Acre was the first Brazilian state to implement policies regarding nature financialization. What does that mean? It means that the state was a kind of laboratory for measures that transform nature – trees, rivers and land, all of which we cannot (or could not) value – in something quantifiable, transformed into a product and, in addition, in assets on stock markets that will serve as currency of exchange and valuation of some company afterwards. Hence, a sea of problems:
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First, land privatization: companies need to have areas for “carbon capture”; that is, green areas to “compensate” for the pollution they generate in the world. Thus, large polluting industries, such as oil, mining and aviation companies could continue their activities normally, with the same or even higher levels of pollution, as long as they have, in some part of the world, their “farm of carbon capture”.
There is another problem: the “compensation” itself is a violation of rights. In order to continue polluting, companies take ownership of a territory that is not theirs, in deals that either do not involve communities or are based on lies – with promises of financial compensation never materialized. Native peoples, traditional communities and rural workers, who historically make a living in the forest – with balance – see themselves forbidden to manage the forest in their own cutural way. Their territory is stolen and their lives are therefore put at risk: families end up being pushed to the outskirts of cities, becoming part of the poor population. Wealth is left behind, in the land that no longer belongs to them. We can’t help from asking: and who compensates for that “compensation”?
The situation gets complex: in order to “compensate” for the pollution they emit, companies violate rights and prohibit traditional ways of life, especially in the Global South, and also profit from this by transforming these territories into financial assets; in short, the more rights they violate, the more they can pollute and expand their gains: it is profit to pollute and to destroy and profit to “compensate” it later.
See below in more details the “win-win” of the companies behind the burning of the Amazon, in material produced by Amigos da Terra Brasil along with CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council, in English) in Acre:
Dercy Telles, rubber worker and union leader, and Lindomar Padilha (CIMI-Acre) talk about monocultures and FAO’s intention to consider this as a forest or a way to offset pollution. With English subtitles.
We talked a lot about the Market, the Companies, the Industry, the Ruralists. However, these otherworldly entities have names, they are part of our world, we can and must quote them so that they bear their blame: the meat industry, agribusiness giants and their financial market financiers are the biggest stimulators for attacks on the peoples of the Amazon – and, obviously, who profits the most from it.
Although Bolsonaro’s government tries to blame the impoverished strata of society for the devastation of biodiversity in Amazon and throughout Brazil – saying that small farmers and communities are responsible for setting land on fire and losing control of it – an interesting report by The Intercept Brasil showed that, behind the burning forests and deforestation are powerful figures: “Public data from Ibama, the federal government agency responsible for preserving the environment, compiled and analyzed by De Olho nos Ruralistas, show that the 25 largest deforesters in the country’s recent history are large companies, foreigners, politicians, a company linked to a banker, frequenters of social columns in the Southeast region and three slave labor exploiters”.
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It is in the midst of all this – land grabbing, fires, soy and its pesticides, megaprojects that destroy ways of life – that communities resist, even though they are under extreme pressure and life threats. These Communities and Peoples are also transformed into abstract entities, yet there are simple people, of common habits, taste for football, family lunch, bathing in the river, resting in a hammock. Small farmers, fishermen, extractives from legal reserves, quilombola communities and indigenous peoples who wanted, if they could chose, to just continue their lives in the place to which they belong and to maintain the forest with which they live and on which they depend standing.
Another world is not possible, there is only this one. Therefore the struggle There is no possible coexistence with the infinite destructive desire of capitalist expansion: its poison runs through the surroundings, the lakes get polluted and dry up, the land is contaminated, people are expelled from their territories, attacked, cowardly murdered. Bolsonaro’s hate speech and the environmental and agrarian dismantling policies, in defense of the interests of agribusiness and foreign extractive industries, materialize in violence. For example: the murders of indigenous people grew 22.7% in 2018.
Against all of that, the struggle is most needed: daily, an ant work, little by little – as difficult and brutal as it is necessary and rewarding. This is what the stories we heard on the recent visit to the Tapajós region in Pará show. They show the siege of capital in the Amazon, with land grabbing, the advance of megaprojects over entire communities, the attack on the forest and rivers and the threats to those who oppose it, standing up in defense of traditional ways of life and the rights of peoples. It is not for nothing that these people are called Guardians of the Forest: we would not have thought of a fairer name.
In the video below, the president of the Union of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of Santarém (STTR-STM), Manoel Edivaldo Santos Matos – also called “The Fish” – explains, from a map of the Tapajós region, the capitalism siege to the Amazon:
Subtitles available in Spanish and English
Santarém: a Guideline Plan to the city tailored to the expansion of capital in the Amazon In the last legislative session of 2018, completely ignoring all popular participation that had happened so far, the councilors of Santarém – without any shame – aproved the Law 20534 which institutes a new Guideline Plan for the city: a tailor-made plan for soy cultivators, ruralists in general, land grabbers, mega-project investors, mining companies and for the tourism industry.
