(First published in Norwegian 14 Dec 2006)
By Heidi Taksdal Skjeseth
The left-wing radical Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the social democrat Geraldo Alckmin were bitter rival candidates in the Brazilian election campaign this autumn. But the partly Lorentzen-owned company Aracruz Celulose is a friend of both.
When Lula emerged victorious after the second round in the presidential election in Brazil on 29 October 2006, the indigenous population of state of Espirito Santo saw a ray of hope for better times and a quick end to the long land conflict with Aracruz Celulose. But for Aracruz it made little difference who won. The company had made campaign contributions to both Lula and his main opponent, Alckmin – and a series of other politicians at all levels.
Exactly how much the company has contributed to the presidential candidates’ campaigns is still not known. The figures for the contributions to the presidential candidates’ campaign are still not ready to be made public. But the contributions to politicians at lower levels are, however, ready.
Preliminary figures from the Brazilian election commission show, in fact, that Aracruz Celulose has given altogether almost 4,6 million reales, or about 1,67 mill euro to a series of members of Congress, senators and state governors.
The figures for the previous presidential election in 2002 showed that Aracruz was the third largest contributor in Brazil, with 4,779,762 reales, or about 1,7 million euro. Aracruz was then decidedly the largest contributor among the cellulose companies. There is nothing to indicate that the contributions to this year’s campaign will be lower. On the contrary.
Aracruz Celulose’s competitors have also invested large sums in politicians. In comparison, this year the cellulose company Veracel (which Aracruz owns together with Stora Enzo) has contributed 1,2 million reales (435,000 euro) to the politicians’ election campaign. Aracruz’s big competitor, Suzan Bahia Sul Celulose, has for its part contributed 3 million reales (1,1 million euro).
The Manager of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility in Aracruz Celulose, Carlos Roxo, confirms to Norwatch that the company uses a lot of money to support politicians in all kinds of parties. “All we do legal according to Brazilian law”, Roxo emphasized.
Roxo won’t say how much money is involved, but all politicians are required by law to state from whom they receive support, and how much. The candidates must report all campaign financing to the election institute TSE, but the figures from this autumn’s presidential election are not complete yet.
Roxo does not find it problematic that both Brazil’s recently elected president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from the left-wing radical labour party PT, and his opponent, Geraldo Alckmin from the social democratic PSDB, have received financial support for the election campaign from Aracruz. “Both Lula and Alckmin are good candidates from our point of view. Both stand for an economic policy that promotes an open market, and we have a good relationship with both”, Roxo said.
But the medal has a reverse side: in an interview in the newspaper Seculodiario an anonymous politician from the state of Espirito Santo, where Aracruz Celulose has its headquarters, talks about the strict conditions that accompanied Aracruz’s financial support.
The state politician finally refused to receive support from Aracruz Celulose because the company gave detailed orders about how he had to vote in Congress, and which issues he had to promote. The politician does not dare let his name be known, because he is afraid the Aracruz could destroy his political career.
Aracruz firmly denies the politician’s accusations. “We can not take such anonymous accusations seriously; this is lies and fabrications”, Roxo claimed.
He emphasized again that it is completely legal to support political candidates in Brazil – both one and several candidates and parties. “We only support politicians who agree with our basic views and visions; we do not decide how they should do their job”, Roxo insisted.
The spokesperson for Aracruz would not comment on how the company feels about Lula’s massive victory in October. Both the Indians and the movement for the landless in the state have supported Lula and believe they have a stronger case with him as president.
“For us it does not matter who is president; we have a clean conscience in any case”, Roxo said.
But there was not just a presidential election in October in Brazil. Members of Congress, senators, state governors and local politicians also stood for election. Aracruz used large sums on them too, to secure well-disposed politicians.
According to the newspaper Jornal A Gazeta, Espirito Santo’s newly elected senator Renato Casagrande from PSB (Partido Socialista Brasileira) reported having received 2,7 million reales (about 980,000 euro) for the campaign in 2006. Aracruz Celulose was the next to the largest contributor and supported Casagrande to the effect of 265,000 reales (about 96,000 euro).
The newly elected senator also received considerable support from Visel Vigilância e Segurança Ltda, which are the armed security guards Aracruz uses for their eucalyptus plantations. According to Winfred Overbeek in the organization FASE-ES, which, among other things, works with the indigenous population in Espirito Santo, the armed guards are used to harass the local inhabitants. The security company supported Renato Casagrande to the tune of 25,000 reales (about 9,000 euro) in 2006. Other cellulose producers, such as Veracel Celulose, Plantar, and Cenibra, supported Casagrande financially.
Lobbying for Eucalyptus
Espirito Santo’s new senator is considered one of the most important representatives in the lobby group for silviculture, a group in parliament that lobbies for increased planting of trees in Brazil. Casagrande himself has an education as a forest engineer.
Aracruz has also sponsored several candidates in the senate election; Renato Casagrande’s main opponent, Max Mauro from the PDT party, reported that he received altogether 1,165 million reales (422,000 euro) in campaign support. Mauro’s main contributor was Aracruz Celulose.
In the gubernatorial election 4 years ago Aracruz Celulose sponsored the conservative candidate Paulo Hartung, the present governor in Espirito Santo, with more than 500,000 reales (about 181,000 euro). Hartung was re-elected governor of Espirito Santo in October 2006, also this time with massive Aracruz support. According to figures from the official election institute, 9 of 10 elected Congress members from Espirito Santo received financial contributions from Aracruz in the 2006 election.
“Aracruz treats Espirito Santo as if it were its own private property”, Rogério Medeiros, editor of the Internet newspaper Seculodiario, told Norwatch.
Brazil’s largest cellulose producer, and the world’s largest producer of bleached, short-fibered cellulose, dominates not only politicians but also media and commerce in Espirito Santo. Aracruz’s power in the region is enormous.
Seculodiario, based in the state capital Vitoria, is the only newspaper in Espirito Santo that has taken the part of the Indians in the long land conflict. They lose large amounts of advertising income by doing this. Moreover, the paper has 28 cases going against it.
“Aracruz has employed all their power and prestige to destroy us”, claimed Editor Medeiros.
All of the 28 claims concern so-called misinformation in the conflict between the Indians or other landless groups, or reported environmental damage in connection with Aracruz’s activities. So far none of the cases has succeeded.
And Medeiros is not worried: “All we write is true. If Aracruz wants good publicity, they must quite simply behave better.