A quilombola boy from Boa Vista community. Photo: Ana Mendes/Agencia Pública

This is the third in a series of four blog-posts, written for Christian Aid and LAB by distinguished journalists João Peres and Moriti Neto

3. David vs Goliath

one public document states that since 1995, the aluminium mining company MRN (Mineração Rio do Norte) has been transferring R$495,000 per year for the maintenance of the local unit of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), responsible for environmental monitoring, whose office is located on land provided by the mining company.

Researcher Luiz Wanderley recalls that, in this way, the company guarantees something rare in the country: a conservation unit with money. “These units have much better and more efficient administration “, he points out, recalling that there is a long history of the subordination of the Brazilian state to extractivism.

At the local level, this is even more blatant. Municipalities find themselves with no choice. Seldom does a municipality offer any opposition to a mining company. Because it brings in a volume of resources that can transform any Amazonian municipality. –Luiz Wanderley

MRN claims to have paid in 2015 R$ 42.5 million in Financial Compensation for the Exploration of Mineral Resources (CFEM) – Oriximiná is entitled to 65% of this.

An article published last year by Agência Pública, which specializes in investigative journalism, showed that the federal supervisory body does not even have proper vehicles in which to enter the mining areas, which means that its activities have to be carried out in company cars, for which they depend on the good will and work schedule of these companies.

The head of the institute’s conservation unit, Marcello Borges, told Pública that sometimes, even on public land, he is stopped by private guards and ordered to show identification. “The whole issue of papers to show who owns and is in charge is confusing”, he admitted. “We are talking about the biggest bauxite mining operation in Brazil and, in the end, it turns out that it works to its own rules.”

Only the Federal Public Ministry is exempt

Apparently, the only public body that makes a more rigorous inspection of the activities in Oriximiná is the Federal Public Ministry (MPF)1. “Normally, the process should follow its routines without any need for interference from the judiciary. But in this case, it [the delay] exceeded any limit of reasonableness”, laments Fabiana Keylla Schneider, a prosecutor who arrived in the region in 2014 and took on this complicated case. In 2013 the Federal Public Ministry went into action to force the federal government to complete the process of giving land titles to the Alto Trombetas quilombolas.

Map of disputed lands in Trombetas area. Map: Caco Bressane/Agencia Pública

Three years later, the titling case moved to the Federal Administration’s Chamber of Conciliation and Arbitration, created in 2007, which is supposed to look for consensus in regard to a disputed area of land. But the lawsuit remained in limbo until the MPF prosecutors decided to join the suit. The federal government claimed that this was an undue interference in the powers of the Executive, adding that it was dealing with a complex titling process and that there were budget constraints that did not allow the process to be accelerated.

An optimistic vision of how quilomobolas in Alto Trombetas view the importance of gaining title to their lands. Video: Comissão Pro Indio

Initially, the presiding judge rejected the request for a preliminary injunction, arguing that the titling of a land was something “complicated” and that he did not detect any deliberate attempt by the government to postpone the decision. However, noting that the Chamber of Conciliation had shelved the case, he found in favour of the MPF and ruled that titling must be completed within two years.

In February 2017, the federal agency in charge finally published the Technical Identification and Delimitation Report (RTID) for the two territories, totaling 350,000 hectares. This means that, from now on, there is a 90-day deadline for objections, which can also be lodged by other federal organizations. After this deadline, INCRA must evaluate the claims and publish its findings. But in the case in question it has already been announced that there is a need for conciliation with the ICMBio, since there is an overlap with the protected areas. The report will then be re-published and work can start to remove people who have no land rights.

Titling must come first, because that’s what gives people more rights. Without a title, our rights are impaired –Aluízio Silvério dos Santos, 66, one of the leaders of the Alto Trombetas community.

Aluízio Silvério dos Santos, 66, one of the leaders of the quilombola struggle to obtain title to their land in the Trombetas region. Photo: Ana Mendes/Agencia Pública

Meanwhile those who should take care of the direct interests of the quilombolas end up under suspicion. The Palmares Foundation is a small and under-resourced organization. Connected to the Ministry of Culture, it was created for the promotion and preservation of Afro-Brazilian art and culture. In 2016, in another project, dealing specifically with mining, the Public Prosecutor’s Office demanded that the foundation change its position on the issue.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office had closed the process of public consultation of Oriximiná’s quilombolas, saying that there was authorization for MRN to conduct further exploration studies.

There was a lot of outside interference; very persuasive interference and heavy pressure. This is a personal opinion: I think that in the end the communities were overcome by fatigue. –prosecutor Fabiana

At first, the change in position of the Palmares Foundation led the environmental agencies to indicate that MRN’s impact studies should not be continued. But soon afterwards, MRN, the mining company, again received a green light to proceed with exploration. We got in touch with the Palmares Foundation in January and, by the end of June, we had not obtained any documentation or other information that would prove the Federal Public Ministry was not telling the truth.

In this situation, the quilombolas face several problems, but are keeping up the struggle. Aluízio details the script of suffering, lies and confrontation: “We even appeal to the shareholders of the company to come and give recognition to the community. The people suffer a lot by being close to the mining because there is a lot of pollution and the tailings dam could collapse.”

People are suffering and the mining does not take them seriously. It is a hard life. They called me in February for a meeting. I asked for a chance to denounce the situation of the company, which does not respect the quilombolas. It lives by deceit. It keeps saying things it should not and lying to people. –Aluízio Severo dos Santos


1 “The Public Prosecutor’s Office (Portuguese: Ministério Público, lit. “Public Ministry”, also usually referred as “MP”) is the Brazilian body of independent public prosecutors at both the federal (Ministério Público da União) and state level (Ministério Público Estadual). It operates independently from the three branches of government and was referred to by Constitutional scholar Michel Temer as the “Fourth Branch“.” (Wikipedia).

In Brazil’s increasingly complex constitutional situation, the Ministério Público Federal is playing an increasingly important role in challenging actions of the President and Congress, as well as the various government agencies in which the President is able to intervene more or less directly by controlling budgets and appointments.


João Peres is a journalist graduated at the University of São Paulo. He is the author of ‘Corumbiara, caso enterrado’, a book about the massacre that occurred in 1995 in the Brazilian Amazon and was nominated finalist of Prêmio Jabuti, the most relevant literature prize in the country. He is also a former editor of web pages and radios and a reporter specialized on human rights themes. He has covered elections and crisis in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia.

Moriti Neto is a journalist and an academic professor. He has been editor and reporter in relevant magazines and web pages, being awarded important prizes for works that have exposed human rights violations and abuse of economic power. As a professor, he coordinated a lab journal uncovering problems related to potable water management in São Paulo, receiving wide appraisal.

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