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On the one hand, the harbour area was expanded, conveniently involving the entire region of the Maicá River, where there are plans for the construction of five private ports aimed at the exportation of soybeans. On the other hand, the urban area grew larger, which allows the construction of buildings and tourist resorts on the banks of the Tapajós River. This involves the entire area towards Alter do Chão, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil and which was one of the focus of fires in 2019. As we usually say: nothing is by chance, and the cycle is repeated: fires, land grabbing, illegal land sale – either for the expansion of agribusiness or for the sale of plots to individuals or for tourism enterprises. In any case, it means violence against local peoples and communities and the cut down of the forest trees.
The siege is complete: illegal loggers; land grabbing; soy; pesticides; livestock; ports; mining; railways; big roads; contamination of soil and water; real estate speculation; expulsion of quilombola, indigenous families and small farmers to the outskirts of the cities; threats and attacks to those who resist. We repeat: there is no possible coexistence with the capital’s death cycle.
– ‘Visagem’? No ‘visagem’ has appeared in the woods, no, ma’am – said Narivaldo. It is in the water, and it in different forms; always finds a way to frighten us. (“Visagem” means, in local vocabulary, something similar to “ghost”). Nowadays in the region of Maicá, southeast of Santarém, the “visagem” has taken very concrete forms, everyone sees and worries: it is the shape of a port.
Embraps (Brazilian Company of Ports of Santarém, in English) intends to install a port at “Boca do Maicá” (Maicá’s Mouth), the entrance of the river that starts in the Amazon River and returns to the same river ahead, and then follow its flow towards the city of Macapá (AP) and to the Atlantic Ocean. Its waters have rich biodiversity and bathe around 50 communities, all of which are at risk if the port project goes on.
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And so it’s not a “visagem” after all: it is the reality that haunts; and it is between storytelling and laughter that Narivaldo dos Santos tells us about the Environmental Impact Study of Embraps – You know, I fish here pirarucu, tambaqui, surubim, pacu, acará, pescada, aracu, carauaci, arauanã, acari, fura-calça, mapará, which is white, right… [those are species of fish] – And there’s a lot more, because when I talk about acará, there are about eight types of it only here in our region: the purple, the bararuá, the boca-de-pote, the escama-grossa, the tinga, the açu… The tucunaré also: there is the açu, the pinima and the regular, and the surubi cabeça-chata, pinima and pintado… and so on. It is so much that we can say – Today I don’t want this one, then let one go and grab the next one: it’s a rich menu. But in the study of the company they say there are almost no types of fish here, and neither birds, alligators, capybaras, armadillos, nor the sea-cow, which is endangered and we find it here in our river…
Well, maybe the Embraps researchers do not know how to fish.
Narivaldo is the leader of the quilombola community of Bom Jardim. He is 42 years old and doesn’t seem to be: he runs fast through the fallen trunk trees that serve as a path to the area where the canoes and boats of the fishing community rest. Of the approximately 120 families, at least 90 fish in Maicá waters, some as businness others just for subsistence. With agile steps, it makes it look easy which it definitely is not: but although tortuous, the logs are still a path, and after about ten minutes of fragile balance on the woods we arrive at a beautiful bay, where the green grass meets the calm waters of the river, and the canoes are slightly agitated. Rowing, Santarém’s downtown is a couple of hours away.
Sometimes a fish ventures in a jump, as if to show off the river’s richness – You don’t even have to go far to find several types of fish, Narivaldo laughs again, before talking seriously – Regarding the government, we realize that they don’t care about the Amazon, about our rivers. In a way, the order for the construction of the port has already been given. It only stopped due to the action of FOQS [Federation of Quilombola Organizations of Santarém, in English], which filed the request for prior consultation with the MPF [Federal Public Ministry, in English]. Depending only on the government, the port will happen, the quilombola communities want it or not: but whatever we can do to avoid it, we will do. They say that the impacts can be compensated, but that doesn’t exist: we want to live as we do today.
The installation of a port in Maicá (not just one: there are projects for five ports on the river) will mean the destruction of that way of life and is a direct attack on the surrounding 12 quilombola communities, Bom Jardim among them. In their will, the former slave owners of the local farm, who had no heirs, left the land for the six families who were exploited there. That was 142 years ago: it’s been almost two centuries of belonging and fighting in that territory. Now, in name of the profit of a few, everything can disappear.
