British Journalist and Indigenous Expert Are Missing in Amazon After Threats

RIO DE JANEIRO — A British journalist and a Brazilian expert on Indigenous peoples have been reported missing deep inside the Amazon rainforest, after the expert’s organization said it had received threats for its work monitoring illegal mining and fishing in the area.

Dom Phillips, a freelance writer for the British news organization The Guardian, and Bruno Araújo Pereira were last seen early Sunday while traveling in a boat on the Itaquaí River in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas, near the border with Peru.

Search parties made up of local Indigenous people have found no trace of the men or their boat. By late Monday, the Brazilian Navy said that it had dispatched a search team to the area, and the Brazilian Army said that it was planning to do so.

Mr. Phillips, 57, was in the remote region to interview Indigenous people who were patrolling the area for illegal miners and fishers with an organization called Univaja. Mr. Phillips was planning to use the reporting for a book about the Amazon, according to The Guardian.

He was traveling with Mr. Pereira, who had been working with the Univaja patrol teams. Those teams had recently faced threats in the area for their work, including in the past week, Univaja said in a news release. The organization added that it had reported some of the threats to the local authorities.

Leonardo Lenin, an official with the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples, another Indigenous advocacy group that works with Univaja, said that Mr. Pereira was well known in the region because for years he had led the Brazilian government’s efforts to protect the Indigenous tribes there.

In response to his work, Mr. Pereira had long received death threats, Mr. Lenin said. “Bruno always acted fiercely against illegal activities in the region,” he said. “They were trying to intimidate him to stop monitoring the territory.”

The Amazon has for decades been plagued by violence between people who want to exploit the rainforest for profit and those who are trying to stop them. Amazonas, where Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira went missing, has suffered increased deforestation in recent years and is among the forest’s most violent areas. The men were last seen near an area bordering Brazil, Colombia and Peru that is common for drug trafficking.

In a statement, Mr. Phillips’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio, called on the Brazilian authorities to increase their efforts to find the missing men. “In the forest, every second counts; every second can be life or death,” she said. “Brazilian authorities, our families are desperate. Please respond to the urgency of the moment with urgent actions.”

Brazilian journalists and Indigenous activists criticized the authorities’ search efforts late Monday, in part because it appeared that they had still not used a helicopter, which could be crucial in finding the men in such a vast and remote area. The army also initially said late Monday that it had not received authorization to dispatch a search team, before announcing it would do so just after 7:30 p.m. local time.

“A crucial day passed and the Brazilian authorities didn’t make any helicopters available to try to find Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips,” Eliane Brum, a prominent Brazilian journalist and author, said on Twitter.

The navy said it would use a helicopter in its search on Tuesday. A spokesman said that the army had only speedboats in the area and that it would take time to get a helicopter from roughly 700 miles away in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas.

Data from a satellite communication device showed that Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira had stopped along the Itaquaí River for a planned meeting at 6 a.m. Sunday, Univaja said. They were last seen on their boat downstream from that spot. They should have arrived in the small city of Atalaia do Norte at 8 a.m. but did not.

The area is a maze of waterways, and it can be easy to get lost there, though Univaja noted that Mr. Pereira “has profound knowledge of the region.” The men were traveling in a new boat with a 40-horsepower motor and 70 liters of gasoline, which was enough for the journey, Univaja said.

Mr. Phillips has lived in Brazil since 2007, reporting for a number of newspapers, including The New York Times, for which he wrote about two dozen stories in 2017. In recent years, he has been a regular contributor to The Guardian. Through the 1990s, he wrote and edited for Mixmag, a British magazine about electronic dance music, where he coined the term “progressive house” to describe a genre of music, according to the magazine.

In a second act of his career, Mr. Phillips fell in love with Brazil, and especially with reporting on isolated regions of the Amazon and the conflict there.

“He’s an immensely curious guy who’s fascinated by the details and by what’s driving everything that’s happening in the Amazon,” said Tom Phillips, The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent. “He also has a really huge heart and is someone who really likes people, and that kindness and decency is what drives him.”

André Spigariol contributed reporting from Brasília, and Leonardo Coelho from Rio de Janeiro.

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