‘Every minute counts’: Families of missing journalist and Brazilian expert demand action

Fears mount Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira may have been targeted by locals engaged in crime

The families of a British journalist and a Brazilian indigenous expert missing in the Amazon rainforest since Sunday have pleaded with Brazil’s authorities to step up efforts to find them.

Bruno Araújo Pereira and Dom Phillips were last seen on Sunday morning heading by boat for the town of Atalaia do Norte in remote jungle near Brazil’s border with Peru. The alarm was raised when they failed to arrive as scheduled. Initial searches reported no sign of the men or their boat. Brazil’s navy and federal police say they have since mounted their own operation as fears mount that the missing men may have been targeted by locals involved in illegal activity such as hunting and mining on indigenous territory.

Paulo Dollis Barbosa, a representative of the local Javari Valley indigenous rights group Univaja, said Mr Araújo Pereira and Mr Phillips were meeting residents from an indigenous community on Saturday when armed men threatened the group. Phillips photographed the men making the threats. Police have reportedly identified three suspects.

Two other local men who were to have met Mr Araújo Pereira and Mr Phillips were questioned on Monday but later released.


In an emotional video plea, Phillips’s Brazilian wife, Alessandra Sampaio, appealed to Brazil’s federal government and other state organs “to intensify searches because we still have some hope of finding them”.

In a statement the family of Mr Araújo Pereira, a father of three, also pleaded “urgency” from the authorities. “Every minute counts; every stretch of river and forest unchecked could be the one where they are waiting for rescue,” they said.

Authorities have faced mounting criticism from environmental activists for delays in deploying resources to the search area. But Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, appeared to blame the missing men for the situation, saying two people travelling alone by boat in the region was “not recommended ... Anything can happen. It could be an accident, they could have been executed. We hope and ask God they’ll be found shortly,” he said in an interview with the television channel SBT on Tuesday.

Mr Araújo Pereira, one of Brazil’s leading experts on remote and uncontacted indigenous peoples, with a deep knowledge of the Javari valley region, has received multiple death threats during his career as an official with the indigenous affairs agency of Brazil’s federal government. He took a leave of absence from the agency after he was removed from his job as co-ordinator of isolated and newly contacted indigenous peoples in October 2019, after what he said was pressure from agribusiness interests.

The Bolsonaro administration has been accused by federal prosecutors of running down the state apparatus for enforcing constitutionally mandated protections of indigenous communities, increasing their vulnerability to attack by outsiders.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America