“Quilombos,” communities formed by descendants of ex-slaves, were once the symbol of resistance in the struggle to abolish slavery in Brazil. Today, the remnants of these groups are fighting for the regularization of their lands and the preservation of their culture.
The territories belonging to the “quilombolas” [the designation for inhabitants of “quilombos”] were first recognized in Article 68 of the 1988 Federal Constitution, which assigns the State the obligation to issue deeds.
In November, 2003, Decree 4887 encharged the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) with the implementation of property regularization measures for what was left of the quilombos and guaranteed the possibility of expropriating privately owned lands for this purpose.
The decree assures these communities ownership of the land and access to health, education, and sanitation. But the demarcation process continues to be slow. Through 2003, only 42 communities managed to obtain deeds to their lands.
The president of the INCRA, Rolf Hackbart, explains that the delay is due to the judicial process. The INCRA must identify, demarcate, and entitle the lands.
This involves anthropological research to recognize and measure areas, as well as removing non-quilombolas from lands they occupy. Most of the time this leads to court battles.
In accordance with the decree, it is up to the Palmares Cultural Foundation to register the communities’ claims.
They pronounce themselves survivors, and the Foundation lists them and issues a certificate. The communities then direct themselves to the INCRA to initiate proceedings to obtain deeds to the land.
Approximately 300 communities are currently registered with the Foundation. It is estimated that there are over 4 thousand communities of quilombolas in Brazil.
The Foundation has contributed boats to fishing communities, tractors to farming communities, and sewing machines to communities that work with handcrafts.
This year the Palmares Foundation will spend US$ 440 thousand (1.2 million reais) on its projects with the quilombos.
Translation: David Silberstein