Brazil Sends Troops to Amazon to Protect Rural Workers on Loggers’ Death List

Rural workers in Brazil This past weekend, Brazil’s  National Public Security Force agents escorted a group of nine people (four adults and five children) from a model farming community settlement in Nova Ipixuna to the city of Marabá in the state of Pará.

The National Force was created in 2004 during the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration as part of an attempt to deal with security on a national scale, as opposed to the local or regional focus of the Polícia Militar.

The ranks of the Force are filled by specially trained members of the Military Police and firemen and is subordinated to the Ministry of Justice’s National Secretariat of Public Security.

The model farming community at Nova Ipixuna has been targeted by loggers. The community practices sustainable use of natural forest resources. Last month, a married couple was assassinated there.

The couple, José Claudio and Maria do Espírito Santo, made a living mainly by harvesting nuts and were environmental activists who stood up to logging interests.

One of the people in the group escorted by Força Nacional troops was the sister of Jose Claudio, who is also on a death threat list. The escort operation was part of Operation Defense of Life, which is intended to combat land conflict assassinations in the states of Pará, Rondônia and Amazonas.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the Pará state Human Rights Center will begin to examine the Nova Ipixuna murders  this Monday, June 20. Meanwhile, the National Force will protect other people who have received death threats.

Besides the National Force, Operation Defense of Life is supported by the Federal Police, the Highway Police and representatives of the federal government: the Secretariat of Human Rights, the Presidency’s General Secretariat and the ministries of Agrarian Development, Defense, Environment, along with representatives of national councils of Justice and government attorneys.

At least 200,000 people make a living by using natural resources in the state of Amazonas. They fish, they gather nuts, vegetable oils or fibers. Others harvest fruit, such as açaí, or make handicrafts from wood.

Some are rubber tappers. In Portuguese, they are engaged in extrativisimo – sustainable exploitation of the forest, without destroying it. Many of them live in what are supposed to be protected areas known as “reservas extrativistas.”

Célia Regina das Neves, who lives in the Reserva Extrativista Mãe Grande, in Curuçá, in the state of Pará, says there are serious problems in the communities due to a lack of government presence.

“There is a huge demand for services. There are questions about production, family life, community organization and use of natural resources. But the biggest problem is certainly land ownership,” she declared.

The president of the National Council of Extrativistas, Manoel Silva da Cunha, says the problem is longstanding. He points out that people were given incentives to migrate during the rubber boom (at the beginning of the 20th century) and wound up occupying lands that had owners.

“This problem has not been resolved and just gets worse. Today there are ownership disputes even in areas that the federal or state governments have decreed to be conservation units,” he says.

At the ministry of Environment, the director of the Forest Department, João de Deus Medeiros, says the idea is to stimulate harmonious relations between people and the forest. “We support production, work with producers to obtain higher aggregated value and price guarantees. We assist producers place their goods on the market. All this has had interesting results,” he declared.

The director-general of the Brazilian Forest Service, Carlos Hummel, says his organization works to show people that conserving the forest (for exploitation) can generate income.

Meanwhile, the new government program, Brazil Without Misery, will distribute a Green Subsidy (“Bolsa Verde”) of 300 reais (US$ 188) for families that conserve the environment where they work.

ABr

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