World Rainforest Movement

Brazil: Tension and uncertainty in Espirito Santo

On March 6th the Brazilian Ministry of Justice finally decided to demarcate only 2,571 additional hectares for the Tupinikim and Guarani. The argumentation of the Ministry denies all the studies done uptil now by FUNAI which arguments the necessity of extending and demarcating 13,579 hectares, as requested by the indigenous peoples. This decision is exactly the same proposal that Aracruz Celulose put forward to the indigenous peoples in a meeting on February 18th, which clearly shows that the authorities acted defending the interests of the company. The Commission of the Tupinikim and Guarani declared that they rejected this decission and announced immediate actions to resist it.

In effect, early in the morning of March 11th around 300 Tupinikim and Guarani people entered the eucalyptus plantations of Aracruz Celulose and started demarcating the 13,579 hectares which they have been claiming for the last 4 years. They were acompanied by several hundred supporters, including around 160 people belonging to the “Movimento dos Sem Terra” (MST – Brazilian landless peasants’ organization), different trade unions headed by the regional president of the “Central Unica de Trabalhadores” (National trade union), three members of Parliament from the State of Espirito Santo, leaders of the state’s “Partido dos Trabalhadores” (Workers’ Party), representatives from the Church, human rights organizations, etc. Regional, national and Norwegian media were also present.

In between the cutting of the eucalyptus, the Tupinikim and Guarani gave encouragement to the action with traditional dances and songs. At the beginning no police force was ordered to disrupt the demarcation. FUNAI representatives came to the scene, trying to make the indigenous peoples stop the action, offering them negotiations with Aracruz Celulose instead, which they firmly rejected. The company has also refused to accept the decision of the Minister of Justice, taking it to court. They challenge the Ministry’s argumentation that the indigenous peoples have traditional rights to get back the land. Aracruz Celulose succeeded to get a decision of the judge in its favour. The first is to get its areas protected against “invaders”. And the other case is to get the MST -which is supporting the indigenous peoples’ struggle- out of the area, as well as other supporting people and organizations. The company also proposed to the indigenous authorities that if both parties accept the decision of the Ministry and land demarcation is stopped, Aracruz will fund an “assistance programme” for 10 years to prevent land problems with them in the future. Naturally the indigenous peoples do not trust this proposal and answered that they were willing to sit with Aracruz but at the same time they wanted to continue demarcation.

As a way to intimidate the action to recover the indigenous lands, some days later the Federal Police detained and submitted to long interviews several persons who are supporting the struggle of the indigenous peoples. The most serious case until this moment is the decision to expel from Brazil the missionary of CIMI, Winfried Overbeek, without any serious accusation.

Source: CIMI March 1998