7 June 2013 | By Julia Esther Castro
In the eyes of the world, Brazil is a country of promise, economic growth and influence, but for many people the reality is a stark contrast. With high inequality between the rich and the poor – just 3% of the population own two-thirds of arable land – those living in rural areas are being left behind by the expansion of countless public and private sector business ventures.
I recently joined other campaigners from ecumenical and civil society organisations to lobby the government in Brasilia – coordinated by Christian Aid partner organisations The Process of Dialogue and Networking (PAD) and The National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC) – over the rights of indigenous and Quilombola peoples, and the violence and discrimination they face for merely standing up for themselves.
Early morning mists in Abui village on the Trombetas river, a tributary of the Amazon. With the support of Christian Aid partner CPI, this Quilombola community gained the legal collective title to the lands where they have lived for generations.
Rights of indigenous and tribal peoples
We met government representatives to denounce the criminalisation of social movements and human rights defenders, and to call for the Brazilian government to respect the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous people and tribal peoples, including Quilombola, who are descendants of escaped slaves.
The Convention states that such communities should not be discriminated against because of their heritage, and should enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms without the hindrance of discrimination. Special measures should also be adapted to safeguard people, institutions, property, labour, cultures and environments of these peoples.
Attacks on campaigners
However, this is not always a reality in Brazil. Numerous campaigners have been murdered after speaking out about the rights of rural communities. Indeed, in January, sugar cane cutter Cicero Guedes, the leader of Christian Aid partner organisation the Landless Movement (MST), was fatally shot while returning home from a meeting on his bicycle. His crime? Defending the distribution of land and resources in one of the unequal countries in the world.
Land rights for Quilombola communities
Rural communities in Brazil are struggling to live a full life, as they continue to face daily disputes over their rights to land. According to Christian Aid report The Scandal of Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean (2012), which outlines the scale of inequality in the country, even though there has been progress, with MST resettling more than one million poor people since 1984, and the Quilombola gaining collective land titles for 185 communities, there is no doubt that the ‘agrarian aristocracy’ is still firmly in place in Brazil.
It is only since the creation of Brazil's constitution in 1988 that the Quilombola have had the right legally to own their land, and today, only around six per cent of communities have such titles. Those who do own their land are often saddled with huge tax bills under the 1996 land tax for not cultivating their land, often sums of money poor rural communities have no way of paying.
Attacks on indigenous communities
Attacks on indigenous communities are currently one of the most serious issues of human security in Brazil in the face of the economic ventures of multinational corporations and local projects in ancestral indigenous lands. Currently, MAB – an organisation supporting the rights of indigenous and Quilombola communities affected by dams – are fighting against the construction of dams on the river Tapajos.
While in Brasilia, we also handed over a joint statement issued by the World Council of Churches (WCC) on peace and human security in Latin America, condemning all attacks on indigenous people and communities, as well as violence, the increasing number of extra-judicial killings, and the discrimination and social exclusion of women, youths and migrants in the region.
Hopefully, in the future rural communities will be consulted by big corporations when they want to use their land for economic venture, and that peaceful life can become a reality for indigenous and Quilombola people in rural areas of Brazil.
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Worship resourcesOur 2013 Harvest appeal appeal focusses on the work of our partner, the Pro-Indigenous Commission of São Paulo (CPI), who help forest communities. Find out more and download worship resources here.
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Christian Aid's Harvest 2013 appeal - more about our work in Brazil
Julia's blog also appeared in the Independent .
Christian Aid in Brazil - our work with Quilombola communities in the Amazon.