Prior consultation and ILO Convention 169 However, popular and legal mobilization – with the support of Terra de Direitos (Land of Rights, in English) – had effect and the project’s licensing was suspended. The company must carry out prior, free and informed consultation with all affected communities – quilombolas, indigenous and fishermen – in accordance with ILO Convention 169 (International Labor Organization). Embraps’ studies were so shallow that they did not even consider the quilombola component, so relevant in that area, which should also be added in a new study to be presented by the company. Although it has no veto power, mandatory consultation with affected communities can be considered a victory: after the favorable court decision, the 12 communities organized within FOQS rushed to build their own Consultation Protocol, what was also done by the impacted communities of indigenous peoples and fisheries.
The suspension of licensing also delays the project schedule, allowing more time for the dissemination of information in the region. Embraps’ forecast was that, in the first year of operation alone, 4.8 million tons of soybeans could be exported through the port installed in Maicá, much of which came from the Midwest region of Brazil through the BR-163. It’s easy to see thatthe whole colonial infrastructure of capitalism impacts the territories – ports, monocultives, mining, roads, railways. Another example is “Ferrogrão”, a railway project that will connect the city of Sinop (MT) to Itaituba (PA) and which will also cause damage along its path, especially in conservation units and indigenous lands.
A port where there should be no port A strange fact, however: in the same place where the Embraps port was to be installed, another project emerged – a fuel station for boats, in spite of impact studies or community participation. The responsible company is Atem’s, an oil distributor that operates in the North of Brazil. The damage is already being felt, especially in fishing, with the spillage of fuel and the grounding of the area, which changed the flow of water and fish. In March of this year, the Pará Public Ministry denounced the company, its managing partner and the engineer responsible for the project for the practice of environmental crimes. For them, the work proceeded without a license from the competent environmental agency, in addition to having submitted a divergent license to the State Secretariat for the Environment of Pará, which referred to non-hazardous cargo – when the objective was known from the beginning: construction and port installation for fuel distribution (dangerous cargo).
Struggle history But in May 2020, at last, good news: the Federal Court suspended the licenses of Atem’s port and determined the immediate stoppage of the works. The victory comes after a long mobilization of the social movements of Santarém against yet another enterprise that, without any consultation with the local communities, violated rights and compromised the region’s biodiversity.
These are the lines of the siege of agribusiness to the territories: expulsion of families from their land for soy planting; contamination of neighboring lands by the use of pesticides; the transport of grains tearing territories – whether by truck or train; their arrival in ports that destroy the traditional ways of life in the sorrounding area; exporting goods to generate wealth for international capital. The progress of the Embraps project also represents the removal of families and the demolition of houses for the expansion of roads, the arrival of hundreds of workers from other states, a complete change in the daily life of the region: the evaluation is that about 900 trucks per day will pass through the streets of the neighborhood on the way to the port.
The fight against Embraps has been going on since 2013 (in this timeline, organized by Terra de Direitos, see the chronology of resistance to the construction of ports in Maicá – in Portuguese). There are five ports planned for the region, by three companies – all aimed at the export of grains and commodities, especially soybeans. In addition to Embraps, the construction of other ports aims to favor the activities of the algerian Cevital Group, which operates in the agri-food sector and is involved with plantations in the Midwest region of Brazil; and the company Ceagro.
Nobody knows for sure: if they’ll leave or if they’ll stay; where to if going somewhere else; in which conditions if staying. It is a great insecurity and suddenly “owners” of all this land in which they live begin to appear. “Owners” who are not themselves and who weardly have never been there: someone pays a property tax as a way to claim that land and then the threats grow, you hear on the corners – Quilombolas are land thieves – but see the inversion: black people were the first ones to arrive, as well as indigenous people in other places, and it is always like that: the invader is the other.
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Today, in Pérola do Maicá, the neighborhood where Embraps port will be installed, people live in fear. And one must always be alert, especially in a political moment when a President of the Republic is openly racist – they no longer care to hide it, and even those who have an institutional duty to defend the rights of the black population affirm absurdities such as – Brazil has “Nutella racism”. Real racism exists only in the USA. The negroes here complain because they are stupid and uninformed by the left parties (this was said by the then president of Fundação Cultural Palmares, Sérgio Nascimento de Camargo – the institution was created in 1988 to promote and preserve black culture in Brazil).
