Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro drew fresh criticism Wednesday for saying a British journalist missing in the Amazon was “disliked” for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.
Bolsonaro has come under international pressure over the case of veteran correspondent Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who disappeared June 5 in the remote Javari Valley after receiving threats during a reporting trip to the region, a hotbed of drug trafficking and environmental crimes.
The far-right president, whose government has been accused of dragging its feet in the investigation, stirred new controversy with his latest comments on the case.
“That Englishman was disliked in the region, because he wrote a lot of articles against illegal gold miners (and) environmental issues,” Bolsonaro said.
“A lot of people didn’t like him. He should have more than redoubled the precautions he was taking. And he decided to go on an excursion instead,” he told journalist Leda Nagle in an interview for her YouTube channel.
Federal police have arrested two suspects over the men’s disappearance. Investigators have found personal effects belonging to the men and are analyzing suspected human remains and a blood sample from a suspect’s boat.
Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, were traveling in the far-flung region for a book Phillips was writing on sustainable development in the Amazon.
The journalist, a regular contributor to Britain’s Guardian newspaper and other leading international media, has written extensively on the world’s biggest rainforest.
Pereira, a long-time advocate for the region’s Indigenous peoples, was acting as his guide.
“All signs indicate that if they were killed — and I hope that’s not the case — they’re in the water, and in the water there won’t be much left. I don’t know if there are piranhas in the Javari,” Bolsonaro added.
He again appeared to blame the missing men, saying it was “very reckless to travel in that region without being sufficiently prepared, physically and with weapons.”
His comments triggered an outcry from critics.
“How disgusting,” journalist Ana Luiza Basilio wrote on Twitter.
“The victims are not the ones to blame,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Orlando Silva.
“The government has an obligation to protect the country and not incentivize the criminals controlling the region.”