Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira: Suspects Detained as Brazil Intensifies Search for Missing Men in Remote Amazon

Concerns are growing over the fate of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira, who were went missing for the first time in Javari Valley, in far western Amazonas on Sunday. They had reportedly received death threats a few days prior.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Amazonas Secretary General of State Security Carlos Alberto Manzur said the suspect was in police custody.

Mansour said the man was arrested after being found in possession of “lots of drugs” and ammunition used for illegal hunting.

Authorities said on Wednesday they were pursuing multiple lines of investigation, including the murder, and added that they still “can’t rule anything out.”

Mansour noted that five other people were questioned by police in connection with the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira, who traveled to the region to conduct research for a book project on conservation efforts in the region.

In advance of the press conference, mass media and family members of both missing men called for the federal government to step up its search efforts. On Wednesday, federal police superintendent Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said the search and rescue operation involved a total of 250 people, two helicopters, three drones and 16 boats.

Phillips and Pereira have been missing for more than 72 hours, according to the Indigenous Peoples Organization Coordinating Council. An organization known as UNIVAJA said satellite information showed the couple’s last known location in the community of San Rafael early Sunday morning, where they were supposed to meet with a local leader who never showed up.

“Dangerous” region

Home to thousands of indigenous people and about 16 non-contact groups, Jawari Valley is the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil – is a patchwork of rivers and dense forest, making access very difficult. The area is under increasing threat from illegal miners, lumberjacks, hunters and international drug traffickers who exploit its extensive river network.
Missing Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Araujo Pereira.

On Wednesday, Federal Police Superintendent Fontes called the area where Phillips and Pereira went missing “difficult” and “dangerous.”

Phillips and Pereira traveled to the region to do research for a conservation book. Philips, Amazon Specialist, formerly informed for the British newspaper The Guardian on the threats posed by illegal mining and pastoralism to non-contact indigenous groups in the region.
While under government protection, the Javari Valley can be a hostile environment for journalists and indigenous rights activists. According to the Brazilian prosecutor’s office, an indigenous affairs worker was killed area in September 2019.

“In this region, violence is spreading in an increasingly uncontrolled manner in the context of the encroachment on the lands of indigenous peoples and lands belonging to the state, the suppression of press freedom and the work of journalists,” UNIVAJA said in a statement.

In 2018, Phillips reported on the threats posed by illegal mining companies and pastoralists to uncontacted indigenous groups, with Pereira at the center of the article.

Survival International, an NGO that advocates for indigenous peoples, said that Pereira had previously received “multiple threats” as a result of his work as “an ally in indigenous struggles”.

Tara Subramaniam wrote from Washington DC. Camilo Rocha and Marcia Reverdosa reported from Sao Paulo, Brazil.