Brazilian Indians Reoccupy Area Invaded by Sugar Cane Farmers

A Brazilian Indian woman with her child Tired of waiting for the demarcation of their lands, the Potiguara Indians, in the municipality of Rio Tinto, in the Brazilian northeastern state of Paraí­ba, repossessed part of their land, which had been invaded by a sugar cane mill. The area used to be occupied by the Rafaela Ranch.

Around 50 families – 150 people – have been camped out since 19 March and are working on building houses and farming the land. Repossession began at the start of February, without any human occupation.

The indigenous people tore up the sugar cane and planted food crops such as beans, cassava, yams, corn and vegetables. On March 20 the first house was concluded.

A land repossession order has already been issued, but the situation there is calm.

In August 2003, the Potiguara repossessed the land then occupied by the Japungu mill, after the mill owners had tried to drive a tractor over the people's farmland to increase the area for planting sugar cane. Since the repossession, the Potiguara have been living and producing food in the area.

Ever since the 1970s, the Potiguara lands have been invaded by plantations of sugar cane, which is used in the production of ethanol and sugar by the mills that have been set up in the region, as a result of the incentives offered by the Proálcool program.

At that time, along with promises of employment, the mills brought deforestation, a reduction in the area of farmland, and the poisoning of the mangrove swamps where the community used collect shellfish and crabs to eat and sell.

The Potiguara land lies in the municipalities of Rio Tinto, Marcação and Baí­a da Traição. The demarcation of some parts of this people's land (the Jacaré de São Domingos and Potiguara lands) has already been concluded. The Potiguara de Monte Mor land, occupying 7,487 hectares, has been identified, but is still the object of legal disputes.

This repossession has been consolidated in the same week that President Lula – who has presented biodiesel as a new major product for the country to export – called the sugar cane producers "heroes".

"The cane mill owners, who ten years ago, were considered the agribusiness bandits in this country, are turning into national and worldwide heroes because the world has its eye on the ethanol", the President said during the inauguration of an industry in Goiás.

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council

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