By Morten Rønning and Harald Eraker,
Since 1975, the Tupinikim and Guarani indians have been fighting to get back their land, which is occupied by Aracruz Celulose in the State of Espirito Santo in south-east Brazil.
In 1967, five Tupinikim villagers were torn down and the forest cut to give way to the eucalyptus plantations and the cellulose factory. With that the indians lost their land which was allotted to them by the State Governor, as early as in 1610.
Now, about 1 300 Tupinikim and 100 Guarani indians, with support from FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, are demanding the return of 13.579 hectares of land.
The present Indian territory is 4.492 hectares, of which a little more than a third was given back by Aracruz. However, the territory is divided into many smaller areas, making it difficult for the indians to subsist.
It was in 1993 that their new demand to make the territory a bigger connected area and to improve the Indian standard of living, was presented to Aracruz and the government.
Aracruz Celulose controls a large area totalling 203.000 hectares. This area is equivalent to 80% of the Norwegian County of Oppland.
According to Conselho Indigenista Missionario (CIMI), (an organisation linked to the Catolic Church, which aimes to support the rights of the Brazilian indians), the indians wish to replant the area with indigenous plant species and to move back to the area.
The indians, with the support of CIMI, started an international campaign to pressurize Aracruz and its owners, of which the Norwegian companies Lorentzen Empreendimentos and Den norske Bank (DnB) are large shareholders.
Endre Grønnestad from the information department at DnB, does not wish to comment on the case, but says:
- We are not aware of this land claim from the indians in the area.
In addition, he says that DnB is not represented in the company in the same way as Lorentzen is in Brazil
Letter to the Ministry
On the 4th of July, the Ministry of Justice in Norway received a letter from CIMI asking the Norwegian authorities to intervene in the case.
- We ask the Norwegian authorities to show solidarity and support for the indian land claim, says Winfried Overbeek from CIMI.
According to CIMI, it is the eucalyptus plantation that led to the drying up of the rivers and creeks that were previously used by the indians for fishing.
– The indians are today surrounded by plantations. Their small area is salinated and unproductive and this has led the people to a miserable life. They cannot hunt anymore, the rivers dry up and the soil is no longer productive, says Overbeek to NorWatch.
This forested area was part of the Atlantic rain forest which stretched southwards along the east coast.
Aracruz Celulose, on its part, claims by referring to the area they earlier returned, that they have treated the indians well.
In addition, through a fax to NorWatch, Aracruz points out that the Guarani indians came from Paraguay and that they settled in the area at the end of the 1960s. They therefore do not have the same traditional rights as the Tupinikim indians, according to Aracruz.
Anyway, it is still the Tupinikim indians that make up the majority demanding the 13.579 hectares.
23% of world’s cellulose production
The Brazilian climate is well suited for eucalyptus plantations. It takes an average of 7 years, from the time they are planted until they are fully grown, before the trees are logged. Aracruz produces more than a million tonnes of bleached cellulose annually. This is equivalent to 23% of the world’s production.
Every year 32 million trees are planted, and in this line of business the company has the lowest cost. The cellulose is exported mainly to the USA and Europe. The giant company, Proctor & Gamble, which among others, makes the diaper Pampers, sanitary pad Always and similar products, is an important purchaser.
Last year Aracruz Celulose, with a turnover of nearly 700 million US$, had a profit of 350 million US$. This means that for every dollar they invested they made a 50 cent profit. This is why, according to the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), Aracruz is the world’s most profitable company in the forestry business. It is the only Brazilian company listed on the New York stock exchange and it is worth more than 2.2 billion US$.
Erling Lorentzen founded Aracruz Celulose S.A. He is the board chairman, while his son Haakon Lorentzen is a board member. Their company Lorentzen Empreendimentos owns 11.8 % of Aracruz and controls 28% of the votes. According to DN, this lot of stocks is worth more than 140 million US$.
The norske Bank, owns a little more than 30% of the holding company Lorentzen Empreendimentos. Besides this, they have a direct ownership of less than 1% in Aracruz.
A good example
At the Rio conference in 1992, Aracruz Celulose was chosen as a good example of a company taking the environment seriously. According to DN, the company uses 185 million US$ on environmental investments. Lorentzen is said to have made a point of keeping a Nordic environmental standard while developing the company.
Annually, to run its own village, Aracruz has a social expenditure of 100 million US$. The company maintains everything from roads to school and health system for its 3.100 employees. The salary, according to DN is 715 US$ a month.
Now it looks like the company’s environmental reputation gets a hard blow. The clearing of forest and the conflicts with the indians are now on the agenda of an international campaign.
Lorentzen and DnB in Brasil
The Lorentzen family owns 60% of Lorentzen Empreendimentos. Lorentzen Empreendimentos owns about 28% of the A-shares in Aracruz Celulose S.A. The Aracruz shares constitute about 70% of Lorentzen Empreendimentos’ value.
DnB owns a little more than 30% of Lorentzen Empreendimentos and a little less than 1 % of Aracruz, directly. The other shareholders of Aracruz are the South African Mondi, the bank group SAFRA and the state finance bank BINDES.
Norwatch Newsletter 6/96