Veteran British freelance journalist Dom Phillips and respected Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira shared a passion for the far reaches of the Amazon rainforest, where they disappeared and were buried, according to confessions obtained by police.
The couple were last seen early on June 5, traveling by boat in Brazil’s Javari Valley (Javari Valley), a remote jungle region near the border with Peru, where Phillips was looking for a book.
The area has seen an upsurge in criminal activity in recent years, including illegal logging, gold mining, poaching and drug smuggling – incursions that Phillips reported and Pereira vigorously fought against .
Police said on Wednesday that one of the two men arrested for their disappearance admitted to burying their bodies in the jungle. Although human remains have been found, they have not been definitively confirmed to be those of Pereira and Phillips.
The two had previously traveled there together in 2018 for a feature article Phillips wrote in a British newspaper The Guardian on an uncontacted tribe – one of an estimated 19 in the region.
“Wearing just shorts and flip flops as he crouches in the mud by a fire, Bruno Pereira, an official with Brazil’s government agency for the natives, cuts open the boiled skull of a monkey with a spoon and eats his brains out for breakfast as he discusses politics, “it started.
This memorable introduction sums up the two men well, brave adventurers who loved the rainforest and its peoples, each defending the Amazon in their own way.
“Sharp and caring journalist”
Phillips, 57, started out as a music journalist in Britain, editing the magazine Mixmag and write a book about the rise of DJ culture.
Attracted by DJ friends, he left for Brazil 15 years ago, falling in love with the country and the one who became his wife, Alessandra Sampaio, originally from the city of Salvador, in the northeast of the country.
Reinventing himself as a foreign correspondent, Phillips covered Brazil for outlets such as Tthe New York Times, The Washington Post, FinancialTimes and The Guardianwhere he was a regular contributor.
A group of friends and colleagues described Phillips as “one of the sharpest and most caring foreign journalists in South America”.
“But there was a lot more to him than pages and paragraphs. His friends knew him as a smiling guy who got up before dawn to go stand-up paddleboarding. We knew him as a caring volunteer who gave lessons English in a Rio favela“, they said in a statement.
Phillips has traveled and written about the Amazon for dozens of stories, winning an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship last year to fund her project to write a book about sustainability in the rainforest. The project brought him back to the area he loved.
“Charming Amazon,” he posted on Instagram earlier this month, alongside a video of a small boat meandering down a winding river.
“Courageous and Dedicated” Indigenous Advocate
Until recently, as a senior expert at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, Pereira was responsible for programs for isolated and newly contacted indigenous groups.
As part of this work, the 41-year-old organized one of the largest expeditions ever to monitor isolated groups and try to avoid conflict between them and others in the area.
Fiona Watson, research director of indigenous rights group Survival International, called him a “brave and dedicated” advocate for indigenous peoples.
Pereira was particularly revered for his knowledge of the Javari Valley, where he also served as FUNAI’s regional coordinator for years.
But he was on leave from the agency after clashing with the new leadership put in place by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces accusations of dismantling programs to protect indigenous peoples and the environment since taking office in 2019.
Pereira “was expelled from FUNAI, basically because he was doing what FUNAI should be doing and has stopped doing since Bolsonaro took office: defending indigenous rights,” Watson told AFP. AFP.
Pereira has frequently received threats for his work fighting illegal invasions of the Javari reserve. This includes helping to set up Aboriginal patrols. He and Phillips were on their way to a meeting on such a patrol project when they disappeared.
“Each time he enters the rainforest, he brings his passion and willingness to help others,” Pereira’s family said in a statement.
by Marcelo Silva de Sousa, AFP
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