Dom Phillips, British correspondent in Brazil, dies at 57

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Dom Phillips, a Brazil-based British journalist who had written for the Washington Post, the Guardian and other news outlets and was a leading columnist of the devastating environmental effects of deforestation in the Amazon, died in the remote valley from Javari, in western Brazil, where he was looking for a book. He was 57 years old.

According to media reports, he and Bruno Araújo Pereira, an expert on the country’s indigenous peoples, were traveling by boat on the Itaquai River in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, known in recent years for increasing violence by illegal fishermen, loggers and drug traffickers. Both men were last seen alive on June 5.

Police announced on Friday that human remains recovered from a remote forest belonged to Mr Phillips. A fisherman this week confessed to killing the journalist and his traveling companion, police said, and led investigators to a remote location where the remains were buried.

Authorities have not announced whether another set of human remains collected belong to Pereira, but testing continues. No cause of death has been confirmed, but police say it is likely the men were shot. At least two men are in custody and police expect more arrests to be made soon.

Mr Phillips, a former music journalist in England, had lived in Brazil since 2007. He learned Portuguese and married a Brazilian and lived in São Paolo, Rio de Janeiro and more recently Salvador, the capital of the state of northeast of Bahia.

He was a versatile journalist who wrote about politics, poverty and cultural developments in Brazil. As a contributor to The Post from 2014 to 2016, he covered the country’s preparations for the World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympics. He then examined whether the Games had conferred an advantage sustainability in Rio de Janeiro.

“Three months after the successful hosting of the Summer Olympics, Brazil’s cultural hub is set to soar,” he wrote in The Post. “Instead, it’s a financial, political and criminal mess.”

Mr. Phillips was particularly drawn to the plight of Brazil’s natural world and the indigenous peoples living deep within the Amazon rainforest. He traveled across the country to report on deforestation, as farmers and other business interests destroyed large swaths of Brazil’s once-dense rainforests. He led the The Guardian’s Investigation large cattle ranches established on cleared forest land.

“Dom is one of the most ethical and courageous journalists I know,” Andrew Fishman, an American journalist working in Brazil, told the Latin American news service CE Noticias Financieras. “He has always been extremely rigorous in his work and incisive in his analyses.”

In 2019, Mr Phillips asked Bolsonaro about deforestation in the countryside. Bolsonaro, who favors mining and other business developments, replied: “First of all, you have to understand that the Amazon belongs to Brazil, not to you.”

A video of the exchange caused a stir among Bolosanaro supporters, who used it to bolster their view that the president was being attacked by the media.

“Dom was very shaken by this video,” Fishman said. “He felt it put a target on his back and made his job more difficult.”

In 2018, Mr Phillips joined Pereira and photographer Gary Calton on a 17 day trip in the Amazon – nearly 600 miles by boat and a 45-mile trek on foot – as Pereira, then a government official, tried to make contact with isolated indigenous groups.

“As he crouches in the mud by a fire,” Mr Phillips wrote in an evocative story for the Guardian, “Bruno Pereira, an official with the Brazilian government’s indigenous agency, opens the boiled skull of a monkey with a spoon and eats its brains for breakfast as he discusses politics.

Mr Phillips dubbed some of the people he met “the ninjas of this forest, [who] are as protective as they are at home. They fish for piranhas and hunt, butcher and cook birds, monkeys, sloths and boars to eat them.

When a local man was asked if agricultural development and mining should be allowed in indigenous territories, he replied: “No. We take care of our land.

Mr. Phillips has returned to the Javari Valley several times to conduct research for a book tentatively titled “How to Save the Amazon”. He received a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to help fund his reporting.

In recent years, the region had become increasingly dangerous, with more than 150 environmental activists killed in Brazil between 2009 and 2020, according to the Latin American Journalism Project. Tierra de Resistentes.

After Mr Phillips and Pereira failed to show up for a meeting scheduled for June 5, Aboriginal people reported a boat following them.

Mr Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, has called on the Brazilian government to act quickly to find her husband and Pereira. Brazilian celebrities, including soccer star Pelé, joined the public appeal. News outlets – such as The Post, The Guardian and The New York Times, all of which Mr Phillips had written for – published an open letter demanding that the Brazilian government “urgently intensify and fully fund its efforts” to find men.

When Bolsonaro was informed of their disappearance, he seemed to suggest that they were at fault.

“Anything can happen,” he said. “It could have been an accident. They could have been executed.”

After the discovery of their remains, Bolsonaro said, “This Englishman was hated in the region. … He should have more than redoubled the precautions he was taking. And he decided to go on an excursion instead.

The statement caused an uproar in Brazil and abroad.

“The victims are not the culprits,” one of Bolsoanaro’s political opponents, Orlando Silva, said in a tweet.

Dominic Mark Phillips was born on July 23, 1964 in Bebington, a town near Liverpool in the Merseyside region of northwest England. He left college to travel in the 1980s and lived in Israel, Greece, Denmark and Australia, taking odd jobs including picking fruit, working as a chef and cleaning a meat factory.

He became a devotee of a form of electronic dance music called house, and in the late 1980s helped found an art magazine in Bristol, England. He moved to London in 1990 and worked as an editor at Mixmag, a magazine chronicling house music. He coined the term “progressive house” to describe “a new breed of harsh but melodious, hard-hitting but reflective, uplifting and trancey British house”.

He left publishing in 1999 to produce documentaries and music videos. In 2009, he published “DJ Superstars, let’s go!”, a book described in a Guardian review as “in part, a memoir of his days in clubs and after-parties awash in champagne, vodka, cocaine and ecstasy”.

Mr Phillips first visited Brazil in 1998. After settling there nine years later, he largely abandoned his nightlife habits and often rose before dawn to stand -up paddle on the waterways.

“On the one hand, it’s like being in Europe or America,” he said in a 2008 interview with DMCWorld magazine, a music publication. “On the other hand, it’s completely different – like entering a glass world where everything looks the same but is actually upside down, upside down, upside down, whatever. … The best thing about this country is the people — they’re really open, friendly and positive. They love the music. Rich or poor, they do their best to make the most of life.

In addition to his wife, the survivors include a sister and a brother.

Mr Phillips turned down several high-profile job offers, preferring to stay in Brazil as a freelance writer, contributing to the Financial Times, Bloomberg News and football magazines. He was well known to international journalists and taught English and volunteered in poor neighborhoods.

“He enjoys seeing the impact of his work on people’s lives,” Cecília Olliveira, founder of Fogo Cruzado, a website documenting violence in Brazil, told CE Noticias Financieras. “He likes to do journalism that makes a difference, that exposes abuse, that helps protect those in need of protection.”

Terrence McCoy in Brazil contributed to this report.

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