These are really strange times and perhaps the Embraps port – and the others in the Maicá region – won’t even happen: but the damage it brings arrived well in advance, they are there already, and Lídia de Matos Amaral, 38 years old, from the quilombola community of Pérola do Maicá, is the one who tells us:
she has already been in regions where ports were built. Stories very similar to what she and her quilombola companions and neighbors live today – It is very complicated. Violence will triple, it will change the whole peaceful lifestyle we have here, that will come to an end. The companies talk about compensations: entrepreneurs think that money can buy everything, but how to compensate for a destroyed way of life?, a forgotten tradition?, a broken connection with the territory? Even the little they promise – the supposed development and progress, jobs – even that is a lie: take a look at how many mega-enterprises have destroyed communities throughout Brazil and we continue without development, we have not progressed – Look at the port of Cargill for example: tell me how many Santarém citizens work there?, and perhaps this other port, that one of Cargill, installed irregularly without respecting the licensing processes, without caring for the local community, and which destroyed the Vera-Paz Beach, a former tourist spot and leisure area in Santarém, maybe it should serve as an example (to understand a bit os Cargill’s irregularities, click here): because that’s the way it is, and not as the false promises of businessmen and governments say, it’s an illusion. The only thing actually real is destruction – For us, the loss remains, Lígia knows that too well, she has seen it in other places, and there is the port of Cargill to remind us how capitalism actually “develops”.
Who also knows that is Valda
[and not for nothing another woman, Lígia well knows that too – Women are on the front line, fearless and suffering many reprisals. So we have to strengthen ourselves, and it is a defense of the territory that is a defense of the bodies and bodies of others as well, of the daughters and sons, it is a deep connection, axé – And many women I’d met are no longer here today, the message has been sent [“it is the patriarchy”] – But they take one down and other five are up, even stronger, to continue this cruel and unequal struggle.]
Valda’s full name is Valdeci Oliveira Sousa. She’s 52-year-old. She is part of the CPP (Fisheries Pastoral Commission, in English) and is the president of the Pérola do Maicá residents’ association. She also already feels the impacts of the Embraps port – We’ve been felling the impacts for five years now, since we learned about the existence of the project: everything has changed, from the most basic, like the coexistence between neighbors – conflicts have increased, now there is distrust among the leaders, the harmony was broken. Suddenly, new neighborhood organizations were born – there are always those who are enchanted by the false promises of money and “development” – made to facilitate the entry of the project: the poison dripping through the arteries of the neighborhood, through the small clay streets, which will be expanded and they will pass over the houses if the port does go ahead, and families will have to be removed, in the neighborhood and in the quilombola community, but nobody knows yet where to – and even if the port is actually coming. Maybe it’s a “visagem”.
In addition, public investment in the neighborhood disappeared: the place has been forgotten for years, in a slow and painful process of expulsion – They need us to want to leave. So there is no more road infrastructure, no investment, we had a lot of difficulty last winter [which is the rainy season, December, January, February, when it’s summer in most of Brazil], the streets are full of holes and the bus line has reduced hours. That’s the message: – You are not going to leave? Then you will suffer.
Transquilombo: this is how the bumpy road that connects all quilombos to the south bank of the Maicá River is called by close ones. By it, leaving the Bom Jardim quilombo you can reach Tiningu in just a few minutes. And it is in Tiningu that Bena is found, or rather: Raimundo Benedito da Silva Mota, historical character of the region – I have been following the leaders since I was 15 years old, today I am 60: 45 years of struggle. Today, Bena is president of the Quilombo Tiningu Remnants Association and vice president of FOQS (Federation of Quilombola Organizations in Santarém, in English).
45 years: Bena has seen the world come and go and come back and remain where it is, so he speaks calmly. And he recommends calm too – This is an area for who managed to escape from the “senzalas” [slave quarters]; you have to be patient with the historical moment. The Tiningu community has existed since 1844 – it is 176 years old – and it was only in October 2018 that Incra (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, in English) published the community recognition and demarcation decree in the Official Gazette. The white bureaucracy was late by almost two centuries – and there is still one last step for the final title: the signature of the President of the Republic. He, Jair Bolsonaro, the same who said – I went to a quilombo once. The lightest African descendant there weighed a hundred kilos. They do nothing. I don’t think he was usefull even as a breeder; and also – As far as I’m concerned, everyone will have a gun at home, there won’t be an inch demarcated for indigenous reservation or quilombola. Obviously these racist speeches echo in the racist structures of the Brazilian State: for example, the allocation of public resources for the titling of quilombola territories has fallen by more than 97% in the last five years.
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Even so, Bena doesn’t lose his temper: what are four years, or a handful more, in the face of centuries of resistance – Uncle Babá who told me all stories, he was 108 years old, and Bena still keeps the oral tradition alive and tells and retells the stories of Tiningu, from the days when his neighbors and family members had to leave the region because the children suffered from anemia and there was no health center nearby; so it was necessary to row for almost two hours until reaching Santarém, but the adults also lacked strength because they lacked food as well, regardless of age, and also lacked education: so everyone left for Santarém and went to live on the periphery of the city, leaving behind their culture and their place in the world.
Until one day they came back, and they came back because it was worth going back, and then the families stopped leaving. There is no chance there: everything happened due to the organization of the quilombola struggle, initiated by Bena himself, who one day at a seminar in the capital Belém discovered himself to be quilombola: he heard about studies regarding the territory of Tiningu and its history, which proved to be an area of slave remnants there.
