Tragedy on the North Shore

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By PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO*

Land dispossession and apartheid

Faced with the tragedy on the beaches of the North Coast, especially on Sahy beach, in São Sebastião, throughout the state of São Paulo, there is an outbreak of solidarity with the powerless, which does not exist in normal times. What is humanely necessary and justified. The main victims are the traditional, poor and black communities that live in the areas of greatest risk, such as on the slopes of the hills and slums along the roadsides.

We are aware, after all, of the seemingly inexorable wake of climate change and the fragility of environmental protection in Brazil. We are tired of knowing, as Carlos Nobre reminded us in a memorable interview with the newspaper Economic value, on February 23, 2023, that 10 million Brazilians live in areas of landslides and floods, with two million in areas of extremely high risk. And that 40 risk areas have already been mapped in 825 municipalities, requiring urgent State intervention in these areas.

We are also aware of climate justice efforts to ensure justice for populations vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that are often overlooked: the poor, women, children, blacks, indigenous peoples, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other marginalized minorities around the world. the world and especially here in Brazil.

Taking these elements into account, the question persists why, not only on the North Coast of São Paulo, but also in the South and Southeast regions and on the Northeast coast of Brazil, traditional communities, caiçaras, fishermen and their descendants choose to live in risk areas, thus being the main victims of this tragedy.

In addition to promoting environmental protection and climate justice policies, we have to take into account that in the last thirty years, a pathetic fact since it coincided with the democratic constitutional regime of 1988, land spoliation on the Brazilian coast has deepened. Promoted by large predatory contingents of the white elite – “grumpy, mediocre, covetous”, as Darcy Ribeiro said – which expropriated the small properties of traditional, caiçara and fishermen communities at a bargain price.

In the same direction was the wave of illegal appropriation of beaches, protected areas, not only for individual secondary residences, but also for hotels, resorts, condominiums and clubs, validated by corrupt decisions of city councils and mayors, often supported by the Justice , endangering the lives of those populations and the environment.

Brazilians who previously had some subsistence condition, for example, with fishing and small farming, were forced to see their wives, daughters and sons condemned to domestic employment with vile wages in sumptuous residences built on illegal land and to work in companies linked to tourism. But, in addition to the macro view of this odious situation, it is urgent that we narrow the focus and see how these workers and their families are treated.

In all condominiums, a apartheid in which white landowners hire private security companies to monitor and control the daily lives of these workers, the vast majority of whom are black. As I was able to verify in a condominium in Angra dos Reis, at the guardhouse workers need to present documents at the entrance and have their purses and bags searched on the way out. White owners and guests are not subject to the same requirement. In that same condominium, on a walk along the coast, the boatman, with great pride, showed me the mansions of the nouveau riche, built illegally in protected areas, impunity assured for their environmental crimes.

A condominium on Laranjeiras beach, near Paraty, which occupies 1.130 hectares, 80% of which are in protected areas, lasts 40 years, marked by threats and restrictions on access to residents. As Isabel Menon and Henrique Santana demonstrated in an article published in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, on February 27, 2022, today, the biggest problem among the caiçaras is the restriction of passage. Owners, employees and residents of Vila Oratório, within the condominium, can walk to access the beaches. But those who live further away on the beaches of Sono and Ponta Negra, whose main source of income is tourism, cannot. For caiçaras and tourists, all that's left is to take a van that runs between the condominium's marina and the bus stop, from 8 am to 18 pm. To get to the van, most make the journey via speedboats, which takes 15 to 25 minutes – they must wait for the speedboat inside a pigpen guarded by armed police.

Faced with these abuses, organizations defending the human rights of dispossessed populations need to be supported in struggles for transitional justice, the State ensuring the defense of its interests, increasing housing construction, intervening in risk areas. At the same time, the racist and discriminatory practices that continue to prevail in the apartheid concealed on illegally occupied beaches, condominiums, hotels and resorts throughout the Brazilian coast, must be investigated and repressed by the police, prosecuted and judged by those responsible.

*Paulo Sergio Pinheiro he is a retired professor of political science at USP; former Minister of Human Rights. Author, among other books, of Strategies of illusion: the world revolution and Brazil, 1922-1935 (Company of Letters).

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