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New Report on Agro-fuels from Grassroots’ Brazilian Partners

November 2008

Rede Social, a Grassroots International partner, and longtime ally the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) released an 80-page report on the expansion of sugar cane plantations for agro-fuels in the Amazon and Central Plateau region of Brazil.

The document analyzes the social and environmental impacts of agro-fuel expansion and shows a detailed picture of the situation in 11 states. The report outlines how large industrial plantations of soy beans, sugar cane and palm oil for the production of a “greener” fuel are leading to the rapid deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, and Indonesia’s rainforest. The Via Campesina, an international movement of more than 150 million peasants and indigenous peoples worldwide, has denounced the replacement of crops for people with agro-fuels that only feed cars, leaving more rural families around the world hungry. Currently a portion of the report is available in English (see article below), with the remainder expected to be available soon.

Rede Social and CPT will present their report Agro-fuels as Barrier to the Building of the Food and Energy Sovereignty during an international event organized by Via Campesina – Brazil and its local partners. The Via Campesina’s gathering is a parallel event to the International Conference “Bio-fuels as Vector to the Sustainable Development” sponsored by the Brazilian government to promote its ethanol program.

The Many deaths of Sister Dorothy Mae Stang

From Agro-fuels as Barrier to the Building of the Food and Energy Sovereignty

Symbol of the struggle for human rights, the nun, who was the victim of shooting in Anapu in the state of Pará on February 12th, 2005, died for the first time in the 1970s and continued to die many times again after February 12th.

Sister Dorothy Mae Stang began to be assassinated when the military, which took power in 1964, launched the program for the occupation of the region and sought to protect large land holdings from criticism raised elsewhere and to promote the penetration of capitalism into the Amazon region.

With a haughtiness supported by immense propaganda resources, the military announced that the undertaking would take “men without land to land without men” and would furnish natural resources and energy to the region.   In this way, all of the productive factors-capital, labor, energy, and raw materials-would be present in the vast areas granted to entrepreneurs who would promise to invest in the development of the region.

However, what was presented as an eliminator of the sources of conflict over land actually resulted in producing the greatest amount of violence, corruption, favoritism, and impunity.    Thus, far from promoting the expansion of technology in the region and taking capitalist production to places where the presence of indigenous groups was not even known, the military managed to inject all of the elements of backwardness, which until today are the characteristics of Pará.

The equation of the military failed in terms of a positivist vision, which considered that the social actors would accept playing the role they were given in the project.     Contrary to what was planned, the element that was expected to arrive and constitute the necessary factor of innovation, the capitalist entrepreneur, with his advanced resources and mentality making possible the interaction of all of the others, opted to show his hunger for profit.   He did not differentiate between his role in concentrating ownership of land reduced to unproductiveness, on the one hand, and in exploiting slavery, on the other.

Why, reasoned the first entrepreneurs, tie up capital not always really in existence or available, if it were possible to lobby, often successfully, for the State to supply credit, having as guarantee the notes that the government itself issued, and with oversight nearly inexistent or put in the hands of officials that could always be softened with gratuities.   Or, why carry out their part, if it were possible simply to maintain the title to the concessions and wait for the resulting pressures of the presence of the displaced human element to oblige the State to supply the necessary infrastructure, which by the terms agreed upon was their counterpart to the to the government’s capital?

The refusal by those granted the concessions to realize the promised investments resulted in the continuing of the victory of the hard reality of nature over the human agent and in the continuing lack of labor.   If the absence of infrastructure discouraged going to the region as an agricultural laborer by those who let themselves be seduced by the promise of “land without men”, there was no reason for them to be subject to salaried labor, when the vastness of the forest promised each one a parcel of land that he judged sufficient for his efforts.

For this reason, what could have been the front line of capitalism saw itself confronting the difficulty of realizing the vaunted development and, repeating the previous solution of plantations, frequently fell back on the use of slave labor.  Regarding this, the use of captive labor by the most advanced and familiar capitalist companies, such as Bradesco (the Taina Recan united ranches in Santa do Araguaia and Alto Rio Capim, in Paragominas) and Volkswagen (Vale do Rio Cristalino ranch, in the south of Pará) has been denounced more than once and is recorded.

Left untouched for more than ten years, the areas that had been object of the concessions granted by the military should have been returned to the control of the federal government long ago.   But instead of this, they were, and still are, being used as a guarantee for a scheme of financing of projects that exist only on paper, without realizing the works agreed upon and for the predatory exploitation of lumber.   This added to the riches coming from the land concessions and to those factors giving rise to the degradation of the environment and the frauds against the Amazon development programs.

The Terra do Meio, between the Xingu and Tapajós Rivers, has long seen the conflict between the squatters who established themselves in the region and the concessionaires in breach of contract, who still want to validate titles already invalidated for that reason.

The federal government has been negligent in declaring the titles nullified, given the noncompliance with the contracts, and in proposing acts to repossess lands in those cases where necessary.   Added to this is the inaction and slowness of the Courts and authorities who take the side of the large land holders, which guarantees the cover-up by the police of assassins and gunmen, perpetuating confilct and violence.

To fight this practice of fraud, environmental degradation, and appropriation of larges areas of land, environmental groups and supporters of rural workers drew up a Sustainable Development Project, which guarantees the sustainability of the environment and of small-holder production, in contrast with the pedatory policies against nature, public funds, and human rights.

It was to this sustainable development project that Sister Dorothy dedicated her time and her life.   The death of Dorothy Mae Stang is the crowning of a political-economic process that bleeds not just physical bodies but an economy and a future.   The military, entrepreneurs, and adventurers were all part of this process in the Amazon.   Coronations, being moments of change, represent a transformation in a cycle, but not its end.   It is the beginning of a moment that prolongs the monarchy.  A monarchy that runs roughshod over human rights in the state of Pará and does not appear at all close to settling accounts with the Brazilian republic.

With Sister Dorothy’s death, we had the illusion of the presence of the State in the Terra do Meio, with the deployment of military forces and the Federal Police.   But this did not stop the commorations and the fireworks with which the dominant classes of Anapu and Pacajá celebrated the homicide.

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