Vivaldo Barbosa with family.
Having plundered much of the rest of Pará state, the Brazilian
Amazon's largest state and biggest timber exporter, loggers, cattle
ranchers and land speculators, among others, are now turning Porto
de Moz into a new lawless frontier. Public lands are illegally
seized, exploited for logging, turned over to cattle ranching. And
then they move on to a new area and start all over again. The cycle
is driven by greed, lawlessness, violence, intimidation and even
People in search of a simple life
The Porto de Moz area was first occupied during the rubber boom,
which eventually collapsed in 1914. Today, communities scratch out
a simple living from fishing, small scale hunting, subsistence
agriculture and from the few forest products they could sell or
There are about 20,000 people living in the region in rural
areas and small communities within the forest that spans 8 million
hectares in the center of Para south of the Amazon river, between
the Tapajos and Xingu rivers.
Vivaldo Barbosa moved to the Porto de Moz region with his family
in 1982. They already had friends living in the community of Santa
Maria de Matias and the community agreed Vivaldo and his family
could move into the area. Now there are eight families living and
working together in this forest community.
"When I arrived here, it was a paradise. We always worked
together, we grew everything together - our pigs, our cattle, in
only one piece of land. As you can see on this side here there is
not even a fence in our lands - our bulls pass from here to the
other side, his [bulls] pass from there to this side... Everything
is only one piece of land. Thank God, our neighbours are still
working together today."
But now Vivaldo and many others like him are fighting to hold on
to their forest homes and the peaceful lives they had hoped for
have turned into a struggle to hold on to their livelihood, even
Loggers in search of profit, at any cost
After 1995 when commercial stocks of timber dwindled in large
production centers elsewhere in the state, the region of Porto de
Moz became known as a new "Eldorado". Several logging companies
arrived in the area, fighting with the traditional communities for
resources created a situation of rampant violence.
Wood production in the region grew fast. By 2001 for example,
50,000 cubic meters of timber in logs was transported down the
Jaurucu river, a tributary of the Xingu, each month. The impact of
loggers on the forest increased dramatically due to the use of
heavy machinery and the high production. Local people and small
extractors, who initially traded with the companies, were removed
from the process.
While the government's own figures estimate that 80 percent of
all logging in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal, a report published
last year by IMAZON, a independent research institute promoting
sustainable forestry, stated that 95 percent of the timber
exploited in the Amazon is produced through predatory logging.
Today Para is the largest timber producing and exporting region
in the Amazon, accounting for 40 percent of production and 60
percent of all exports from all Amazon states. At the same time
Pará accounts for over one-third of the total Amazon deforestation
in Brazil amounting to an area larger than the size of Austria,
Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland combined.
The large area has become a battleground between the forest
communities who live in the region and depend on the natural
resources for their survival, and logging companies who have
invaded the area either with or without official sanction from the
government environmental agency IBAMA.
Communities in conflict
Vivaldo first started having problems in 1999 when a farmer
arrived and claimed the land was his. The man claimed Vivaldo and
his family invaded his land and destroyed his assets, but Vivaldo
says that there was never anything on the land before he arrived.
"He kept saying that his wife was heir of this area, although we
never met this woman, even the old people from here never met that
woman. But he kept saying that his wife was one of the heirs to
Illegal land grabs have become one of the most powerful means of
land-based domination in the Amazon resulting in a major social
disparity in Pará.
Known as "grilagem" in Brazil, the falsification of land titles
is the most frequently used method employed by loggers, cattle
ranchers and land speculators to illegally occupy and exploit
public land. Illegal landholders take over public lands by forging
titles of ownership often with the complicity of land registration
offices, and sometimes using violence to expel informal settlers
and indigenous communities who have legitimate rights to the
Vivaldo and his family resisted and would not leave the land,
but then one day some men with guns arrived and destroyed his house
along with everything he owned in it.
