Saturday, November 26, 2022

Search narrows, pressure mounts in Amazon’s disappearance

ATALAIA DO NORTE, Brazil ( Associated Press) — A day before it went missing in the Amazon, two people who stayed with a British journalist and an indigenous official said on Thursday they called on authorities to intervene after three fishermen threatened to brand the group had tried unsuccessfully to do so. guns

Dom Phillips, a freelance journalist and indigenous official Bruno Pereira, was last seen on Sunday morning in the Javari Valley, Brazil’s second largest indigenous region, which is located in an isolated region bordering Peru and Colombia. The two men were in the So Rafael community, and were returning by boat to the nearby town of Atalia do Norte, but never arrived.

A day earlier, Phillips and Pereira had been threatened by men branding guns, Paulo Marubo, president of the Javari Valley Association of Indigenous Peoples, Uniwaza, told the Associated Press. Marubo said that Phillips had photographed the men at the time, including local resident Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, known as Pellado. The Costa de Oliveira was being held in Atalia do Norte and is considered the prime suspect in the disappearance.

After the incident, the two men who were with Phillips and Pereira when the fishermen appeared, said they went to a nearby federal base, which houses the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Bureau office, known as FUNAI, and the National The guard’s policemen have a permanent presence.

“We went there but they didn’t do anything,” 20-year-old Raimundo Mayoruna told the Associated Press. “They didn’t go after Pellado at all. They didn’t want to help us.”

Mayoruna and Salomo Mayoruna, 32, are part of a local group that oversees that area of ​​the river. They said they were at a cottage with Phillips and Pereira on Saturday when the incident happened.

Messages seeking comment from FUNAI and the National Guard were not immediately responded to.

Details emerged on Thursday as search parties and top news editors, US lawmakers, football superstars and Hollywood celebrities urged the Brazilian government to intensify efforts to find the men.

Associated Press reporters on Thursday traveled by boat to the part of the Itakai River where the couple disappeared. The area is inhabited by some riverside communities and serves as the main gateway to the Valle do Javari indigenous lands, home to some 6,000 indigenous peoples spread over an area the size of Portugal.

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Federal police investigators have concluded that the two disappeared between a resident’s home and the mouth of the Quixito River.

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All search efforts were focused on this section. Along the river were small, scattered teams of the Navy, Indian, Civil Defense and the Army, whose barges pulled small boats into the area on Thursday.

On a muddy river bank, two recently contacted Matisse Indians were looking for traces of the missing couple. In broken Portuguese, he explained that he found nothing. The other teams did not report getting any clues about the whereabouts of the two.

On a Navy boat, a volunteer drops an anchor in the river, explaining that when she touches something different on the bottom of the river, she dives to check. He has to search the banks of the river with his own hands as the visibility is zero in the muddy water.

Phillips and Pereira were talking with people on the outskirts of the protected area, but never entered it, according to several people the Associated Press interviewed in the area.

The difficult search comes as indigenous leaders on the ground, family members and peers of Pereira and Phillips have expressed concern that the authorities’ search efforts were inadequate and lacked coordination. A large number of celebrities, politicians, civil society groups and international news organizations have joined his call, urging the police, army and navy to strengthen search efforts.

Actor Mark Ruffalo called for an “international backlash” on Twitter, emphasizing the worrying number of journalists “attacked, killed, or missing”.

In Los Angeles, where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and President Joe Biden met on Thursday, two trucks parked in the middle of an avenue displayed messages with large pictures of Phillips and Pereira. “Intimidated. Now missing. Where are Dom and Bruno?” Read one of the messages.

Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also taken to Twitter for prompt action, who said on Wednesday that “Brazil should not delay a robust search and accountability process.” Others included Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

International news editors and organizations, led by The Guardian and The Washington Post, where Phillips worked as a freelance journalist, published a joint letter on Thursday directed at Bolsonaro, asking him to “make immediate steps and efforts.” fully resourced.” Signatories included The New Yorker, The Associated Press, Britain’s Channel 4 News, The Financial Times, France’s Agence France-Presse, as well as Reporters Without Borders.

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Earlier this week, Bolsonaro criticized the work of the two men at Amazon, describing it as “adventure”.

“In fact, just two people in a boat in a completely wooded area is not a recommended adventure. Anything can happen. It could be an accident, maybe they were killed,” he told television network SBT Said in an interview with. “We hope and ask God that they will be found soon. Armed forces are working hard.”

On social media, a growing number of Brazilian celebrities, including soccer superstar Pele and actor Camila Pitanga, expressed concern over the disappearance.

Phillips, 57, has reported from Brazil for more than a decade and has most recently been working on a book about conserving the Amazon. Pereira has been working for Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency for a long time in the Javari Valley. He oversaw his regional office and the coordination of different indigenous groups before going on vacation to help local people defend themselves against illegal fishermen and poachers.

For years, Pereira had been receiving threats for his work.

The Javari Valley is home to one of the largest indigenous peoples in the world, with little or no contact with the outside world.

Despite fierce resistance from the local non-indigenous population, in 2001 the federal government created the Javari Valley Indigenous Region, intended to protect an area the size of Portugal. Non-Indigenous communities just outside the newly established protected land had historically fished within it, and were no longer allowed. Since then, the tension has only increased.

There have been frequent gunfights between poachers, fishermen and official security agents in the area. It is also a major route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border, then smuggled into Brazil to supply local cities or shipped to Europe.


Janet reported from Rio de Janeiro.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by a number of private foundations. See more about Associated Press’s climate initiative here. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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