Communities stand up to loggers, stand up for forest

Brazilian rainforest blockade makes plea for new extractive reserve

Feature story - 19 September, 2002
With the name of Chico Mendes on their lips, people representing almost 600 Amazon forest dwellers joined by Greenpeace and other organisations blocked the bright green waters of Brazil’s Jaraucu river in the first such community protest in nearly 20 years.

Traditional forest dwellers blocked the Jaracu river to protest against forest destruction.

This peaceful protest of boats and banners is part of an ongoing quest to save their forests and way of life. The forest communities want the government to grant them an extractive reserve, the kind of sanctuary that Brazilian rubber tapper and community activist Chico Mendes died for in 1988. Without this protection, they fear loggers and farmers will continue to destroy their rainforest home in Pará state, the eastern part of the Brazilian Amazon.

The Jaraucu river is the main transport route for illegal timber around the town of Porto de Moz, a region well known for land squatting and illegal logging. Farmers and loggers invade forest areas, open illegal roads and threaten the traditional local people, who depend on the forests for survival. Serious forest exploitation shifted to the Porto de Moz area in 1990, after the forests east of Pará state were logged to destruction. Overall, the Brazilian Amazon has lost 15 percent of its forest cover in the last 30 years.

For three years, these forest communities have sought to create the Verde Para Sempre (Forever Green) extractive reserve. With an area of 1.3 million hectares, almost half the area of Belgium, the reserve would stop forest destruction and promote the forests' sustainable use.

But they face serious challenges. In this area of about 125 communities and 15 thousand inhabitants, loggers, farmers and politicians are fighting the extractive reserve because it does not conform to their economic vision. Some even resort to violence to stop the process, the type of conflict that led to Mendes' 1988 murder at the hands of farmers.

Claudio Wilson Barbosa, one of the community leaders participating in the protest, said "loggers and farmers are invading our traditional land and destroying our forest and the future of our kids. They need to get out and return the forest to the real owners, the people of Verde Para Sempre."

National and international logging companies are also implicated. Five years of Greepeace research has yielded a map showing the illegal activities in this disputed area around Porto de Moz. Companies including Curuatinga, DLH Nordisk, Eidai, Marajó Island Business, Madenorte, Porbrás and Rancho da Cabocla are directly or indirectly involved in operations here.

The customers of these companies should stop buying timber from the region until the reserve is created. And these companies must return the forests to the people of Porto de Moz.

Marcelo Marquesini, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, is also at the protest on the Jaraucu river to support the communities' fight to protect their land from the invasion by loggers. "We believe that extractive reserves are one of the ways to ensure the sustainable use of forests resources, and the traditional communities are the first ones interested in protecting their forest land and environment, which they depend on to survive," said Marquesini.

"The Brazilian government now holds the responsibility to create the Verde Para Sempre Extractive Reserve, which would stop forest destruction in Porto de Moz."