Forest on the edge of the Acará River. The river and forest are used by traditional communities. Photo: Anderson Barbosa
In the Brazilian Amazon, Indigenous Turiwara were attacked by private security of the Agropalma company which produces African palm oil. The attack took place on Friday, November 10 between the municipalities of Acará and Tailândia, in the state of Pará. The Indigenous person who was killed was identified as Agnaldo. Two others, Jonas and José Luis, were injured.
According to information from local media, the Indigenous people were following an ancient pathway on their motorcycles through the forest on land that the company argues belongs to them. The Indigenous people were fishing and hunting for their food.
In a report published in May of this year by Avispa Midia, we investigated the land conflict involving traditional communities and the Agropalma company who, beyond oil palm, are also involved in the program REDD+Agropalma in the forests. These forests, which for centuries have served the subsistence needs of the communities, and that are being demanded by the Indigenous peoples in Brazilian courts, are today demarcated and beneath company surveillance.
In a second report published by Avispa Midia, we explained that the Brazilian Association of Anthropology has solicited that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office open an investigation into the contract of the sell of carbon credits signed between Agropalma and Biofilia Ambipar Ambiental.
According to the association, part of the 50,519 hectares of Amazon forest—what Agropalma seeks to commercialize in the speculative carbon market—is territory being claimed in court by Indigenous Turiwara and Tembé of the upper Acará river.
After the publication of the report, the press office at Agropalma sent an email to Avispa Midia stating that “there are no Indigenous communities inside our operation area” and that “all of their lands were acquired in good faith from their legitimate owners and possessors.”
In order to go deeper into the issue, Avispa Midia interviewed lone Nakamura, district attorney of the public prosecutor’s office of the State of Pará, an agency of the Brazilian state that won in court the cancellation of the property registry of the company’s two estates, due to the areas acquired by Agropalma “having irregularities,” according to the district attorney.
According to the district attorney, there exists a modus operandi of companies in the Amazon that “buy land cheap, cheap because there are problems, there are irregularities, that in Brazil are called Grilagem,” that is, in the history of the buying and selling of the property, there exists fraud in the land title.
The company “cannot allege that it bought in good faith, and that it doesn’t have any knowledge of problems with the lands because as a company with resources and that knows the Brazilian legislation, it had to have better investigated the properties that they acquired,” sustained the district attorney.
Since the court’s decision, Agropalma’s two estates have reverted to public lands. And it is these lands that the communities, both Quilombo as well as Indigenous peoples, sustain are theirs.
In the interview with Avispa Midia carried out before the recent killing, the district attorney declared that as long as the land issue is not resolved, “instability will continue in the region and it will continue to generate conflicts.”
Below we reproduce part of a longer interview carried out with the district attorney lone Nakamura, who gives context to the land conflict involving Agropalma, offering us a wider perspective of the ongoing conflicts in this part of the Amazon.
How are the legal processes against Agropalma advancing?
There exist multiple legal cases against Agropalma for estates that the company acquired, including at least three civil actions in the public prosecutor's office, which refer to the estates Roda de Fogo, Castanheira, and Porto Alto. In the first two cases, the second instance court in Brazil confirmed the cancellation of the company’s property registry due to irregularities.
The cancellation of the ownership registry implies that these lands are once again public lands. In his sentence, the judge didn’t impede the company from seeking out the state agencies to buy these lands again.
(However, as the lands that are now public are administratively and judicially demanded by Quilombo communities, these collective land processes have priority over the sale of land to a company, as is the case of Agropalma).
In relation to the Porto Alto estate, recently Agropalma won a favorable decision in the second instance court and against our request. Our petition had been accepted by a first instance court, which had cancelled the property registry. The company appealed and obtained a favorable decision.
The public prosecutor’s office did not challenge the decision. First, it utilized a resource in which it asks for the desembargadora (which corresponds to a judge) to clarify inaccuracies in his decision, that is, to better clarify the decision made so that we can decide whether to appeal or not.
Now we are waiting clarification from the court regarding this latest decision in favor of Agropalma.
If the decision is upheld, the case could be brought to the last instance in Brazil, the Supreme Court.
So, the company has maintained possession of the lands while the ownership issue is being resolved. But what about the environmental license for the estates now that they are public lands?
This has been a question for us. We asked to State Secretariat of Environment what happened with the environmental license. They said to us that they gave the company a Rural Environmental License (LAR) because they had information that they were private lands. So, we informed them that there exists a legal ruling related to two estates confirming that they are now public areas. And we questioned them if they were going to revoke this license. We still do not have an answer.
Another argument frequently used by Agropalma is that there aren’t traditional communities on their lands. How does the public prosecutor’s office analyze this argument?
In the areas where they planted African oil palm, initially when they acquired the lands, there was a process of expulsion of the families from these areas. There was a cleansing process in this zone.
