the Javari Valley is under government protection, it’s considered lawless, with repeated incursions by land grabbers, illegal miners, illegal hunters and illegal fisherman. It can be a hostile environment for journalists and indigenous rights activists.

“In this region, violence is advancing in an increasingly uncontrolled manner in the context of the invasion of indigenous lands and lands that belong to the state, repression of the freedom of press and the work of journalists,” UNIVAJA said in a statement.

In 2018, Phillips reported on the threats posed by illegal mining and cattle ranchers to uncontacted indigenous groups there, with Pereira at the heart of that article.

Survival International, an NGO that advocates for indigenous peoples, said that Pereira had previously received “many threats” as a result of his work as an “ally of the Indigenous struggle.”

Illegal activity in the Javari Valley

Antenor Vaz, a consultant for the isolated indigenous peoples group Land is Life, blames the Bolsonaro administration’s funding cuts to FUNAI — Brazil’s federal government’s indigenous agency — for contributing to the proliferation of illicit activities in the protected area.

“In (2019), illicit actions from narcotrafficking and golddiggers increased in a staggering manner. This was when international drug trafficking partnered with illegal mining and logging activities,” said Vaz, who previously worked at FUNAI in the Javari Valley.

In September 2019, indigenous affairs worker Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was murdered in the same area, according to Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. In a statement, a union group representing FUNAI workers cited evidence that dos Santos’ murder was retaliation for his efforts to combating illegal commercial extraction in the Javari Valley, Reuters reported at the time.

President Jair Bolsonaro campaigned in 2018 on opening indigenous territories to economic activities, such as mining and farming. Since he has been in power, he has made good on that promise, including effectively weakening FUNAI’s power by transferring its jurisdiction from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Agriculture Ministry.

Bolsonaro has long argued that the natural resources of indigenous lands must be put to use for indigenous groups’ own economic welfare and that of the country. But many indigenous groups disagree with Bolsonaro’s vision of profiting from wild lands.

Commenting on the disappearance on Tuesday, Bolsonaro appeared to question the choice to venture into the isolated area.

“Two people alone on a boat, in a region like that, completely wild. It is an unrecommended adventure. Anything can happen, it could be an accident, it could be that they have been executed, anything could have happened,” Bolsonaro said.

“We hope and pray to God that they will be found soon,” he said, adding that the military was working “very hard.”

‘Escalation of violence’

Late Monday, the search and rescue operation began, after a delay attributed to a bureaucratic process earlier in the day.

The Amazon Military Command said they had deployed a team of military jungle combatants and a speedboat for the search, along with the Navy, who was seen deploying in images released on Tuesday morning.

The Amazonas state security department said they sent reinforcements to the Javari Valley on Tuesday, including divers, jungle experts, firemen, detectives, military police, and environmental police.

Pereira’s partner, Beatriz, and his two brothers, Max and Felipe, have pleaded for search operations to be intensified, saying in a Tuesday statement that “the safety of indigenous peoples and search teams must also be guaranteed.”

Phillips’s sister, Sian Phillips, said in a video that her brother “loves the country and cares deeply about the Amazon and the people there.”

“We knew it was a dangerous place, but Dom believes it is possible to safeguard the nature and the livelihood of the indigenous people,” she said.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

World News

Protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 1, 2024. (Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters via CNN Newsource)...

Caitlin Hu and Manveena Suri, CNN

Hundreds of prisoners escape as violence escalates in Haitian capital

Hundreds of prisoners escaped from Haiti's National Penitentiary in the capital after fighting broke out Saturday.

5 hours ago

People inspect damage and recover items from their homes following Israeli air strikes on February ...

Waafa Shurafa and Samy Magdy

U.S. says Israel has agreed to the framework for a Gaza cease-fire. Hamas now must decide

A senior U.S. official says Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza cease-fire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it.

1 day ago

Palestinians walk through the destruction from the Israeli offensive in Jabaliya refugee camp in th...

Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani and Matthew Lee

Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead

President Joe Biden says that the U.S. will begin air-dropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, a day after more than 100 of Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.

2 days ago

"Mary Poppins," which was rated U for Universal upon its 1964 release, is now rated PG in the UK be...

Harmeet Kaur, CNN

‘Mary Poppins’ gets a new age rating in the UK over its use of a racial slur

A British film industry group has raised the age rating for the beloved children’s classic “Mary Poppins” over discriminatory language.

5 days ago

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is preparing to perform its last two concerts in the Philippi...

Dan Rascon

Tabernacle Choir prepares to perform at renowned Mall of Asia with Filipino press day

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is preparing to perform its last two concerts in the Philippines with a press day. Afterward, the choir will continue on with its world tour.

6 days ago

Aaron Bushnell as seen from his LinkedIn profile. Bushnell set himself ablaze outside the Israeli E...

Michael Balsamo, Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., while declaring that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.”

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Search continues for pair missing in Amazon area known for illegal mining, drug trafficking routes