August 16, 2022

A host of Brazilian celebrities, led by three-time World Cup winner Pele, have joined calls for authorities to step up their search for a British journalist and defender of Brazilian indigenous people missing in the Amazon rainforest.

Pelé, now 81 and considered one of the greatest players of all time, retweeted a video made by Phillips’ wife calling for more urgency in the search for her husband and Bruno Pereira .

“The fight for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest and indigenous groups belongs to all of us,” the former Santos legend wrote on Twitter.

“I am moved by the disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Ferreira, who dedicate their lives to this cause. I join the many voices calling for more research.

His words came as authorities in the remote region on Brazil’s border with Peru announced they had arrested a man in possession of arms and ammunition.

The suspect has not been named, but police earlier said they arrested Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira. He allegedly threatened Phillips, Pereira and a group of 13 natives on Saturday morning as they traveled through the Vale do Javari region.

A witness to the encounter told the Guardian that Da Costa and two other gunmen threatened the group as they stopped by the Itaquaí River in Amazonas state.

Police said they could not yet link the suspect to the couple’s disappearance.

“We have elements that make us suspect that there is a connection with the fact,” said Carlos Alberto Mansur, Amazonas state police chief. “But that’s still just a suspicion. It is still under study. »

“Right now our main job is to search and our hope is always to find them alive. That they had a problem with their boat, that they went up a river, that they are lost in the jungle. It’s the jungle, it’s a very complex area.

“We still don’t have a solid indication that a crime has been committed.”

Pereira, 41, a longtime defender of indigenous tribes in a vast area of ​​remote jungle, had received death threats for his work to protect indigenous groups from drug traffickers and illegal miners, loggers and hunters who covet land in an area rich in natural resources. .

He and Phillips were last seen on Sunday morning traveling by boat in the Javari region of Amazonas state. They were returning from a two-day reporting trip but did not arrive as planned in the city of Atalaia do Norte.

Phillips, a longtime contributor to the Guardian, Washington Post and other international publications, was researching a book on sustainable development in the region.

He received a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to write the book and aimed to finish it by the end of this year.

On Tuesday, his wife Alessandra Sampaio made an emotional appeal to the authorities to speed up their search, and as the case made headlines in Brazil, personalities from the worlds of sport, culture and the media spoke out. attached to them.

Dr Drauzio Varella, a public health expert and broadcaster who is one of Brazil’s most beloved personalities, called Phillips “very serious” and said, “We need to clarify what happened.”

“The whole world is watching us and we must find out what happened and those responsible, if there are any, must face exemplary sanctions,” he said in a video message.

Musician Caetano Veloso said he plans to speak about Phillips and Pereira during his show at the Vivo Rio concert hall in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night.

In addition to Pelé, Everton and Brazil striker Richarlison retweeted the moving video of Phillips’ wife, and Walter Casagrande, a former Brazilian player who is now a well-known presenter, made his own recorded message in support. two people who he says are dedicated to protecting human rights and the environment.

“They are friends of our indigenous people and we cannot remain silent,” said the former Corinthians, Porto and Torino striker. “It is the responsibility of the government to intensify the search… This is a very serious case.”

Corinthians Football Club tweeted their support; singer Gaby Amarantos made her own video; and Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader who was recently named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2022, raised the issue with US climate envoy John Kerry during a visit to New York.

In Britain, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy urged the Brazilian authorities “to do everything possible to find them as quickly as possible and for the Foreign Office to use all diplomatic channels to its disposal”.