After decades of black resistance and at least five years of legal dispute, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra) finished this week a report which identifies and demarcates the quilombola community of Rio dos Macacos, in Bahia state. It has been ruled that two unconnected areas, with a space of 104 hectares altogether, are to be granted to the community.
In reality, the entire territory recognized as quilombola is 301.9 ha. This is why community members do not agree with the dimensions indicated. Quilombola field worker and fisherwoman Rosemeire dos Santos Silva points out that the original region covered over 900 ha before it was occupied by the Brazilian Navy.
According to Incra, in 1970 the Navy acquired expropriated sugar-cane plantations, and, after the city council of Salvador donated one of them, the Macacos plantation, the construction of the Naval Base of Aratu was initiated. It was then that the landholding conflicts erupted.
“The community made a counterproposal of 270 ha, and we’re waiting for a response from the government, which has never come,” Silva explains.
In her view, the area suggested fails to meet the community’s demands, not least because it does not guarantee people’s access to water.
“All we do is plant and fish. It’s what we can do. I’m not from an urban area, I’m from the country. This should be respected,” she argues.
According to the quilombola, the community should make its own decision concerning the now-official ruling over land demarcation.
Today, the quilombola community of Rio dos Macacos is home to over 67 families made up of descendants of black slaves. These families have remained in the area after sugar-cane plantations were shut down more than a hundred years ago.
Incra’s report and data from other studies reveal that both material traces of their occupation (like chains and buildings found in the region), and cultural elements (the strong presence of candomblé, an African-Brazilian religion), confirm people’s common descent, officially recognized as quilombola by the government in 2011.
Over the last years, however, clashes between the quilombolas and the Navy have grown fiercer. In 2009, at the latter’s request, the Office of the Attorney General of Brazil ordered residents to evict from the area.
In 2012, when, in partnership with human rights organizations, the quilombolas drew up a document listing the violations committed by the Navy, public prosecutors in Bahia halted the process.
In this document, which was also sent to the United Nations (UN), the slave descendants state that 50 families were expelled from the territory to make room for the construction of military facilities: the Vila Naval.
Religious practices originated from Africa were no longer allowed, and the community’s ability to transit was hampered, as a guardhouse was located by the nearest road. Cases of violence, and the lack of access to basic sanitation, health care, water, and electricity were also mentioned. The Navy has always denied the allegations.
In May this year, during the last meeting with representatives from parties involved, government officials suggested a reduction of the territory from 300 to 86 ha. The offer was not accepted by the community. An alteration to 104 ha was subsequently made, which was also turned down.
On August 26, when Incra’s report was published, Secretary for Social Articulation at the Secretariat-General of the Presidency Paulo Maldos hailed the demarcation of the land as “a great victory for the community. […] We’ve attained the full recognition of the Brazilian government. [Now it’s officially regarded as] a specific community, with its specific culture.”
In his opinion, 104 ha was the workable resolution. Currently, he explains, the Naval Base of Aratu plays a strategic role in the country, and is responsible for protecting the Northeast, the South Atlantic, and the pre-salt exploration areas.
“A huge effort has been put into making the community’s historical rights compatible, so the community could stay and have its history, and be able to build their future without any sort of eviction, and with the success of public policies,” the secretary says.
According to Maldos, the Navy both took part in setting the boundaries of the region and agrees with the dimensions stipulated.
Incra explains that both the community and the Navy will be given a 90-day deadline to question the report. The trial can last for up to 180 days. Afterwards, in case no amendments must be made, the deal will be made official, which will entail the eviction of non-quilombola occupants and the demarcation itself.
Finally, Incra is expected to fulfill the agreement by issuing the ownership certificate and passing it to the community.