By Harald Eraker
On March 11, the Tupinikim- and Guarani Indians started to demarcate the territories which they have demanded returned to them from Aracruz Celulose since 1994. Three weeks later, the Lorentzen company and the Indians signed an agreement that ends the land dispute, at least for the time being.
According to the agreement, both parties accept the Minister of Justice, Iris Resendes' decision of March 6, that Aracruz Celulose has to return 2571 hectares to the Indians.
This means that the Indian territories will be expanded by about 50%, from around 4500 to more than 7000 hectares. The 4500 hectares they have today, were granted during the first round of land dispute in the early 80's.
Through the agreement, the Indians have accepted having returned to them a land area substantially smaller than their official claim for 13.579 hectares, which they have been demanding since 1993. CIMI, the Brazilian catholic church organization supporting Indian rights, thus comments the agreement in a press release:
"(CIMI) considers the `agreement' OUTRAGEOUS and IMMORAL. It was obtained by means which offend seriously fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed in the Federal Constitution valid for any individual - including the Indians. Also, it is extremely harmful to the rights and interests of the mentioned indigenous communities and to their physical and socio-cultural integrity."
CIMI refers to FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), which through three extensive studies has established that the mentioned 13.579 hectares traditionally belong to the Indians. Their conclusion is that the Indians have a right to have the areas returned from "the multinational corporation that invaded the mentioned areas."
Cash for land
The agreement also implies that the Indians will receive compensation from the Lorentzen company, totaling USD 10 million, over a 20 year period. At the beginning of the negotiations, Aracruz Celulose's offer was USD 3 million.
According to CIMI, which has been a supporting agency for the Indians during the negotiations, the agreement also includes other clauses concerning economic support from Aracruz Celulose to the Indians. For example, the company is obliged, for a given period of time, to pay the water- and electricity expenses for the Indians, as well as to continue to support agricultural-, health- and educational projects.
The agreement is valid for 20 years. However, if one of the parties fails to comply, the other may terminate the agreement.
CIMI is very critical to the fact that the Indians have been forced to accept cash as compensation for land. They claim that the agreement obviously is "flagrantly UNCONSTITUTIONAL by violating Art. 231, par. 4, of the same constitution which orders that indigenous lands are 'NOT TRANSFERABLE' and 'UNAVAILABLE', and therefore NOT NEGOTIABLE."
In spite of their strong criticism of the agreement, CIMI underlines that they fully understand that the Indians felt it was the best possible under the prevailing, difficult circumstances, and that it may be seen as a kind of truce. However, one point of the negotiations, which were conducted in the capital Brasilia, was not agreed on. The Indians demanded that they should have a right to, at a later stage, to put forward new claims for expansion of their territories. On the other hand, Aracruz Celulose demanded that in the future, no new land claims should be made by the Indians from the Lorentzen company.
None of the parties would give as much as an inch on this point, and according to the CIMI, the agreement was finalized simply by leaving the issue out.
Therefore it is an open question whether or not the hatchet is forever buried in this case. A number of times during the dispute, Aracruz Celulose has made it clear that this is the last round of the matter, and has threatened to take judicial steps to get a possessory title to the roughly 200.000 hectares used by the company.
The Indians, on the other hand, do not wish to deprive future generations from the right to demand that more of their traditional areas be returned to them.
"We consider the `agreement' OUTRAGEOUS and IMMORAL. It was obtained by means which offend seriously fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed in the Federal Constitution valid for any individual - including the Indians."
Excerpt from CIMIs press release, commenting upon the agreement between Aracruz Celulose and the Indians
The Brasilia negotiations, in which also representatives from the Ministry of Justice and FUNAI (the Directorate for Indian Affairs) partook, began on March 23. By that time, hundreds of Indians, including women, children and elderly, had been carrying out a demarcation action against the Lorentzen company since March 11, in the wake of the Minister of Justice's decision.
Armed with machetes and long axes, they cut a corridor 10 to 15 metres wide in the company's eucalyptus plantations, to demarcate the borders of the 13.579 hectares that they have claimed.
In temperatures around 35 degrees centigrade, children and adults alike chopped down eucalyptus trees, while several Indians stood guard with bows and arrows.
