Territories of solidarity: letter from Quebec (Canada)

Civil society organisations | 20 November 2017 | land grabbing | Brazil, Canada


On this November 20, when Brazil celebrates the Day of Black Consciousness, the institutions and organizations that sign this letter come to express their solidarity with the social movements of Brazil, especially the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests.

Between the 19th and 25th of October 2017 representatives of social movements from Brazil and Canada met with civil society organizations, researchers and human rights activists in Montreal and Sherbrooke, Canada in order to establish and strengthen alliances between Latin America and Canada.

After these meetings, it became all the more evident that the vulnerability and violence experienced by peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests of Brazil is alarming, especially one year after the coup that deposed the legitimately elected president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.

In the face of these testimonies, we list and endorse here some of the main demands that would guarantee the social, economic, cultural, territorial and environmental rights of the peoples and communities that make up the rich socio-diversity of Brazil and that historically are also the guardians of the country's biodiversity.

We also express our desire to continue to strengthen ties, and to create a vast territory of solidarity that includes social movements from the North to the South of this huge and rich American continent, all of which struggle for social and environmental justice.

We communicate the following demands,

To the Government of Brazil:

- That provisions be made for the security of the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests of Brazil and those public and private agents responsible for the crimes committed against these peoples and communities be held accountable. According to surveys by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), the National Coordination of Quilombo Communities (CONAQ), the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) and the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), the number of killings resulting from conflicts over land has increased to a frightening degree since Michel Temer illegitimately assumed the presidency of Brazil. CPT’s data indicate that murders in the country increased from 50 in 2015 to 61 in 2016 (+22%); the attempted murders went from 59 in 2015 to 74 in 2016 (+25%); while death threats increased considerably from 144 in 2015 to 200 in 2016 (+ 39%). As early as 2017, from January to October, there were 64 murders investigated by the CPT as a result of agrarian conflicts, the victims being 29 landless, 11 quilombolas, 9 squatters, 6 indigenous people, 5 agrarian reform settlers, 3 peasants' allies and 1 fisherman. Regarding violence against indigenous peoples specifically, while there is still only incomplete data for this year, we know that, in 2016, the CIMI recorded 56 murders, 23 attempted murders, 11 manslaughters, 10 death threats and 7 other threats to people throughout Brazil. As for the quilombo communities, 2017 was the most violent year since 2011, with 14 murders of members of quilombo communities recorded, which corresponds to more than one death a month.

- The resumption of the demarcation of indigenous territories and the titling of quilombo territories, as well as the protection of territories already demarcated and titled. The Pankararu people of Pernambuco, for example, have been increasingly threatened by non-indigenous occupiers who refuse to leave their territories even after a court ruling in February this year. The need for the deployment of agents of the National Forces is urgent so as to ensure that the withdrawal of these occupants occurs without major conflicts.

- A commitment to defend Decree 4.887/2003 before the trial at the Federal Supreme Court of Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADIN) 3,239. On November 9, Minister Dias Tóffoli defended the temporary framework for the entitlement of quilombo territories. For him, only those communities that actually occupied their territory in 1988 should be entitled to land, ignoring thereby the history of violence in the country that has practically made it impossible for these communities to occupy to the fullest extent their ancestral territories. Today, most Quilombo communities occupy only a very small portion of their total territory, which impedes their physical, cultural and environmental reproduction. It is worth noting that, even with this decree, only a small number of quilombo territorial titles have been settled. Not only does this fall far short of the need to demarcate quilombo territories, but certainly the cancellation of Decree 4.887 will make the titling of other quilombo lands almost impossible. In addition, the process of regularization of the property of quilombo territories is an administrative act and, therefore, should not be in the hands of the Chief of Staff of the Presidency of the Republic, which is an eminently political body.

- The prevention of the installation of mining, oil and energy projects (including nuclear projects) on the territories of indigenous peoples, quilombos and other traditional peoples and communities.

- The adequate maintenance of the agencies responsible for the implementation of public policies directed to the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests of Brazil. It is unacceptable that the same government that makes such severe budget cuts to the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) forgives debts numbering in the billions of dollars and works in favour of strengthening agribusiness.

- The resumption of policies that strengthen family agriculture, notably the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), which at the same time ensures the flow of peasant production and that of all indigenous peoples and traditional communities and provides healthy food to the populations served by the three spheres of government. The purchase and donation, seed acquisition and direct purchase provisions of the PAA have been drastically reduced, going from more than R$ 318 million to only R$ 750 thousand, or 24% of the former budget. It is not acceptable that a country in which family agriculture is so important in terms of both numbers of producers and total production offers only food pellets (what has been called “human pet food”) tothe most impoverished sectors of society, such as is currently taking place in the city of São Paulo. It is clear that the purchase of thesefood pelletswill only benefit companies to the detriment of the dignity and food security of the population.