Bena brought this information to the community and was surprised: many of his black neighbors refused to be called quilombolas, reproducing a discourse of prejudice against this population.
At the first meeting convened to discuss the issue, only 17 families appeared – Bena’s brother, his parents and his uncles included. Very few. But time passed, the struggle continued, and the quilombola association managed, pressuring the Santarém City Hall, to get funding for a health center and a new school, now with elementary school – before, there was only one nursery school in the region. As soon as today in Tiningu, 90 families call themselves quilombolas and proudly await the title of their land, a measure that will bring security to conflicts with local farmers.
Conflicts with local farmers: cut in access to water and murder One of them, a neighbor on a higher land, claiming to own the pond between his farm and the quilombo, cut off access to water for the entire community. Even the health center was short of supplies and had to stop attending. The case went to Court.
In the name of the memory of his people, Bena takes good care of the local cemetery – the area was in dispute with another farmer, who had to give in due to the historical importance of the site. The land of this farm is now cut out by a square where gravestones with bodies and stories of struggle are buried. It is there that he recalls another recent case: the keeper of another farm, in a conflict of little explanation, murdered one of the quilombolas, supposedly after a fight. He is a fugitive to this today.
In the name of memory, Bena outlines a plan: to transform the old children’s school into a museum of quilombola history in the region. Uncle Babá’s oral record will gain historical preservation and no one will ever again forget that the struggle changes life.
Driving and walking around the region, Francinaldo Miranda, member of the Union of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of Santarém (STTR-STM), shows the skillful architecture of soybean farmers, or perhaps the skill in design of environments – This is the “puxadinho”, which comes down to a small advance – no more than two or three meters – from the soybean field towards the standing forest; then the forest is burned little by little year by year as if nothing is happening. Slowly soy takes up all the available space – as if it needed to grow more: today, it can be said that in the middle of the soy field there’s a forest (there’s a forest in the middle of the soybean field) – And they build this “wall” so that the view of the road is blocked. Nobody sees anything and the forest seems to be alright. The wall in question is a thin strip of trees that does fulfill its role: it is only by going around it that one can contemplate the immensity of soy – soy to be lost sight of, on one side, on the other side, ahead and behind. However, from the road, it is as if the trees were still standing tall.
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The impacts on the forest and on local communities are tremendous: soy represents land grabbing, fires, deforestation, vast use of pesticides, in addition to needing an entire infrastructure for its transport and export, which also impacts the peoples of the region. But some cases reach the absurd: as the situation of a small school in the community of Boa Sorte (and the name seems a sadistic irony of life: Boa Sorte means “good luck” in English). The distance between the classroom window and the soybean field does not reach two meters, and the most serious: the use of pesticides does not respect school hours and is repeated several times a year. Contamination of children is direct and repeated.
The Curuaúna region is so impacted by the use of pesticides (the main one is glyphosate – Monsanto’s Round-Up) that blood has been collected from residents and studies are being carried out to measure the size of the damage to people’s health. The results of this research have not yet been released. Other studies, however, are available: this is the case of the dissertation by Nayara Luiz Pires, from the University of Brasília, who in 2015 researched the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the Amazon and the contamination by glyphosate in the Santarém region. In it, the researcher states “a probable risk of human exposure to pesticides, mainly through the respiratory tract“.
Soy “ghost-towns” Many families do not wait to find out how harmful pesticides are and how fast they are killing them. Thus, communities are gradually being abandoned, disappearing from the map, ceasing to exist – There was a football field here, – There were a lot of houses there, – Here was a school, shows Francinaldo as you go along the road that cuts through the fields of soy.
Even the traditional football matches between neighboring communities are in danger of not happening anymore, simply because ghost towns do not have football teams: no one else will be able to challenge the feared São Jorge, the team to be beaten in the region. Francinaldo, a native of the Curuaúna area, was a goalkeeper and tells when – The striker was just a few meters from me and was one of those who kicked hard, my friend even, but he kicked with anger, and the ball was so fast, but so fast, that it tore Francinaldo’s belly, what he only discovered later, after the match, as he dragged himself with the bike home so as not to accuse the pain in front of the opponent. It even required surgery and it took years to fully recover. Most importantly, however, he succeeded: he defended the kick.
Thay’s what the advance of agribusinness and monocultives mean: in addition to death and contamination and land grabbing, the end of culture and local life.
The eyes pointed straight at the print on the shirt and there they got lost, taking a long time to return – Is it Maria do Espírito Santo? It’s her, isn’t it?, and the answer was “yes”.
