Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira is the “tip of the iceberg” of Amazonian crime

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On the lawless Amazonian border between Brazil, Peru and Colombia, cocaine smugglers operate with impunity and illegal loggers and miners band together

The disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and leader Bruno Araújo Pereira in the Amazon is “the tip of the iceberg” as the lack of state authority in Brazil means that indigenous communities are increasingly threatened by organized crime, an indigenous rights activist has said People.

Mr Phillips, 57, is a freelance journalist who has written for publications, among other things The guard and The New York Times. He was on a reporting trip with Indigenous expert Mr Pereira, 41, when they disappeared on June 5.

It was reported on Monday that a diplomatic adviser had told the family that two bodies had been found but had not yet been officially identified. Federal police and a spokesman for the local Indigenous Association of Indigenous Peoples of Vale do Javari (Univaja), who led the search, later denied reports linking them to the two men.

The Atalaia do Norte area, where Mr Philips and Mr Pereira went missing, borders Peru and Colombia and has the largest number of uncontacted tribal peoples in the world. But its ferocity and lawlessness have lured cocaine smuggling gangs along with illegal loggers, miners and hunters.

Antenor Vaz, founding member of the International Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact (GTI-PIACI), said I that communities are “exposed to all kinds of dangers” due to a lack of state authority.

“The drug trade in the Amazon has made strides, forging alliances with illegal loggers, illegal miners, hunters and illegal fishermen. It is “organized crime”.

“Brazilian environmental crime laws are lenient and don’t work in practice, so it’s better for drug traffickers to engage in environmental crimes,” said Mr. Vaz, who is also a former head of Brazil’s indigenous government agency in the region.

More than 100 indigenous people, many with body paint and headdresses, marched in Atalaia do Norte Monday to demand better treatment for indigenous people and justice for the two men.

News of the couple’s disappearance resonated around the world, with human rights organizations, environmentalists and advocates of a free press urging Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to step up the search.

Mr Vaz hailed Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira as “icons for protecting indigenous people and unconditionally defending the environment” in the Vale do Javari region, saying that indigenous communities had to take on the role of the state because it failed to take action against the organized crime.

“Their disappearance must be understood as a result of the absence of the state and a permissive discourse by the Bolsonaro government, which supports mining, agribusiness and large corporations on indigenous lands,” he said.

Mr Vaz called for an “urgent” safety plan for residents in the area.

“It’s not enough to find them [Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira]. It is necessary to know who the masterminds of the crime were.”

On Monday The guard reported that a Brazilian diplomat told Paul Sherwood, Mr Phillips’ brother-in-law, that authorities were working to identify two bodies tied to a tree near the river.

No authorities or search teams in Brazil have confirmed this development. Police said on Sunday some of the couple’s belongings had been seized, including Mr Pereira’s ID card. A search team firefighter told reporters about a backpack containing clothing and a laptop attached to a tree trunk near the river.

Far-right leader Mr Bolsonaro, who was once harshly questioned at a press conference over Mr Phillips’ weakening of environmental legislation, said last week that the two men were “on an adventure that is not recommended” and speculated they had been executed could be.

State police officers involved in the investigation said they focused on poachers and illegal fishermen in the area, who often clashed with Mr Pereira when he organized indigenous patrols of the local reserve.

Police have arrested a fisherman, Amarildo da Costa, known as “Pelado”, on a weapons charge and are holding him in custody while they investigate the case.

Mr Costa’s lawyers and family said he fished the river legally and denied he had any role in the men’s disappearance.

Additional reporting by agencies

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