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Brazzil - Blacks - August 2004

Brazil's Quilombos to Become Legal

Brazil's 1988 Constitution acknowledges the rights of quilombo
communities, rural villages founded by blacks who were slaves.
There are over one thousand of them throughout the country,
but only 29 have received property deeds. Quilombos have
their own customs, which differ from the rest of Brazil.

Pedro Malavolta


Picture A national campaign to legalize quilombo lands was inaugurated August 18 in São Paulo by Brazil's National Coordination Board of Rural Black Quilombo Communities, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE, headquartered in Geneva), and the Maranhão Association of Rural Black Quilombo Communities (Aconeruq - MA).

Quilombos are rural ethnic communities founded by blacks originally transported from Africa as slaves, from the 17th century on, and their descendants, and who either fled from slavery, acquired their freedom, or were the beneficiaries of the emancipation.

These communities, like Indian villages, have customs, traditions, and social relationships which differ from the rest of Brazilian society. Beginning with the 1988 Federal Constitution, Brazil acknowledges the rights of quilombo communities. Nevertheless, few have had their lands demarcated, and only 29 have received property deeds.

According to a survey conducted by the Palmares Foundation, the Ministry of Culture, the University of Brasília (UnB), and the Association of Rural Black Quilombo Communities (Aconeruq), at least 1,098 communities exist, and they are present in most of the states.

Between now and the end of 2005, the campaign intends to cast light on the problems experienced by the quilombos, make technical and financial resources available so that the communities can acquire deeds to their lands and access to government services (basic sanitation and education, for example), expedite demarcations and land concessions, and demand the participation of these communities in forums where policies for the quilombos are formulated.

Land Without Deeds

Brazil's Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto, told lawmakers in June that 200 million hectares of land have no kind of deed whatsoever for the State to exercise control.

During a public hearing held by the Parliamentary Investigating Committee formed to deal with the agrarian issue, Rossetto affirmed that instruments must be created to evaluate these areas in order for the government to obtain an accurate picture of their legal status for the development of the State's social policies.

Along these lines, according to the Minister, the Ministry was making a survey to recognize and demarcate territories belonging to quilombolas (descendants of runaway slaves) and squatters.

Altogether there are, Rossetto said, 1.2 million squatters who traditionally occupy the land but possess no official document or legal security.

Rossetto added that the Ministry is working to regularize 2.2 million hectares. According to the Minister, 123 properties were already in the process of being expropriated, for a total of 305 thousand hectares. In his assessment, 134,857 families can be settled in these areas.

"This is why we shall fully meet the targets of agrarian reform," he affirmed, referring to the National Agrarian Reform Plan, which foresees the settlement of 400 thousand families on the land by the end of the Lula Administration.

Pedro Malavolta works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.

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