"There have been many bad things. When they burned our house,
they kept a boat over there with three unknown people with guns in
their hands. Not one canoe could pass over there and they would
point the gun. Can you imagine that? And the court of Porto de Moz
took no measures. Me and my neighbour Gerson spent three days in
Porto de Moz looking for justice and they didn't come here when my
house was burned," said Vivaldo.
There are almost no police in Porto de Moz, and the Federal
Police, who could protect community leaders and their families, are
285 km away in Santarém. However, the Federal Police, considered to
be the most respected police force in Brazil, don't have enough
agents to accomplish its tasks, nor money to transport the agents
to the scene of crimes.
With the support of the community Vivaldo rebuilt his house,
only to have it burned to the ground again. Now he is on his third
"We live in fear, seeing people doing wrong with what is ours
and we are afraid of these things. We have already looked for
justice, but we have no support and I don't know how we can hold
on. A conflict could start. Something better can happen, but
something worse could happen as well. So, we are afraid. I am
afraid of what may happen because I'm not used to violence. I'm not
used to violence".
Vivaldo's story is not unique in this region, others in fact
have suffered worse.
A state of conflict
Grilagem, along with logging, often takes place under the use or
threat of physical violence. Loggers and large landowners pressure
powerless traditional communities to leave their land and, in some
cases, companies simply expel the residents from their lands by
destroying their plantations, burning houses, firing at them or
even by killing them.
Pará is the state with the largest number of people assassinated
in land conflicts. Between 1985 and 2001 nearly forty percent of
the 1,237 rural workers killed in Brazil were killed in Pará,
according to the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic organisation
campaigning for landless people and the poor.
An inventory conducted by the Pará state government reports that
there were 804 victims of assassination during the same period. In
2002, the number of victims increased by almost fifty percent
compared to the previous year and half were killed in Pará.
Although numerous cases of violence, including murders, are
reported, they are hardly ever properly investigated. Those
responsible are rarely if ever punished, often because witnesses
are intimidated or killed.
Public intervention is unstructured, sporadic, partial and
fragmented. Different levels and sectors of government do not
converse or interact. Some organized communities, who refuse to
accept ruin and devastation and have proposed alternative
development projects based on the sustainable use of natural
resources, live under frequent threats and the risk of being
In August 2001, Ademir Alfeu Federicci, known as 'Dema', was
assassinated inside his house in front of his family.
Dema, a coordinator of the Movement for the Development of the
Transamazon and the Xingu Area (MDTX), had voiced numerous
condemnations of corrupt politicians and illegal logging inside
indigenous lands in Pará, including mahogany logging. Federal
Police officers and the MDTX believe his murder was a contract
killing. However, the civil police claimed that Dema was killed
during a bungled burglary.
Brazil has far-sighted environmental laws, but its ability to
police them has proved almost impossible. The nonexistence of
governance and law enforcement has led to a situation where murder,
violence, slavery, land invasions and illegal occupancy of public
land are characteristic of this region of Pará.
This complete lack of the rule of law makes it easy for the
logging companies or large-scale farmers to seize and exploit
public lands. There is often little financial support for the
federal or state law enforcement agencies, or what support there
was has now been almost entirely withdrawn by cuts in the
government annual budget as a consequence of the Brazilian
agreement with International Monetary Fund, which granted
international financial aid on the condition of reduced public
Vivaldo is afraid for his family and doesn't want his children
to have to face such a threat. "We are afraid of dying, afraid of
killing, we look for justice but don't find it. We are at a dead
end. I keep thinking what to do, if I had a place to go, I would
already have left. I keep up because I have children to raise and I
don't have another place, because if I did I would already have
A reserve of hope
Fearing the loss of their traditional lands, and wanting to put
a permanent end to illegal and predatory logging in the area, in
1999 community leaders in the Porto de Moz region created a
resistance movement called the Porto de Moz Sustainable Development
Committee. In April 2000 the Rural Workers Union, representing the
communities, sent a letter to federal and state government
requesting the creation of an extractive reserve they called Verde
para Sempre (GreenForever).