- The reversal of the dismantling of the Agrarian Reform which has beenpromoted by the coup government, which is expressed mainly in the budget for 2018 and in the contingency of 2017. Public policies and programs which help rural populations suffered severe cuts or interruptions. In 2017,the budget amounted to only ¼ of the forecasted resourcesand less than 10% of what was earmarked for those same policies in 2015. Resources for land purchase for the settlement of landless families, for example, were cut by 86.7%, going from R$ 257,000 in 2017 to nothing more than R$ 34,000 in 2018.

- The firm commitment to the right to education in the country, which has also been systematically violated by cuts in the budget. The National Program for Education in Agrarian Reform (PRONERA) had an abruptly reduced budget allocation, going from R$ 30 million in 2016 to just over R$ 11 million in 2017 and to the tiny amount of R$ 3 million in 2018.

- The commitment to consolidate the UN Treaty on Accountability of Transnational Corporations, so that various human rights violations by companies around the world are duly punished and victims are duly protected and compensated for damages resulting from these activities.

To the Ministers of the Supreme Court of Brazil:

-A favourable vote for the maintenance of Decree 4.887/2003. A decision contrary to the Decree will represent a major setback in the realization of the Quilombo right to land. ADIN 3,239, filed by the Democratic Party, only reflects the interests of oligarchies that historically have controlled most of the land in Brazil and, therefore, must be rejected.

- The declaration of the unconstitutionality of Law 13.465/2017, which, due to its deleterious effects, became known as a law that favors LandGrabbing and the Privatization of Agrarian Reform Settlements. The implementation of this law gives the government the freedom to expropriate lands for the production of commodities, disregarding the principle of the social function of the land. For the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests, the land is a good of nature and cannot be transformed into a mere commodity. Throughout the world, these peoples and communities have taken on the responsibility for caring for the planet, combining land cultivation and food production with the protection of springs, soils, fauna and flora. The struggle for land is thus inseparable from the production of healthy food, a topic that concerns not only rural people but also the population living in urban areas. In this sense, Law 13.465 represents an affront to the struggle for the human right to life in balance with the goods of nature.

To the National Congress of Brazil:

- The interruption of the process of Draft Constitutional Amendment 215 (PEC 215), which seeks to withdraw from the Executive the exclusive power of demarcating indigenous lands. The indigenous right to territory is supported by the Federal Constitution and cannot be subject to deliberations of the National Congress. However, it is worth mentioning that PEC 215 is just one of several actions that the National Congress has been taking against the rights of the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests of Brazil.

To the Government of Canada:

- The halt of mining projects, among other activities, affecting the territories of the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests of Brazil, especially when these projects do not respect the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent, guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

- The halting of mining projects, among other activities, that affect the territories and violate the rights of the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests in all the other Latin American sister countries and also in Canada, and that the Canadian government should ratify ILO Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

- The thorough investigation and punishment of Canadian organizations and citizens responsible for land grabbing in Brazil.

- The commitment to consolidate the UN Treaty on Accountability of Transnational Corporations, so that various human rights violations by companies around the world are duly punished and victims are duly protected and compensated for damages resulting from these activities.

We also would like to use this letter to foster discussion with civil society organizations and the academic community, leading to the following recommendations in order to strengthen relations between sectors and actors from North to South of the Americas.

To civil society organizations and cooperation agencies in Canada:

- Support for projects conducted by institutions or groups belonging to the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests of Brazil.

- The establishment of a more direct and systematic dialogue with these peoples and communities in order to exchange information and to give visibility in their vehicles of communication regarding the demands and denunciations of human rights violations in Brazil.

- The creation of a network of information and mutual support among the traditional peoples and communities of Latin America and Canada.

To researchers in the Latin American context:

- The establishment of a dialogue with institutions and representatives of social movements in Brazil so that they also contribute to the foundation of research in Brazil, considering the duty of sharing results and, when appropriate, sharing benefits with groups involved.

- The search for a Pan-American reading of the socio-environmental conflicts affecting the peoples and communities of the country, waters and forests in the Americas. From these studies, the social movements of these countries can identify interfaces for the creation of a network of information and mutual support that can better face the power of the capital that advances on the field, waters and forests.

In 2018, the World Social Forum will be held in Brazil, in the city of Salvador, Bahia, and we believe it will be a fruitful moment to strengthen the bonds of solidarity between Latin America and Canada.

Signatories of this letter:

Articulation of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo (APOINME)
National Coordination for the Articulation of Rural Black Quilombo Communities (CONAQ)
Pastoral Land Commission (CPT)
Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (Montreal, Canada)
Development and Peace – Caritas Canada
Bishop's University, Crossing Borders Research Cluster (Sherbrooke, Canada)
Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB)
Friends of the MST in Canada
Center for Research and Extension in Socio-Environmental Law (CEPEDIS)
Institute for Research on Rights and Social Movements (IPDMS)
National Network of Popular Lawyers of Brazil (RENAP)
Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA)
KOINONIA – Ecumenical Presence and Service
Luiz Gama Institute
Mariana Crioula - Center of Popular Legal Advice
Terra de Direitos, Brazil
Brazil-Montreal Collective
Observers Network of the Previous Consultation in Latin America (Observers Network)


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