By Harald Eraker
The long standing land conflict between the Lorentzen company Aracruz Celulose and indigenous people of Brazil has taken a dramatic turn. Monday the 8th of December 1997, representatives of around 1500 Tupinikim and Guarani Indians met to decide how they were going to continue their fight to get back their traditional areas.
The Future in Our Hands' NorWatch project has got access to the statement from the meeting, titled «Document of the 1st Indigenous Assembly of the Tupinikim and Guarani», and it leaves no doubt:
Unless minister of justice Iris Resende signs the decree that the Indians will get their land back from Aracruz by 20th January, they will take matters into their own hands to secure their rights.
- 200 Indians were at the meeting. In addition, the state's deputy governor, lawyer and minister of justice, several members of the parliament, and several organisations met, as well as SINTICEL, the largest labour union at Aracruz, tells Winifried Overbeek from CIMI, the Catholic Church organisation supporting indigenous people in Brazil.
Have waited long enough
The basis for the ultimatum is that the Indians are tired of the delay of the case. In the document from the meeting, they write that the authorities have already completed the two first phases of the proceedings of the land claim submitted by the Indians more than 4 years ago.
Through FUNAI (The directorate of Indians), a report was first published which identify and confirm that the area the Indians claim traditionally belongs to the Tupinikim and Guarani. Subsequently the counter arguments by the Lorentzen company were analysed.
In a resolution of the 4th August 1997, the Minister of Justice actually recognised the rightful demands of the Indians to their traditional areas, and rejected the arguments of Aracruz Celulose. But instead of signing a decree and thus make a final decision in the matter, he required FUNAI to carry out additional studies.
Since then, nothing has happened. In the statement, it becomes clear that the patience of the Indians has run out.
«We know that the Minister of Justice has not set a deadline for when the decision will be made. But we can wait no longer, for this is meaningless. We are completely convinced that the time has come to make a final decision. All the necessary studies have been carried out, the arguments are clear, precise and legitimate. We are also very concerned by the fact that Aracruz Celulose uses all its power and influence to put pressure on the Brazilian Government».
The conclusion of the document made by the Indians on the 8th of December is as clear: The Minister of Justice is earnestly requested to «sign the decree for the demarcation of our land. We are willing to wait for an answer until the 20th January 1998. After this, we will carry out all necessary actions to secure our rights.»
Which concrete actions this may include remains to be seen. However, it is clear that after the 20th January, the Indians will not sit idly waiting for something to happen.
- The way the situation is in Brazil, the Indians must take their own decision for the road ahead. But it is clear that they are now threatening the authorities with the fact that no actions are excluded, including occupation of land, Overbeek says to NorWatch.
The Future in Our Hands has sent a declaration to the Indians which fully supports their demands:
- Unless the authorities in Brazil now decides to return the land to the Indians, we will continue to put pressure on both the Brazilian as well as the Norwegian companies involved in Aracruz, says Steinar Lem, information manager of Future in Our Hands. - These include the Lorentzen Group, Den norske Bank and Storebrand.
«We, the Tupinikim and the Guarani, earnestly asks the Minister of Justice to sign the decree to demarcate our land. We are willing to wait until 20th January 1998. After this, we will carry out all necessary actions to secure our rights.»
From the declaration of the Indians, 8th December 1997.
The declaration from the Indians sum up three main points on why it is of vital necessity for them to have the 13.579 hectares returned from Aracruz.
Primarily, they refer to the Constitution (paragraph 231) which establishes that indigenous people's habits, social orientation, languages, belief and traditions, as well as their traditional rights to land shall be recognised. The law makes clear that the authorities consequently shall ensure that their land is demarked, protected and respected.
Secondly, the Indians write in their declaration that they must have their land returned in order to sustain themselves in freedom and according to their culture and traditions. And thirdly, that they intend to replant the eucalyptus plantations with indigenous forest so that their children and grandchildren will get better conditions to live under in the future.
The declaration from the meeting is signed by the chiefs of the six villages Caeira Velha, Pau Brasil, Iraja, Comboios, Boa Esperanca and Tres Palmeira, which are claiming the land back from Aracruz Celulose. The four first mentioned are Tupinikim villages, the two latter are Guarani villages.
Aracruz in Brazil
Through the holding company Lorentzen Emprendimentos (owned 60% by the Lorentzen family and 20% by Den norske Bank) the two Norwegian participants control 28% of the A-shares of Aracruz Cellulose SA, where Erling Lorentzen is the Chairman of the Board. In addition, Storebrands Environmental Fund has invested 1 million USD in Aracruz Celulose, which has its activity in Espirito Santo State in South East Brazil.
Aracruz is one of the World's largest producers of cellulose, and «owns» an area of more than 200.000 hectares. This area is mainly planted with eucalyptus, the main raw material used by the company. The Indians claim 13.579 ha. of this area.
Norwatch Newsletter 18/97