In a similar movement, local communities of the adjacent rural
municipality area of Prainha to the west of Porto de Moz proposed
the creation of another reserve, "Renascer". Both proposed reserves
are contiguous and would create the largest area of protected
forests and rivers under collective control of communities in
Extractive reserves are areas protected by law for conservation
and the sustainable management of natural resources by the
traditional communities inhabiting them. This model was developed
in the 1980s by forest dwellers under the leadership of Chico
Mendes and the National Council of Rubber Tappers and adopted by
the Brazilian federal government in 1990. These reserves guarantee
local families the collective right to land and its natural
resources, allowing them to keep on living from their traditional
economic activities, while preserving the environment.
The federal government, through the CNPT (National Centre for
the Sustainable Development of Traditional Populations) division of
IBAMA, agreed to initiate studies into the viability of the reserve
Verde para Sempre, but these have yet to be completed because of a
lack of money and political will.
At the same time executive powers of the state of Pará and local
mayors have been outspoken about their opposition to the creation
of the reserve. The president of ITERPA-Pará at the time, Ronaldo
Barata, wrote to the state governor, Almir Gabriel, claiming: "if
an extractive reserve is established in the area, it would be a
serious impediment to the economic development of the region, since
the principles of which the idea of an extractive reserve are based
contain very restrictive measures."
Tired of waiting, about 400 community people blocked the Jaurucu
river last year protesting the destruction of forests and to ask
for the creation of the reserve Verde Para Sempre. During the
protest, metal barges loaded with wood belonging the Grupo Campos
were stopped and latter seized. The company was fined by IBAMA
Grupo Campos is controlled by the mayor of Porto de Moz, Gérson
Salviano Campos. He is joint owner of the sawmill Exportadora
Cariny. Mayor Campos is now one of the biggest landowners in the
municipality, with 100,000 hectares or perhaps two to three times
that area. He also claims to own land that is considered to be
federal public land. The federal public prosecution office has
denounced Campos for involvement in "fraud and grilagem".
A day after the blockade, some community people, journalists and
activists received death threats and physical violence upon their
arrival at the city of Porto de Moz. In a national TV broadcast, a
journalist from Record TV network accused the mayor Campos of
inciting the violence she and her group had suffered.
After the river blockade, the anger of loggers in the Porto de
Moz region against the communities and their leaders increased - as
well as the risks for social movements. For example, on the day a
public meeting was held to announce the National Report to the
United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, a local leader,
Idalino Nunes Assis, received a phone call warning him not to go
out of his house at night, or he would run the risk of being
At this time, the extractive reserves remain only an area
defined on an IBAMA map and a set of incomplete studies into the
viability of reserve. What's missing is the political will of the
federal and state government to resolve their differences.
For famililes like Vivaldo the reserve is more than a means to
protect their homes. "It's from the land that we take our food,
it's from the river that we take our food," said Vivaldo. "The fish
is going to end. The companies don't only go for timber. They go
after fish, game and everything. When a company leaves an area, you
can go there and you won't find anything. You'll find no more game,
you'll find no more fish, nor neighbours nearby with food, because
they will have to buy everything."
How can you help?
The communities of Porto de Moz are asking for you to actively
support their struggle in defense of the communities of Porto de
Moz and Prainha, for peace in the forest, for social justice, and
in defense of their environmental heritage, "for us, the local
communities who are the best guardians of this environment.
Pressure the Brazilian government and Para state government to act
immediately to create the extractive reserves that will guarantee
us a safe, peaceful, social and environmentally just, and
The survival of the Amazon is dependent on many complex factors
and actions. One of the most important though is that the
governments in Brazil, at all levels, must implement meaningful and
permanent solutions so that the people who live in the remote
regions of the Amazon can have rule of law instead of the rule by
the strongest; the right to live in peace and dignity instead of in
fear and with violence; the right to live from the sustainable
natural bounty of the Amazon, the right to a future for their
"No, I haven't lost hope yet," says Vivaldo, "because hope is
the last thing to die. But I think it's taking too long for the
reserve to be created... unless the reserve is created, nobody will
have anything anymore."
a message in support of the communities of Porto de Moz and