Social Issues

Calls grow for action over men missing in Brazilian Amazon

(Update 1: Adds details throughout, changes headline, lede, plus minor edits)

Brasilia, Jun 7 (EFE).- The search for a British journalist and an indigenous affairs official who disappeared at the weekend in a remote corner of the Amazon continued on Tuesday as calls grew locally and internationally for greater action by the Brazilian government.

British journalist Dom Phillips, a contributor to The Guardian, and Brazilian indigenous leader Bruno Araujo Pereira went missing Sunday in the Javari Valley, a jungle region bordering Colombia and Peru.

The Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that a helicopter, two boats and a military jet ski joined troops to support an uninterrupted search by air, river and land, but did not say how big the contingent is.

In the absence of more details about the operation, Phillips’ wife Alessandra Sampaio recorded a video in which she called on the federal government and relevant bodies to intensify the search, because the family still has hope of finding the pair.

Public officials of the state National Indian Foundation (Funai) also held a vigil in the capital Brasilia on Tuesday in which they criticized, as other social organizations have done, the authorities’ lack of mobilization and the sending of more troops.

“We send letters to various authorities, and we are going to continue because life matters and we will continue to insist that all measures be taken. It cannot be trivialized, because they were not people who went on an adventure,” said indigenous federal deputy Joenia Wapichana during the vigil.

Earlier, President Jair Bolsonaro said that since Sunday, police and military authorities in the region have been searching for the two men, adding that statements of people who had had contact with Phillips and Araujo in recent days have also been taken.

In addition, he said that the two men may have been careless by entering the region.

“Really, two people in a boat, in a … completely savage region, is not recommended,” since in that area “anything could happen,” the president said.

“It could have been an accident, it could have been that they were executed,” but “we hope and ask God that they will be found quickly,” Bolsonaro said.

The Javari Valley is a large region of rivers and jungle in the middle of the Amazon zone, bordering on Peru and home to the largest number of isolated indigenous communities in the world. The zone is threatened by illegal fishing and mining and in recent years it has become a drug trafficking route.

Phillips and Araujo’s trail, the latter of whom was well acquainted with the area, was lost when they headed out from the community of Sao Rafael toward the city of Atalaia do Norte, in Amazonas state, where they were supposed to have arrived on Sunday morning.

They were traveling in a new boat, with 70 liters (18.5 gallons) of gasoline, enough for the trip, and they were spotted for the last time in the vicinity of the village of Sal Gabriel, some kilometers from Sao Rafael.

Those calling for more decisive action by the Brazilian government were joined on Tuesday by John Kerry, the United States’ special presidential envoy for the climate, who met in New York with Brazilian indigenous leader and activist Sonia Guajajara.

“We will follow up with you,” was Kerry’s message to Guajajara, who presented the envoy with the complaint about search delays and asked that the matter be addressed on Thursday by President Joe Biden during his bilateral meeting with Bolsonaro in Los Angeles.

In a note, the Brazilian foreign ministry reported on Tuesday that it became aware of the news with great concern and that the federal police, with the support of the navy, had begun a search to find the pair as quickly as possible, and admitted that one of the hypotheses about what has happened to the men is “criminal action.”

Araujo, who has worked for years in the region, has been the target of assorted threats by illegal mining mafias, loggers and even drug traffickers operating in the region, and some of his friends had feared for his life.

Phillips, meanwhile, is a veteran journalist who has lived in Brazil for the past 15 years and who has collaborated with assorted international media outlets such as The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others, although he is currently working on gathering information for a book about the Javari Valley. EFE


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