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Clearinghouse for reviewing ecotourism issue No. 10:

Brazil: Coastal Communities fighting Land Grabs

While tourism itself is a major force for the alienation of local communities from their traditional territories, the real issue is often the expropriation and privatization of village commons, fisheries, forests and farmlands that forces residents into survival mode. The two following stories about the resistance of coastal communities in the Northeast of Brazil - Prainha do Canto Verde and Tatajuba - against illicit land grabs exemplify the worldwide ongoing corporate takeover of people’s lands for speculative and unsustainable development projects.  Once the ‘growth coalition’ of land owners, developers, brokers, planners and managers comes in from outside and works through influential local actors and institutions, communities face unanticipated and irreversible consequences. Local people, and especially the poor and marginalized, get exposed to greater political, social, economic and ecological insecurity, while their own initiatives for self-reliant and sustainable development are jeopardized.

The Brazilian fishing villages highlighted here are still lucky since they have developed strong community organizations and networks to fight for their rights, and they have also been able to rally international support for their cause. Elsewhere, local people under siege of predatory market economy forces rarely have a chance to raise their voice in public, and without any power and assistance, they are losing the battle against land encroachers in most cases.

Notably, both villages Prainha and Tatajuba have become internationally known as ‘unspoilt’ tourist destinations. While Prainha was awarded an international prize in 2000 for its community-based ecotourism project, the pristine coastline at Tatajuba was recently featured in the Washington Post as one of the ‘world’s top ten beachsites’. Experience shows, however, that such ‘successes’ make communities even more vulnerable because the advent of tourism inevitably triggers a greater contest for places and, where money is to be made from natural beauty and authentic culture, the ‘growth coalition’ will use all - legal and illegal - means to gain access and control. The latest assault on Tatajuba by a company that wants to build a huge ‘ecotourism’ resort indicates that this process is coming into full speed in the area, and probably none of the traditional fishing villages there will be safe from tourism-related development aggression in the long run.

For all those, who want to express their solidarity and support for the villagers’ land struggle in Prainha and Tatajuba, we have added the respective contact addresses below.


The campaign coordinating groups:
Third World Network
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (t.i.m.-team), Thailand
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Malaysia
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia

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TWENTY YEARS OF LAND STRUGGLE AT PRAINHA DO CANTO VERDE

Conflicts in Brazil between owners of huge tracts of land and the movement of landless peasants have put a lot of pressure on the Government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso to press ahead with the much-needed land reform. The reason for the success of the movement is due much to the determination of its people and their unity, as well as to the moral and financial support given by others over the past twenty years.

An illustrative example is the coastal community of Prainha do Canto Verde, which has become internationally known since it was awarded the TO DO 99 Prize for a ‘socially responsible tourism project’ at the International Tourism Exchange in Berlin in March 2000.

Prainha do Canto Verde is a village of about 1,100 inhabitants located approximately 125 kms southeast of Fortaleza, the capital city of the Brazilian federal state of Ceara. The people living in direct proximity to the sea earn their living with fishing in coastal waters. In adjacent villages further inland, people primarily support themselves by subsistance farming.

Fortaleza, a 2.5-million metropolis, is often referred to as a ‘Tropical Manhattan’, which is something of a euphemism for the outcome of 20 years of uncontrolled urban growth with mushrooming high-rises, banks, hotels and shopping centres. Fortaleza is where affluence and modernity is conspicuous, but the outskirts of the city are fringed with ‘favelas’, or shanty towns. The surrounding rural areas are still dominated by feudal structures in terms of both land tenure and the exercise of power on the part of inidividual mayors, provincial politicians and influential businesspeople.

At Prainha do Canto Verde, the suffering for local residents began in 1979, when the ‘grileiro’, Portuguese for speculator, Antonio Sales Magalhaes discovered the village and other beaches nearby.  Only after six years, the fishing families found out that the ‘grileiro’ had managed to register the 749 hectares of Prainha do Canto Verde and that even the judge had been misled to believe that nobody lived in the village. With the help of some officials in the Land Registry, Magalhaes had become the ‘rightful’ owner of the land. Once the property was properly laundered, it passed on to the real estate company of Henrique Jorge.

According to Rene Schaerer, the co-founder of the local NGO ‘Instituto Terramar’, the company originally wanted to build holiday homes on the land, but such a project would have violated a municipal zoning law. Later, a plan to sell the property for US$1 million to a Portuguese investor group for the construction of a hotel or resort failed in view of the burgeoning land conflict.

Already more than ten years ago, the first group of villagers organized to defend themselves against the unscrupulous speculators and developers. They were supported by the then Archbishop of Fortaleza, D. Aloisio Lohscheider, who founded the Center for Human Rights to assist communities with legal advice. Lawyers from the Center were able to convince the judge of the State Superior Court to hear the case.

Eventually, 20 years after Antonio Sales Magalhaes ‘bought’ the whole beach of Prainha do Canto Verde through document falsification and Henrique Jorge’s real estate company took over, the Superior Court Justices of the State Ceara recently ruled unanimously in favour of the community by canceling the registry of real estate as ruled by a lower court judge in 1985.

However, this may not be the final victory for local residents. If the company, which is backed by the state government of Ceara, makes use of its right to appeal the court ruling, it probably means more years of struggle for the villagers who are already tired of this seemingly endless battle against the powers-that-be.

