Journalist and Indigenous Official Missing in Lawless Section of Amazon

The remote zone where British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian conservation specialist Bruno Araújo Pereira went missing is a “hotbed of illegal activity”.
Max Daly
London, GB
Dom Phillips talks to two indigenous men in Aldeia Maloca Papiú, Roraima State, Brazil, on November 16, 2019. Photo: Joao Laet/AFP via Getty.

A British journalist and indigenous affairs expert who disappeared in Brazil’s Amazon went missing in a remote and lawless part of the rainforest that has become a “hotbed of illegal activity” notorious for drug traffickers and illegal miners.

Dom Phillips, who writes for the Guardian and other newspapers including the Washington Post and Financial Times, and Bruno Araújo Pereira vanished on Sunday while conducting research for a book about conservation in the Javari region of Amazonas state. The pair had received death threats from illegal miners and loggers before their trip, the Guardian said. 


After pleas from Phillips’s wife Alessandra Sampaio and his sister Sian on Tuesday, the Brazilian army said they had started searching for the two men along the river near the town of Atalaia do Norte, the gateway to the Javari region.  

Sam Cowie, a journalist based in Brazil who has known Phillips for a decade said that the area where the men had gone missing was a dangerous zone. “The stretch of water they were travelling along is part of the Amazon that especially over the last decade has seen a huge influx of drug traffickers who use the water to transport drugs,” he told BBC News. 

“There’s also arms traffickers, illegal fishers, illegal hunters, gold miners, illegal loggers. It’s a hotbed of illegal activity and environmental crime, and a very lawless place so we are extremely concerned for the fact they have disappeared.” 

Cowie said both men were highly experienced and “no strangers to this harsh, lawless and unforgiving environment, and had been on a research trip to the same area before in 2018. 

Later on Tuesday, Sampaio made a filmed, emotional plea for help in finding her husband. “Even if I don’t find the love of my life alive, we must find them, please.”

Phillips is well known for his reporting on the increasing threats to the Amazon’s environment and indigenous tribes posed by a combination of deforestation, cattle farming and illegal gold mining. Pereira has spent many years trying to save indigenous tribes in the region from losing their homes. 

Beto Marubo, an Indigenous leader from the region who knows Phillips and Pereira told the Guardian the area had become an increasingly risky place to visit. “These are systematically organised gangs that are plundering the Javari region. They are very violent.”

He added: “I feel huge affection for Dom. He has written several extraordinarily important articles about the Javari valley that have helped draw attention to our problems.”