Solidarity and popular resistance

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Solidarity and popular resistance

By HORÁCIO ANTUNES DE SANT'ANA JUNIOR*

The struggle of the Quilombo Campo Grande (Minas Gerais) and Cajueiro (Maranhão) camps against expropriations and violence

On the last 14th and 15th of August, the Quilombo Campo Grande Camp, linked to the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Minas Gerais, experienced the terror resulting from the cowardice of a repossession in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, from of an expropriation decision issued by the Judiciary and a truculent action by the Military Police commanded by Governor Romeu Zema. A school was destroyed, a shed for productive activities was taken over and 14 families were evicted, had their houses knocked down and crops burnt. After more than 450 hours of intense combat by the Military Police, including low-flying helicopters to intimidate and throw dust over people, the people of the Camp managed to resist, counting on the SOLIDARITY and support of settlements and camps across the country, movements social media, artists, lawyers, parliamentarians, journalists and anonymous people committed to publicizing what was happening in Brazil and in the world. After all the aggressions and resistance, the MST and the encamped are preparing to rebuild the Eduardo Galeano school, rebuild the demolished houses and guarantee plantation areas for the displaced.

As Silvio Netto, from the National Directorate of the MST, said in a video that is circulating on the Internet, “May these days serve as a great learning experience for us, so from now on we need to understand: they will continue to attack indigenous lands, they will continue to burn the Amazon, they will continue to destroy the mining territory, with its policy and its mining model. This death policy will not stop. It is the Brazilian people who have the obligation and the duty to stop... it is necessary to actively resist and this resistance will only be possible with the unity of the Brazilian people, of all the organizations in the countryside and in the city, of which we managed to demonstrate, in practice, the strength it has to face this policy of death”.

The terror now experienced by those camped in Minas Gerais happened a year after the violent eviction and demolition of the houses of 22 families in Cajueiro and the expulsion of women, children and elderly people from the community and their supporters who were protesting at the door of the Palácio dos Leões in São Paulo. Luís do Maranhão.

On August 12, 2019, the Traditional Cashew Community was awakened by the Shock Battalion of the Maranhão Military Police. Without prior notice, without complying with the legal rites provided for situations like this, following the guidelines of employees of the company on behalf of which the Justice granted the expropriation, the families' belongings were being thrown into trucks and their houses demolished. Brutal violence was a hallmark of this morning. Pepper spray was thrown at those who resisted, without respecting the elderly, children and even a pregnant woman. A lady who had recently had a cesarean section was forcibly removed from her home. Some of the evicted people who were not at home, upon arriving, found their housing demolished.

The terror did not end that morning. Still not knowing the possible date and time of the expropriation, as there was no previous official communication to the residents, but hearing rumors that the legal rites would not be fulfilled and the eviction would be done by surprise, at any moment, a group of residents of Cajueiro , on the 11th of August, the eve of the events we report here, went to the Palácio dos Leões, to try to be heard by Governor Flávio Dino. As they didn't get the desired audience, they decided to spend the night at the Palace door and so they did. On the morning of the 12th, they got the news of what was happening in the community and part of the group returned there. Another part remained camped where it had spent the night and insisted on the possibility of dialogue with the Governor. After a whole day of total contempt, without getting any response from the palace, that group of tired, disillusioned, disappointed and suffering people decided to remain camped there, resist and insist on a minimum of recognition and respect.

But the violence was not content with the demolition of houses and attacks on the residents of Cajueiro. When the protesters and, among them, women, elderly people and children, arranged their things to sleep, again the surprise. The Military Police commanded directly and in person by the Secretary of Public Security of the State of Maranhão, as if they were dealing with a dangerous group of terrorists, literally swept away those people from the door of the Palace as if they were garbage. Riot squads banging their shields and making a deafening noise, rubber bullets, pepper spray… all these resources used against unarmed and helpless people who were fighting for the right to their territory. Supporters, upon learning of what was happening, went to lend their support and also suffered all sorts of attacks. A popular black journalist was taken to the Police Station, a lawyer was shot with a rubber bullet, lawyers were confronted, people were pushed and prevented from approaching the residents of Cajueiro, who were delighted and frightened. As the government wishes, the Palace door was “clean”!!! "Clean"???

Once again, humiliation and disrespect were used as an instrument to demobilize a struggle to defend the territory, in the case of Cajueiro, ancestrally occupied and with land ownership recognized by the State Government since 1998, through the creation of a rural settlement and delivery , by the Land Institute of Maranhão (Iterma), granting a condominial title, through a Public Deed registered in the Notary's Office, just over 600 hectares to 103 families and local institutions.