Who asked about the image that appeared on the T-shirt of one of those present at the celebration of the 46th anniversary of the Union of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of Santarém (STTR-STM) was Maria Ivete Bastos dos Santos, 52 years old – seven of them dedicated to the presidency of the organization, between 2002 and 2008. Chico Mendes, Marielle Franco, Dorothy Stang, Berta Cáceres, among others, were also looking at her from the white fabric of the shirt, with serious look. The print was a tribute to the defenders of territories murdered in Brazil and in Latin America in recent decades, as well as a protest for the lack of solutions to these crimes.
The voice trembled for a second before returning to the usual firmness: seeing the face of her friend Maria do Espírito Santo caught the other Maria, Ivete, unprepared – I wasn’t expecting to see her today, and from then on she remembered: and sometimes memories are a heavy hurtful burden.
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In the state of Pará, one of the most dangerous for those who defend the rights of peoples, the two Marias fought side by side. Maria Ivete, president of STTR-STM, in addition to other positions she has held in the union over the years; and Maria do Espírito Santo, who with her husband Zé Cláudio worked and lived at Praia Alta Pirandeira Agroextractive Settlement, in Nova Ipixuna, near Marabá. Facing illegal loggers and ruralists in the region, the couple were constantly threatened. Zé Cláudio already knew about his destiny, that he was going to die, and he told the world about it – but the effort didn’t make a difference: both were murdered by gunmen in an ambush inside the reserve where they worked for 24 years.
Zé Cláudio speaks at a TEDx. Subtitles in English available.
The cowardly crime occurred in 2011. Since then it has been nine years of mourning for Maria Ivete – I told her not to take the bike that day, although she knows this is a mere detail – It is not a threat what we suffer: it is a sentence, and it is almost as if it were only a matter of time before the ordered death finds the condemned life it’s supposed to take. In the meantime, the threat is a kind of anticipation of death to life, an absurd inversion in the natural order of things. The sentence that hangs over so many heads prevents life from being lived to its fullest – although, strictly speaking, one is still alive, and the heart still beats and the lung still breathes and the brain still remembers, at hard costs.
As that case took on large proportions and had international repercussions, the two gunmen who murdered Maria do Espírito Santo and Zé Cláudio were condemned by the courts. The person who ordered the crime, after being acquitted in 2013, went to a new trial three years later and was found guilty. The penalty: 60 years in prison. However, only one of the killers is in jail. José Rodrigues Moreira (the one who gave the order) and his brother, Lindonjohnson Silva Rocha (executor), have been at large since November 2015 – I can’t speak of justice, so I speak of injustice, and that’s the reference, after all: injustice is what is known and experienced, leaving its opposite – justice – somewhere on the horizon, distant and unreal.
Protection for defenders of peoples’ rights is still insufficient In Pará alone – and still in 2017 – 90 people were on the list to join the Program for Protection of Human Rights Defenders (PPDDH). The state is the third with the highest number of people within the program. For Maria Ivete, it has been around ten years living with escorts, restrictions on hours and movements: today, she is accompanied by the State Program for Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Pará, which accompanies 77 people there. But it is not security what she feels, on the contrary: to live with protection is to remember the threat of death daily – I don’t go to parties, in the places we go we don’t go out to a bar, nothing.
The PPDDH – although an important advancement (it came up as a reaction to the murder of the missionary Dorothy Stang, also in Pará in 2005) – is still quite precarious. It needs articulation in the states; however, it has programs implemented through agreements in only six – Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Ceará, Minas Gerais and Maranhão. In Pará, operationalization takes place through a central in the capital Brasília.
The main question is yet another: the program proves to be useful only when the situation is already extreme – in cases of persecution and attacks. It is thought that surveillance by the State can at a minimum constrain the work of the murderers. However, ending the attacks on defenders of peoples’ rights requires a structural response: land redistribuition benefiting small farmers and landless workers; as well as the demarcation of indigenous lands and traditional communities. In its recommendations to the Brazilian State, the Brazilian Committee of Defenders of Human Rights speaks of “policies to guarantee the right to land and territory”, which include respect for ILO Convention 169 (International Labor Organization); ensuring community participation in the licensing processes for large projects; the demarcation of indigenous and quilombola lands; the restructuring of Incra and Funai (governmental institutions responsible for land and indigenous issues, respectively) to better serve the population; advancing on land reform.
With structural changes to defend peoples and their territories, fewer faces will appear on T-shirts in late tributes to those who lost their lives in the name of peoples’ rights.
Vruuuum vruuum vruuuuuum and the noise woke José Marques da Costa, a rural worker from Alenquer, a small municipality in the state of Pará with just over 50 thousand inhabitants. Of the 53 years that José carries on his shoulders, most of it was filled with restless nights: there’s no easy sleep in the corners of Brazil for those who dare to defend the rights of small farmers and rural workers – exactly what José does, and when he heard the fourth vruuum he stood up, alert.