The communities have explained this. They left the area but it wasn’t voluntary. If was a process of violence, or of buying the lands, but a very unequal purchase, almost an expulsion. So, they were removed from their lands violently without really having any legal assistance. And today they need the lands that they traditionally occupied.
Today the law is much clearer. It indicates that these areas traditionally occupied are areas that still belong to their territory. The communities use a very strong argument to prove this, which is the existence of cemeteries, of ancient cemeteries, as material evidence that their ancestors occupied these lands before the company had acquired them.
What about the company’s conservation projects?
Agropalma uses an important discourse in the media, of sustainability and environmental protection. Its concerning that their discourse of conservation doesn’t include human beings. As if it only had to protect the forest, as if in the Amazon forest there aren’t any communities. As if the communities have not coexisted with the forest for centuries, sustaining the forest for generations.
The company’s discourse of conservation which excludes the presence of the communities is now based on the capture of resources, of carbon credit. So, there is, today in the market, the possibility of capitalizing, of monetizing off the non-carbon emission of these areas.
What we see in many cases is that these companies are taking advantage of the lands of legal reserves (forests that pertain to companies), to capture resources with carbon projects. However, they are extensive areas that have irregular titles. Many legal processes are showing us these irregularities.
So, first they benefit by buying the lands because they buy lands with problems, lands with irregularities in the titles. And now, besides doing that, they are also benefiting with the approval of monetization projects based on the maintenance of these forests, at the cost of excluding and prohibiting the use of these forests by the communities, who traditionally occupy these territories and that need these areas for their subsistence.
So, when people are prevented from fishing and hunting, these people are being prevented from obtaining their sustenance from nature, a practice that is part of their ancestry, of their culture.
What is happening is very serious in terms of the violation of human rights, because they do not even consider that these people or communities exist. It is deliberate invisibalization on part of the companies, of the existence of the traditional peoples and communities in this region.
It is necessary, first, to recognize these people and their rights exist, and to establish parameters of delimitation of their spaces which allows the coexistence and survival of these peoples and communities in the region.
The lack of definition of these spaces generates a lot of conflict. As long as this is not resolved, instability in the region will continue to generate more conflicts.
A parenthesis around the concept of “territorial delimitation” utilized in Brazil to protect the territories of traditional communities…
A would like to open a parenthesis on this judicial and administrative tool that we have in Brazil, the delimitation of territory is already a violation. Because the delimitation of territory is something imposed by European institutions. This notion of demarcating, of limits, does not pertain to Indigenous and Quilombo communities. They always have understood nature as something that can be shared amongst everyone, as a space of coexistence, and to satisfy the necessities of survival. The limit was necessity, it was subsistence.
The delineation serves the state in limiting rights, but not to truly protect what is the territory, culture, and value of the lands for these communities. The value of lands for a traditional community is its cultural and symbolic value, of identity and life. And the value of land for the state and for the companies is economic.
I have this critical perception of the delineation of lands. However, in our legislation it is what we have to protect the rights of the traditional peoples and communities. So, it is the parameter that we use.
In the specific case of the REDD+Agropalma Program, is the public prosecutor’s office carrying out any type of investigation?
It is on our radar, we are investigating. If there is sufficient evidence, it is possible that the case will move forward.
Have there been processes of consultation with the traditional communities in this region of the Amazon for the implementation of carbon credit projects?
Some companies have sought to do internal consultation processes, coordinated themselves. However, from what we understand about the consultation, considering the parameter of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, it should be the state who coordinates these consultation processes, respecting the internal protocols of each community, in the case they have a protocol of how to do the consultation.
What for me is more problematic is not the consultation process in itself, but the process that takes place before a consultation.
What is happening in practice, with the implementation of this carbon market (which is still not regulated), is a grand dispute between companies for territories in the Amazon. Territories normally inhabited by communities.
There is a similar dispute to the one that occurred 500 years ago in the process of colonization. Whoever arrived first to the territory put up their flag, and from then on, this territory began to be part of a specific project. So, there is a dispute of who arrived first in the territory, who mapped the territory, who offered the first project to the communities. Only after that is there a process of internal consultation. So that, for me, is not free. It is irregular.
Do the communities have technical and legal advice to understand what these projects and the contacts they are signing mean? Who is defining their interests in the processes of negotiation with the companies?
What we see is that the communities do not have the freedom to elect, sufficient time, nor elements to decide if they want to commercialize their forest or not.
With this logic, what is worrying is not only the consultation, but the whole procedure. In my opinion, it is flawed from its origin.
Text updated on November 22, 2023
After the publication of this article, the press office of Agropalma sent the following phrase, referring to the assassination of the Indigenous Turiwara:
“Agropalma is awaiting the investigation of the events on part of the competent authorities. The company is at the disposal of the authorities and will collaborate with the clarification of the facts.”