Hundreds of people from trade unions, the church, human rights organizations and the movement for landless farmers were present during the action to show their support and solidarity. Also, NorWatch was present during the powerful action, and at the inception of the negotiations, the Indians had cleared a 28 kilometer long corridor in the Lorentzen plantations.
Attention from the media and declarations of solidarity were abundant as the days passed. But on Wednesday March 18, the police struck. The Indian villages and the action areas were surrounded by heavily armed police, who threw out all supporters and denied access for all outsiders.
Several supporters were arrested and interrogated, and the police searched the homes Indians. Winfried Overbeek, a Dutch missionary working for CIMI in Aracruz for several years, was told during a five hours long police interrogation, that he would have to leave the country within eight days. The reason given was that he, being a foreigner, had taken part in political agitation.
The police actions were severely criticized both nationally and internationally - by the church, trade unions, lawyers' unions, politicians and different organizations. Many expressed their concern to the representative from NorWatch, after he returned to Norway, that the police methods reminded them of those of the military dictatorship of the 60s and 70s.
Aracruz Celulose, on the other hand, deny that the police action represented violations of human rights:
- On the contrary, the police eviction of intruders is a responsible reaction by the police to acts that are clearly against the law, says the company's spokesman on the matter, Carlos Roxo, in an article in a Norwegian newspaper in April. He says the same thing would also have happened in Norway or any other democratic country.
The decision that Overbeek was to be expelled from Brazil got a lot of attention in Holland, and the Dutch embassy threatened that the issue could lead to strains in the diplomatic relationship between the countries.
Well supported by lawyers who offered free assistance, Overbeek entered an appeal to the federal court in Vitoria, the capital of the Espirito Santo state.
Merely a few hours before Overbeek was to be put on the plane back to Holland, did he receive the news that the court had nullified the decision to expel him.
In spite of the police isolating the Indians from the outside world, the Indians continued their cutting of eucalyptus action. A couple of days later, the Indians were offered direct negotiations with Aracruz Celulose in Brasilia. The Indians then put down their axes, awaiting the result of the negotiations.
On April 8, six days after the agreement was signed, the police left the Indian villages. However, there are still problems for the Indians and their supporters.
The president of FUNAI has issued two decrees, prohibiting CIMI and others to visit the Indian communities, thereby effectively cutting off their communication with the outside world. CIMI and other supporters strongly condemn the decrees, and request international support to make the authorities withdraw them.
Although Overbeek's expulsion was prevented, the police has started investigating his work with CIMI, to find out whether he partook in "political activities, or directly or indirectly interfered with official affairs in Brazil."
If he is found guilty, he may be sentenced to prison for one to three years. Another of the CIMI workers, Fabio Villas, has been charged by the police for inciting the Indians to commit crimes, in this case to "illegally" demarcate the eucalyptus plantations.
The struggle continues
Five of the six Indian villages that have been struggling against Aracruz Celulose, signed the agreement in Brasilia. The last one, the Tupinikim community Comboios, signed a separate agreement with the Lorentzen company in May, and did not partake in the demarcation action.
The agreement with Comboios implies that Aracruz Celulose has to return 121 hectares to the Indians, and to pay a compensation of USD 500.000 over a period of 20 years.
According to CIMI, Erling Lorentzen himself was present during the official signing of this agreement on April 19. Speaking to the press then, he declared that Aracruz Celulose voluntarily increased the monetary compensation to USD 2 million.
CIMI ends their press release by declaring a continued fight for justice:
"(CIMI) wants to show all its solidarity with the Tupinikim and Guarani communities, victims of so much pressure, and reaffirms its uncompromising support to their struggle for a real solution of the problem."
The press release declares that the true solution is to return to the Indians the 13.579 hectares of land which are rightfully theirs, a fact which no agreement may nullify.
Aracruz Celulose in Brazil
Aracruz Celulose S.A. is 28% owned by the Lorentzen group, through the Lorentzen Empreendimentos holding company. Den Norske Bank and Storebrand own smaller shares of the company, in which Erling Lorentzen is the chairman.
Aracruz Celulose is the largest producer of bleached short-fibre cellulose in the world, and has 200.000 hectares of land at its disposal, of which 132.000 hectares are used for growing eucalyptus, which is the raw material for this production.
Norwatch Newsletter 8/98