For a long time, those fighting for indigenous and environmental justice in the Amazon have been murdered by lawless landowners. It doesn’t much matter if they are Brazilian like Chico Mendes or American like Dorothy Stang. These landowners know they live with impunity and act accordingly. It seems that they have struck again.
The Javari Valley in the Amazon rainforest is one of the most isolated places on the planet. It is a densely forested Indigenous reserve the size of Maine where there are virtually no roads, trips can take a week by boat and at least 19 Indigenous groups are believed to still live without outside contact.
The reserve is also plagued by illegal fishing, hunting and mining, a problem exacerbated by government budget cuts under President Jair Bolsonaro. Now local Indigenous people have started formally patrolling the forest and rivers themselves, and the men who exploit the land for a living have responded with increasingly dire threats.
That tension was the kind of story that has long attracted Dom Phillips, a British journalist in Brazil for the past 15 years, most recently as a regular contributor to The Guardian. Last week, Mr. Phillips arrived in the Javari Valley to interview the Indigenous patrols for a book. He was accompanied by Bruno Araújo Pereira, an expert on Indigenous groups who had recently taken leave from the Brazilian government in order to aid the patrols.
About 6 a.m. Saturday, the two men were with a patrol, stopped along a snaking river, when another boat approached, according to officials at Univaja, a Javari Valley Indigenous association that helps organize the patrols. The approaching vessel carried three men known to be illegal fishermen, Univaja said, and as it passed, the men showed the patrol boat their guns. It was the kind of threat that Univaja had been recently reporting to authorities.
The following morning, Mr. Phillips, 57, and Mr. Pereira, 41, began their journey home, traveling on the Itaquí River in a new boat with a 40-horsepower engine and enough fuel for the trip. They were scheduled to arrive in Atalaia do Norte, a small city on the border with Peru, at about 8 a.m. Sunday.
The men and their boat have not been seen since.
Whoever actually ordered this, the real blame lies in the lap of Bolsonaro, who has governed speicifcally to let these guys do whatever they want in the Amazon, eliminating people he sees as savages. Brazil voted for a guy who said he would do this kind of thing openly. Sometimes, you should believe what candidates tell you.