A few months earlier, new messages had reached him (always indirectly, cowardly warning, “send word”) – We will kill about five of you people, they will not even know and – Justice is slow, in the bullet we can solve it faster. If before José slept with one eye open he started to open them both on nights of little or no rest. And if television seemed like a good medicine to make him sleep what actually happened was the opposite: the dragging voice of the current president of the Brazilian Republic, Jair Bolsonaro, echoed from the device and only aggravated José’s insomnia by saying things like – Who should have been arrested were the MST people (Landless Workers Movement), those vagabonds. The policemen reacted so as not to die, and – Let’s shoot who is from the Labour Party in the state of Acre, huh! Hate speech that encourages and materializes violence against rural workers in the Amazon Region and in Brazil: against him, José. The first Bolsonaro’s sentence refers to the Carajás Massacre, when the police in Pará murdered 19 landless workers in cold blood; the second was said during the 2018 presidential campaign.
Vruuuum vruum followed the noise, and José Marques risked a glance out on the street.
Motorcycles. Many motorcycles – One, two, three, half a dozen, nine, ten, he was counting, but the task was hampered by the constant circular movement of the vehicles, accelerating and decelerating in front of the house. Twenty, it must have been something near that, and soon José started to focus not on the bikes but on who rode them: that was certainly a matter of greater importance. That was when he saw neighbors, friends, colleagues, and the fear that had settled in his chest gave way to a little curiosity – What are you all doing here at this hour? and then commotion took place: the circus set up there was not an ambush. On the contrary, it was an escort to protect him exactly from attack and possible murder.
Since the end of the day the rumor had run through the small town that gunmen – All very treacherous, they’ll drink a coffee at your house before killing you, these treacherous gunmen were lurking on the road, ready to attack José Marques when he left home. Death ordered by the big farmers in the region. The twenty or so motorcycles would serve – and did serve – as a shield to take José Marques to a safe place. That was how he got on his motorcycle, in the middle of the night of little Alenquer, took off and lived to fight another day among and for his people.
Land grabbing:overlappedCAR and “Four Years of Storm” What led gunmen to pursue José Marques is related to the long-named position he carries: president of the Community Association of Residents and Small Farmers of the Limão Grande Community, located in Alenquer. There, 86 families lived and worked in an area of around ten thousand hectares – until, in 2016, what José called “Four Years of Storm” began.
First, there was the requisition – by farmers – of three thousand hectares of the area where the families lived. In consultation with Incra (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, in English), with the support of the Union of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of Alenquer (STTR-ALQ), it was shown that the request was fair: the families accepted to leave that area, redistributing themselves in the seven thousand remaining hectares. In the meantime, the land was georeferenced, a necessary step for the community to register in CAR (Rural Environmental Registry, in English).
Work done, they returned to Incra and then came the surprise: fifteen days earlier, several people had registered those areas as their own. Suddenly, the land where families have lived since 2007 had “owners” – and they were others. There was never any inspection by Incra to verify if those who registered in CAR actually occupied the self-declared land; if there were one, it would be simple to see who actually occupied the area – They didn’t even know where it is, however José does and this seems to be of no use.
The registration, based on the information provided by the applicant, has no deadline for verification by the competent public agency: some states claim that the analysis of the registrations would take from 25 to 100 years. However, contrary to the popular imaginary of slowness in justice, long before the due inspection could take place, the repossession of the site was decreed – which happened with a strong police apparatus. In short: 86 families were thrown out on the street. Everything they had was left behind – clothes, crops, houses – and what was left behind was set on fire and tored down.
The videos above were recorded by local families. The first one shows the fire consuming a building next to a plantation; the second shows the remaining ruins; the last video denounces the destruction of the only access bridge to the area, a service performed by the henchmen of the land grabbers. In the photo, also made available by residents of Limão Grande, heavily armed private security guards prohibit the movement of rural workers in the disputed territory.
Nowadays private security guards roam the territory. Rifles speak loudly and anyone who ventures to look for something that may have left behind (and sometimes despair is prone to adventures) is at serious risk of being attacked by the land grabbers’ henchmen. Well that’s the true name of what happened: land grabbing – using the overlapping of land in self-declared CAR. Different CPFs (individual registration, in English) called themselves owners of an area that they do not occupy, in anticipation of the real occupants who were preparing the procedures to register in the system. Without any inspection, the Justice determined the repossession of property in the name of the interests of the land grabbers.
One detail draws attention and highlights the intention of taking over the territory of rural workers: when carrying out the CAR on several different CPFs, an area of almost 600 hectares was not overlapped – it would therefore be the right of families to remain there. However, the entire area was evicted, with nothing and no one left behind – There was no respect for eviction protocols, complains José, but in a place where the land is owned by those who neither live nor works at it, very little is expected of a Justice and a police at service of big farmers.
