On Saturday we finally made it into Santarém port, in the North of Brazil, having persuaded the Brazilian authorities that they had no legal grounds on which they could legitimately keep Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise boat out.
Despite rumors that the soy farmers were planning a march, the atmosphere in the port was quiet – except, that is, for the loading of a cargo ship, ironically preparing to transport Amazonian timber to France. It seemed criminal to stand by and watch it load but on this occasion it was not our remit to intervene.
Instead, a small crew set out after dusk in two of the Arctic Sunrise’s inflatables that had been lashed together with rope and a ladder. Balanced precariously in the middle were a laptop and a massive projector. The team maneuvered into position in front of Santarém’s main promenade, filled with Saturday night revellers, and switched on the projector.
As if from nowhere, the projection – a two minute video loop showing how agriculture giant Cargill is playing a leading role in forest destruction – appeared on a large canvas that we’d hired for the occasion.
Santarém is home to Cargill’s illegally-built grain terminal through which large quantities of soy pass on their way to the global markets so we expected to ruffle some feathers.
The reaction was instantaneous. Many watched the film with interest but soy farmers in the crowd shouted angrily and set about trying to identify where the images were coming from. It didn’t take long and, armed with fireworks, they started firing at the inflatables but the team maintained their position long enough for the video to play four times, dodging the incoming flares at the same time.
When one ring leader was spotted charging into the water, they took the decision to return to the ship. Even so, the team received a couple of bruises for their troubles and one German photographer was punched.
Meanwhile on the promenade, a local camera man was seen being beaten and kicked to the ground by the farmers. No police appeared, despite the local station being just around the corner so no points for guessing whose side they are on.
On Sunday night we attempted to repeat the projection, this time on the side of Cargill’s illegal port facility. However, the roof was too steep but two employees within the complex watched nervously, repeatedly making calls on their mobile phones.
Just as the team were wrapping up, 10 soy farmers stormed into the port complex with their trucks, shouting and swearing, headlights glaring across the water at the ship. Again we saw the box of fireworks but this time they chose not to use them and with everyone safely below deck, the farmers eventually gave up and went home.
Perhaps what I’ve found most surprising in the last couple of days is how organized these thugs are, how fast they can respond and how unashamed Cargill seem to be about using their power to facilitate their own criminal practices.
Today we heard that the farmers have been shopping, buying up every bull whip in town. Personally I think I prefer the fireworks.
Belinda Fletcher works for Greenpeace. She is Greenpeace UK forests campaigner.