By DIANE JEANTET
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Top editors, U.S. lawmakers, soccer superstars and Hollywood celebrities are urging Brazilian authorities to step up their search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous leader Bruno Pereira, who disappeared in the Amazon Brazilian last weekend.
Phillips and Pereira were last seen Sunday morning in the Javari Valley, Brazil’s second-largest indigenous territory, located in a remote area on the Peru-Colombia border. The two men were in the community of Sao Rafael and were returning by boat to the nearby town of Atalaia do Norte, but never arrived.
Indigenous leaders on the ground, family members and peers of Pereira and Phillips expressed concern that search efforts by authorities were insufficient and uncoordinated. A growing number of celebrities, politicians, civil society groups and international news organizations have joined their call, asking that the police, army and navy step up search efforts.
Actor Mark Ruffalo called on Twitter for an “international response”, highlighting the worrying number of journalists “attacked, killed or missing”.
In Los Angeles, where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and President Joe Biden are due to meet later Thursday, two trucks parked in the middle of an avenue displayed messages accompanied by large illustrations of Phillips and Pereira. ” THREATENS. NOW MISSING. WHERE ARE DOM & BRUNO? read one of the messages.
Several U.S. lawmakers have also taken to Twitter to call for swift action, including Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said Wednesday that “Brazil must not delay a process of research and accountability. robust”. Others included Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Led by The Guardian and The Washington Post, where Phillips worked as a freelance journalist, editors and international organizations issued a joint letter to Bolsonaro on Thursday, asking him to “urgently step up and fully fund the effort.” “. Among the signatories were the New Yorker, the Associated Press, the British Channel 4 News, the Financial Times, the French Agence France-Presse, as well as Reporters Without Borders.
Earlier this week, Bolsonaro drew criticism by describing the two men’s work in the Amazon as an “adventure”.
“Really, just two people in a boat in a completely wild area like this is not a recommended adventure. Everything can happen. It could be an accident, they could have been killed,” he said in an interview with SBT TV. “We hope and ask God that they will be found soon. The armed forces work hard.
Phillips, 57, has reported from Brazil for more than a decade and recently worked on a book on Amazon conservation. Pereira has long operated in the Javari Valley for Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency. He oversaw their regional office and coordination of uncontacted indigenous groups before going on leave to help local indigenous people defend themselves against illegal fishers and poachers.
For years, Pereira had received threats for his work.
The Javari Valley has one of the largest indigenous populations in the world with little or no contact with the outside world.
Despite fierce resistance from the local non-indigenous population, the federal government created the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in 2001, with the aim of protecting an area the size of Portugal. Non-Indigenous communities just outside the newly established protected lands had historically fished within them and were no longer permitted to do so. Since then, tensions have only grown.
There have been repeated shootouts between hunters, fishermen and official security agents in the area. It is also an important route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border and then smuggled into Brazil to supply local towns or for shipment to Europe.
Authorities have so far heard five witnesses and identified one suspect.
Civilian police said on Wednesday that a man was arrested for allegedly carrying a firearm without a license, which is common practice in the area. Although they have no concrete evidence to link the man to the disappearances.
Paulo Marubo, the president of an association of indigenous peoples in the Javari Valley, Univaja, previously told The Associated Press that Phillips and Pereira were threatened on Saturday, the day before they disappeared, when a small group of men on the river brandished firearms at a Univaja Patrol. Phillips photographed the men at the time and Pelado was one of them, Marubo said.
A vigil is scheduled for later Thursday evening in Brasilia, outside the indigenous government agency, known as FUNAI, and in Rio de Janeiro on June 12. Similar rallies have already taken place in London and Brasilia earlier this week.
Meanwhile, a growing number of Brazilian celebrities, including soccer superstar Pelé and actor Camila Pitanga, were expressing concern over the disappearances.