Agrarian inequality and violence in the countryside The numbers of agrarian inequality in Brazil are alarming: almost half of the country’s rural area belongs to only 1% of landowners. Data from the 2017 Agricultural Census show that large rural establishments raised the concentration of land to 47.5%, while small farmers, whose properties have up to 10 hectares of land and represent half of the country’s farms, occupied only 2, 2% of the productive territory.
And it is exactly these small farmers, persecuted for defending their territories, that produce more than 70% of the food that reaches the Brazilians family tables, since large monocultures export most of their production. However, Bolsonaro’s government chooses to privilege the interests of ruralists, intensifying attacks on native peoples and trying to legalize land grabbing with PL 2633 (Law Project, in English), the notorious PL of Land Grabbing.
It was a long journey: from Santarém to Alenquer it takes two hours by ferry and another three or four hours by car, part of it off-road. So Totó – a much silent man – and Mara – a talkative woman – took the opportunity to tell some of the stories they have witnessed in the past. He as the former president and today vice-president of the Union of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of Alenquer (STTR-ALQ); she as the current president of the organization. In all stories was highlighted the importance of the workers union for the conquest and guarantee of rights, from technical assistance services to the safety of rural workers.
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Alenquer is a small city, just over 50 thousand inhabitants. And it is unstable: mayors don’t usually complete their mandates – it has become a tradition. That same day, while Totó and Mara would tell stories, the president of the City Council took over as mayor in yet another plot-twist of local politics. Years ago in the middle of the unstability, outraged by the absence of public investment in the region…
A pause: Totó, whose real name is João Gomes da Costa and is 47 years old, looks in the rearview mirror and sees a big white truck pass by. When already in front of the car, it starts to drive really slowly – and then it accelerates sharply and disappears on the horizon. Mara, short for Aldemara Ferreira de Jesus, 37 years old, takes a note: the car license plate is from Santarém.
…outraged by the absence of public investment in the region; and also with the delayed payment of teachers and health professionals; and with the poor condition of the roads; to make it short – it was a complete package of indignations: that’s when the people from Alenquer decided to block the main road to the city. That happened after the mayor had refused on several occasions to sit down and talk – he even expelled Totó and Mara from meetings – and took his disinterest to the point that the road had to be blocked by people.
A crowd of workers from different areas gathered on the road: there were rural workers, organized by the union, and also teachers and health workers, and street sweepers, and people from the church – everybody was there – and then the mayor and his secretaries and judges appeared quickly and a meeting was arranged at the City Council later that day. It was agreed that only 50 representatives of civil society could enter and present their demands. Ok, not a problem.
The police “tactic group” arrived first at the City Council – an exaggeration and it was a great embarrassment when even the nuns and the priests were searched to enter the meeting room. Then people spoke – and immediately afterwards without any response or a slight indication that he paid attention the mayor left.
Mara and Totó had no choice but to go out to the front of the City Council to tell what had happened in the building. To their surprise there was a mass of people waiting for the result of the conversation – over a thousand people who obviously were not happy with the news: it started raining eggs and tomatoes on police shields and helmets. From a corner, a desperate cry was heard – Totó, control the people, to which he, Totó, thought – How? but he replied – If there’s anyone to blame here it’s you, you promised to talk and didn’t talk, and the eggs and tomatoes kept flying and exploding in the building walls and on shields, the crowd getting more and more inflamed – and then the mayor and the secretaries reappeared and this time everyone was very willing to listen. Finally agreements were made and commitments signed. Mara laughs now – If the workers understood the strength they have when united… They would never be taken for granted.
Persecution and threats – Taking the poor people side has a consequence, says Totó, and he knows that quite well. He worries about the threats he receives, he worries about him and his daughter and son, and it took him a few seconds to say – Yes, I’m afraid, we lose our freedom. I think about mine and my children’s schedules, I keep an eye out for anything that is different, everyday I think about how it will be when I get home, if there is an ambush or not. But he sleeps peacefully, he guarantees – We have a clear conscience, although always attentive and concerned.
Concern that Mara shares, along with embarrassments such as when her daughter asks – Mom, what are they talking about you on Facebook?, and there are things that are complicated to explain to children, it’s complex and it’s exhausting and it’s serious: it is serious because sometimes the threats come from the State itself, represented in the men in uniform who should give protection to everyone. Totó reports receiving calls from police officers saying – We are with that farmer, in the intention of intimidating him. The message is very clear and Mara and Totó feels unprotected – Where you would find some protection, you have none, he complains and then prays, trusts in God: and for some of us, in face of a negligent State, only divine protection can be trusted – most useful when added to the union and strength of the workers.
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