The events of the 12th of August have their origin in the attempt to build a private port whose first steps were taken in 2014, still in the mandate of Governor Roseana Sarney Murad, by a company created for this purpose by the construction company Paulista WTorre and which was called WPR – Management of Ports and Terminals. After many scandals, lawsuits and compromised image, the company changed its name to TUP Porto São Luís. Still in Roseana's government, the project was granted a Preliminary License (LP) by the Environment Secretariat, without the community being duly heard in a public hearing, as provided for in Brazilian environmental legislation. The only public hearing included in the project's environmental licensing process took place at the General Command of the Military Police of Maranhão, in the Calhau neighborhood, in the second half of 2014, as a way of intimidating and preventing effective community participation. Without access to environmental studies, people from other communities, mostly far from Cajueiro, were taken for a hearty snack and to create the impression of legitimacy of the event. However, the residents of Cajueiro, at the same time, held a Popular Assembly in the Union of Residents of Cajueiro, rejecting the port project.

Since April 2014, residents of Cajueiro have been experiencing intimidation, restrictions and divisions in the community promoted by company agents. Rumors and conflicting information were spread throughout the community in order to confuse its residents and create acceptance that displacement was inevitable. A security company, which was later discovered not to have permission from the Federal Police to act, was hired to pressure, monitor and intimidate residents. At the end of the year, on the eve of Christmas, 19 houses were demolished, with the support of the Military Police and without any court order and Arnaldo Melo, who took over the state government in December, signed an expropriation decree that would affect areas of Cajueiro. Since that year, the traditional families of Cajueiro have had no rest.

With the end of the Roseana Government, which failed to elect its candidate for succession, the community began to hope that the port would not be built and that they could return to their way of life based on fishing, shellfish gathering, family farming , fruit gathering, plant extraction and handicrafts. Since the installation of the transition team for the Government of Flávio Dino until the beginning of 2016, there was a situation of permanent dialogue between the government team and residents of the Cajueiro community who resisted the installation of the port. Countless meetings were held with the transition team and, as of 2015, with government secretaries and government agents, they regularly participated in meetings and popular assemblies held in the community. There was also a meeting in early 2016 with the Governor himself, mediated by Deputy Attorney General Débora Duprat. In his first acts, the Governor suspended the Port's Preliminary License for studies and annulled the expropriation decree signed by Arnaldo Melo.

As of 2016, for the construction of the port, WTorre, which had been experiencing serious financial problems, managed to advance negotiations with a view to a partnership with a Chinese construction company known by its name in English: China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). From the news released at the time on its own news portal, it can be seen that the Government of Maranhão was involved in this negotiation process. Meetings with residents became scarce and, without communication to the community, the Previous License that had been granted by the Roseana Government was rehabilitated and, shortly afterwards, the Installation License was granted, without taking into account the numerous environmental, social and environmental problems. and landowners appointed, in some cases, even in court. Since then, government action in the community has been frankly favorable to the installation of the enterprise, contributing to the processes of internal division of residents and contributing to the co-options promoted by the company. Since then, based on these government licenses, negotiations and purchases of land in a state rural settlement, without any mediation from Iterma (requirement of the Public Deed of the Condominium) have been carried out, more houses have been demolished, the deforestation of the area has started.

Throughout this period, attention is drawn to the large number of lawsuits filed by the community or the company. In one of the main processes, the regularity of the land title presented by the company is questioned, which has strong indicators of land grabbing. Attention is also drawn to the company's attempts to curtail the work of public agents, researchers and community supporters; the situation of insecurity for local leaders; the intimidation suffered by women in the community who were harassed by security guards and employees. Anyway, here we have an attempt to install a private port completely riddled with disputes and irregularities.

In 2020, residents of Cajueiro who still resist defending their territory have faced new direct action by the State Government in favor of the company. Two expropriation decrees were signed. One of them, by the Governor himself, for the area intended for the construction of access roads between the existing road and rail systems and the port. The other expropriation decree aimed at seven landowners located in the direct construction area of ​​the port was signed by the Secretary of Industry and Commerce, disrespecting a device in the Constitution of Maranhão which provides that this specific type of decree could only be signed by the Governor himself. Based on this decree and with the participation of the judge in charge of the process, 5 of these families did not resist the pressure and negotiated their land and houses. However, realizing the maneuver that was being carried out, the families of João Germano da Silva (his Joca) and his brother Pedro Sírio da Silva resisted the pressure and did not agree to sell their properties.

Prompted by the Public Prosecutor's Office, after the aforementioned negotiations and fearing a lawsuit of administrative impropriety, the Secretary of Industry and Commerce himself recognized the illegality of the decree he had signed and annulled it. The company appealed to the Court of Justice of Maranhão and, surprisingly, the Judge in charge of the case annulled the annulment of the decree and, continuing the collaboration with the company, the State Government, which should have done so, did not appeal the Court's decision .