Jorge’s real estate company has repeatedly resorted to psycho-terrorism and tried to divide the community by intimidating some and rewarding others. Armed gangs acting on the instructions of Jorge threatened villagers to expel them from their land. Beginning of this year, the company took advantage of vacation recess of the judicial system and put up a barbed wire fence between the road and the sand-dunes just to show everybody who is in charge. While several government agencies rushed to embargo the fence, there was no police action because of the justice recess. Part of the fence was taken down at night by opposing forces, but the next day, it was rebuilt by Henrique Jorge’s men, starting a tug of war that threatened to escalate and turn violent. On 10 February, more than 500 women, children and fishermen from Prainha do Canto Verde supported by 25 fishing communities from all over the state, including a group of 11 representatives of the indigenous people of ‘Tremembe’, ‘Genipapu’ and ‘Tapeba’, destroyed the fence to show their indignation about the continuous human rights violations by real estate companies without any intervention by the government.

Although the recent court ruling certainly brings relief, the villagers have to remain vigilant. If the company does not retract, local people need to be prepared for an extended period of resistance and continue their campaign for public support. They will also need financial support for legal action, the conduction of environmental studies and educational projects. The people of Prainha trust in God, and lately also in the judicial process. But to make justice work, they have to mobilize all possible forces.

Their plea to the international community is: ‘Your moral support is just as important for our people, so please send us a short e-mail expressing your solidarity and support’ (including full name, address and name of organization if any).

e-mail: terra@fortalnet.com.br
Postal address:
Associacao dos Moradores de Prainha do Canto Verde
62.840-000 Beberibe, Ceara, Brazil

This article is based on the documents ‘Land Tenure: One of Brazil’s Problems. The Threat to the Fishing Village of Prainha do Canto Verde’ (http://www.fortalnet.com.br/~fishnet)  and ‘ToDO 99 Contest Socially Responsible Tourism Award Winner: Tourism Project by the Village Community of Prainha Do Canto Verde’(http://www.studienkreis.org), as well as  personal communications with Rene Schaerer working with the local NGO ‘Instituto Terramar’. For more information, visit website http://www.fortalnet.com.br/~fishnet or contact Rene Schaerer, email: fishnet@fortalt.com.br.

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TATAJUBA THREATENED BY MEGA-'ECOTOURISM' PROJECT

The small village of Tatajuba is located 390 km from Fortaleza in the Northeast of Brazil and is surrounded by wonderful beaches, which have been selected as part of the world’s top ten beach sites by the Washington Post. As opposed to the internationally known resort Jericoacoara that also lies on that famous coastline, Tatajuba is still practically unspoiled.

This extraordinary nature site and the life of Tatajuba’s roughly 700 inhabitants is now being threatened by the real estate agency Vitoria Regia Empreendimentos Imobiliarios Ltda. that, using the euphemistic label of ‘ecotourism’, has illegally taken possession of the grounds.

The 150 families make their living mainly from small-scale fisheries, agriculture and animal production. The surroundings are characterized by drifting dunes, mangrove forests and lagoons whose waters seasonally mingle with the sea. Since the 19th century, the local population lives in harmony with this ecosystem, which apart from being exceptionally beautiful is also extremely fragile, and has a limited carrying capacity.

Under the name of Condado Ecologico de Tatajuba the company Vitoria Regia Empreendimentos Imobiliarios Ltda., registered in Rio de Janeiro, is planning a gigantic tourism project. Trying not to be noticed by the public in 1993, the company secretly registered a property of 5.275 ha in the local land registry and it was only in April of 2001 that he village community found out about it. Although living right in the middle of that property since several generations, the community has not officially been notified of the planned tourism project. In addition to that, by Brazilian law the land is state property and is considered as to be “permanently preserved”.

The village community is now outraged about the possibility of being driven out of their lands and being exploited as cheap labor. In order to weaken the community the company’s agents threaten the villagers or try to deceive them with cheap promises of a better future.

In the name of the population of Tatajuba and in protection of a unique coastal ecosystem we hereby call for your solidarity against unscrupulous investors that try to make profits using labels such as “development” and “ecotourism”. In order to prevent these investors to start their destructive construction activities, we ask you to join in this campaign by sending emails to the appropriate authorities (sample letters in Portuguese are posted on website http://www.geocities.com/novatatajuba):
Governors Office, State Secretaries Office, Secretary of Tourism, State Authority for Environment, Institute for Agrarian Development
Emails: gabgov@gabgov.ce.gov.br, gabsec@segov.ce.gov.br, jjaime@gabgov.ce.gov.br, ceara@ceara.gov.br, semace@semace.ce.gov.br, renatoaragao@semace.ce.gov.br, abpeixoto@sdr.ce.gov.br, turismo@setur.ce.gov.br
 
Brazilian Institute of Environment
Emails: webmaster@ibama.gov.br, eason@supes-ce.ibama.gov.br 


Authors of this email campaign:
Forum for Coastal Preservation in Ceara - Network of the NGOs, Associations and Peoples Organizations of Ceara’s Coastline, Scientists and Citizens engaged for Sustainable Development
Email: tatajuba@fortalnet.com.br , website: http://www.geocities.com/novatatajuba .

Participating NGOs:
* INSTITUTO TERRAMAR;
* AQUASYS  - ASSOCIACAO DE PESQUISA E PRESERVACAO DOS AMBIENTES AQUATICOS;
* CETRA - CENTRO DE ASSESSORIA E ESTUDOS SOBRE O TRABALHADOR;
* IMOPEC - INSITUTO DA MEMORIA DO POVO CEARENSE;
* CIPAT - COOPERATIVA INTERDISCIPLINAR DE PESQUISA E ASSESSORIA TECNICA LTDA;
* COOPERH - COOPERATIVA DE RECURSOS HUMANOS;
* INSTITUTO AMBIENTAL;
* AGB - ASSOCIACAO DE GE?GRAFOS DO BRASIL;
* FORUM DOS PESCADORES DO LITORAL LESTE;
* FORUM DOS PESCADORES DO LITORAL OESTE;
* CONSELHO PASTORAL DA PESCA;
* SINDICATO DOS PESCADORES.

 


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