Dom Phillips, a British correspondent in Brazil, dies at the age of 57

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Dom Phillips, a British journalist based in Brazil who had written for The Washington Post, The Guardian and other news organizations and was a leading chronicler of the devastating environmental effects of deforestation in the Amazon, has died in the remote Javari Valley in western Brazil, where he examined a book. He was 57.

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

Police announced Friday that human remains retrieved from an isolated forest site belonged to Mr. Phillips. A fisherman this week had confessed to killing the journalist and his entourage, police said, leading investigators to an isolated spot where the remains were buried.

Authorities did not announce whether another set of human remains belonged to Pereira, but tests continue. No cause of death has been confirmed, but police say it is likely the men were shot dead. At least two men have been remanded in custody, and police expect more arrests coming soon.

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

He was a versatile reporter who wrote about politics, poverty and cultural development in Brazil. As a contributor to The Post from 2014 to 2016, he covered the country’s preparations for the World Cup and Summer Olympics 2016. Later, he investigated whether the Games had given Rio de Janeiro a lasting advantage.

“Three months after the successful staging of the Summer Olympics, Brazil’s cultural hub should be at its peak,” he wrote in The Post. “Instead, it is an economic, political, criminal mess.”

Mr. Phillips was particularly attracted to the situation in Brazil’s natural world and the indigenous people who live deep in the Amazon rainforest. He traveled across the country to report deforestation, as farmers and other commercial interests destroyed large parts of Brazil’s once dense rainforests. He led The Guardian’s investigation of large-scale cattle farms established on cleared forest land.

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

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

A video of the exchange became a sensation among Bolosanaro’s supporters, who used it to advance their views that the president was being attacked by the media.

“Dom was very shaken by that video,” Fishman said. “He felt it set a goal on his back and made his work more difficult.”

In 2018, Mr. Phillips was with Pereira and photographer Gary Calton on a 17-day voyage into the Amazon – nearly 600 miles by boat and a 45-mile hike – when Pereira, then a government official, tried to make contact with isolated Indigenous groups.

“While squatting in the mud by a fire,” wrote Mr. Phillips in an evocative story for the Guardian, “Bruno Pereira, an official at Brazil’s indigenous government body, opens a monkey’s boiled skull with a spoon and eats it. brains for breakfast while discussing politics. “

Mr. Phillips called some of the people he met “the ninjas in this forest, [who] is as protective of it as they are at home in it. They fish piranhas and hunt, slaughter and cook birds, monkeys, sloths and wild boars to eat. “

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

Mr. Phillips returned several times to the Javari Valley to research a book entitled “How to Save the Amazon.” He received a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to help sign his report.

In recent years, the region has 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 did not show up for a scheduled meeting on June 5, the indigenous people reported that a boat was looking for them.

Mr. Phillip’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio, asked the Brazilian government to take steps to find her husband and Pereira. Brazilian celebrities, including football star Pelé, joined the public prayer. News organizations – such as The Post, The Guardian and the New York Times, for which Mr. Phillips has all written – issued an open letter demanding that the Brazilian government “immediately step up and full resources” to find the men.

When Bolsonaro was informed that they had disappeared, he seemed to suggest that they were wrong.

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

After their remains were found, Bolsonaro said: “That Englishman was disliked in the region. … He should have more than doubled the precautions he took. And he decided to go on an excursion instead. “

The statement led to an outcry in Brazil and abroad.

– It is not the victims who are to blame, said one of Bolsonaro’s political opponents, Orlando Silva, in a tweet.

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

He became a fan of a form of electronic dance music called house, and in the late 1980s he co-founded an art magazine in Bristol, England. He moved to London in 1990 and worked as a top editor at Mixmag, a magazine about house music. He coined the term “progressive house” to describe “a new breed of hard but melodic, throbbing, yet thoughtful, uplifting and trancey British house”.

He left the publication in 1999 to produce documentaries and videos about music. In 2009, he published “DJ Superstars Here We Go!”, A book described in a Guardian review as, “partly a memoir from his days reporting on clubs and after-parties crowded with champagne, vodka, cocaine and ecstasy.”

Mr. Phillips visited Brazil for the first time in 1998. After settling there nine years later, he largely gave up his late ways and often got up before dawn to paddle in stand-up on waterways.

“On one level, it’s like being in Europe or America,” he said in a 2008 interview with DMCWorld magazine, a music publication. “In a different way, it’s completely different – like entering a glass world where everything seems the same, but is actually upside down, backwards, backwards and forwards, no matter what. … The best thing about the country is the people – they are really open, friendly and positive. They love music. Rich or poor, they do their best to get the most out of life. “

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

Mr. Phillips turned down several prestigious 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 among international journalists and taught English and volunteered in poor neighborhoods.

“He likes to see 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 changes something, that condemns abuse, that helps protect those who need protection.”

Terrence McCoy of Brazil contributed to this report.