This whole situation in Cajueiro brings us back to Silvio Netto's speech quoted at the beginning of the text, when he draws attention to the fact that “they” will continue attacking indigenous peoples, deforesting the Amazon and expanding mining. But we can ask ourselves: who are they? The answer we found is that they are those who promote projects of death that are based on an economic logic based on profit and aimed at serving the interests of large international trade and subject to the dictates of large transnational corporations. They are those who subject national and local interests to economic and political forces outside them. They are those who conceive traditional peoples and communities and their ways of life as obstacles to development to be displaced, removed, extinguished. They are those who operate with the notion of development as economic growth and do not ask themselves: development for what and for whom? They are those who understand that there is only salvation if we accept the sacrifices required by the market god and its laws and guidelines, and they justify themselves using the popular saying: you can't eat an omelette without breaking the egg. However, they don't ask the question: who will eat the omelet and who will have the egg?

To better understand this, we have to go beyond the easy and immediate speech in defense of development and that this would mean job and income generation. The port that is intended to be built is aimed mainly at the export of grains produced in the MATOPIBA region, which is the Federal Government's project for the expansion of agribusiness and the cultivation for export of grains such as corn and soy or eucalyptus in the areas of Cerrado dos states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia. It is also related to the logic of expanding exploration of large-scale mining also aimed at exports. These are economic activities that function as economic enclaves that, in addition to generating very few jobs, most of which are precarious, temporary and poorly paid, also promote the concentration of land and wealth; displacement of peasants, quilombolas, indigenous people; disruption of production chains and local income generation activities; destruction of nature; urban swelling. Finally, it is related to a project to resume the main characteristic of colonial submission that marked most of the history of our country: production of raw materials through intensive exploitation of nature and local labor to meet the interests of economic agents. and external politicians, generating situations of little freedom of decision for local social agents about their destinations and their forms of economic and social organization. The difference from the moment we live in is that, if in the classic colonial period the metropolises were constituted mainly by European countries, today the metropolises are constituted by large transnational corporations that, increasingly, influence and subject local governments.

At Camp Quilombo Campo Grande and Cajueiro, one of the things we have in common is that the local population is not called upon to decide its own destiny. In both situations, local producers who maintain a relationship of belonging and affection towards the land are treated as obstacles to the country's progress and development. Those who effectively put food on Brazilian tables are considered obstacles to the export of commodities that feed the greed of international investors.

In Cajueiro, Seu Joca, at the age of 86, has publicly said that he does not leave the house he built, the land from which he raised thirteen daughters and sons, the house where he saw the health of Dona Diná Amorim da Silva, his beloved wife, wear himself to death with the grief of seeing his life's efforts so threatened. Seu Joca, who saw his brother Pedro Sírio lose his life to Covid-19 in April of that year and who himself resisted the corona virus and recovered his health, says that, if the expropriation process goes ahead, they will have to withdraw him forcibly from inside his house or knock it down with him inside. And this process has, in the midst of a pandemic (as in Minas Gerais), continued and they are trying to do, as the Minister of the Environment would say in a famous government meeting, pass the cattle now to the State Commission for the Prevention of Violence in the Countryside and in the City( COECV). Once again the pressures and threats on people who resist in defense of their territory intensify.

Two lessons can be drawn from the events of the last 14th and 15th of August at the Quilombo Campo Grande Camp. Firstly, for justice to be done and the territorial and traditional community rights of the residents of Cajueiro to be restored and respected, we will need to count, as Silvio Netto said, on the support “of all organizations in the countryside and in the city”. , of all and all who believe that it is in the land and its people that we will find the solutions to the country's problems, of all and all who resist the processes of continuity of colonialist practices that have always stolen our riches and hopes, of all and all who have suffered and continue to suffer threats to their way of life, of all those who have class and race solidarity as a way of life.

The other lesson is the need to be attentive and attentive to the next steps of the Flávio Dino Government and its agents. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, any expropriation action in Cajueiro, repeating the repertoire adopted in 2019 reported above, indicates that, despite the important political role that this Government has played in the resistance to the fascist advance of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, when the decisions of powerful economic agents are imposed, effective practices are equivalent. It does not matter if what is required is American capital, as in the case of the Alcântara Launch Center (which we cannot detail here, but which is a project championed by Bolsonaro that had the support of the Dinista base in the National Congress), or if the capital is Chinese, as in the case of the CCCC. In the fight against Bolsonarism, the recent practices of Romeu Zema in Minas Gerais cannot be repeated in Maranhão, at the risk of becoming like him. In the fight against Bolsonarism, the solidarity of those who are under permanent threat to the most vulnerable must be intensified. In the fight against Bolsonarism, we have to permanently remember D. Pedro Casaldaglia when he said: “When in doubt, stay on the side of the poor”.

* Horacio Antunes de Sant'Ana Júnior He is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at UFMA. Author, among other books, of Socio-environmental territories under construction in the Brazilian Amazon (7 letters).

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