Peasant murdered by employees of FSC certfied plantation company, Brazil

FSC-Watch has received the following communication* from Rede Alerta Contra o Deserto Verde (Action Network Against Green Deserts), Brazil, concerning the shooting dead of a local peasant by the armed guards of Vallourec Mannesman, a eucalyptus plantation company in Minas Gerais state, Brazil, certified for the FSC by SGS.

Below the communication from Green Deserts is an article from Red Pepper magazine from 2006 which describes some of the context of this new FSC-certified atrocity.

A detailed evaluation of this certificate was undertaken by World Rainforest Movement as long ago as 2002; this was a tragedy waiting to happen.

February 27, 2007 RURAL WORKER FROM CANABRAVA COMMUNITY – GUARACIAMA MUNICIPALITY / BOCAIÚVA REGION – NORTH OF MINAS GERAIS – MURDERED BY ARMED GUARD OF VM – Vallourec Mannesmann – IN A COWARDLY MANNER

Antonio Joaquim dos Santos, a 32-year-old agricultural worker and extractivist, married with four children, has been murdered in a cowardly manner by an armed guard of Vallourec Mannesmann (VM), a company that is planting thousands of hectares of eucalyptus plantations in the north of Minas Gerais. This murder is an eruption of the violent process of expropriation of the traditional populations of the north of Minas that is occurring due to the expansion of eucalyptus monoculture in the region. According to information from the community, the murder took place on 26 February 2007 at 21.00 hours when Joaquim, along with his 16-year-old daughter, Eudisleia dos Santos, was returning home from collecting firewood for his own domestic use. Seizing Antonio Joaquim, the two armed guards hired by VM, known as C and J de Ca$mina, tied him up, hit him and fired two shots into his mouth in front of his daughter.

This act took place on one of the eucalyptus plantations certified by the Forest Stewardship Council which, theoretically, is a guarantee of ecological management and social responsibility. The Rede Alerta contra o Deserto Verde, a network striving to bring the indiscriminate expansion of eucalyptus monocropping in Brazil to a halt, has been denouncing VM for the environmental, social and economic impact of its plantations for years. Last year, the Canabrava community submitted an international complaint relating to their suffering and lack of alternatives, including the destruction of the Cerrados caused by the company, which has left the community without access to firewood and native fruits, in addition to causing the Canabrava River to dry up. VM’s answer was to increase the pressure on the community, who have been living in terror ever since, threatened by militia that even bring pressure to bear when the children, returning home from school, collect twigs and kindling and put it in their saddle bags.

According to residents of the community, Antonio Joaquim was stopped by the VM guards on his brother’s property, where he was in the habit of collecting firewood. They stopped Antonio and his daughter and, dragging them into VM’s area, assaulted them and threatened to kill Eudisleia. Some inhabitants who witnessed the event asked them to let them go. Ignoring this request, they held them prisoner until they had tied him to a tree and fired two shots into his mouth in front of his daughter.

This is not the first time that members of Canabrava community have been threatened by VM’s armed militia. There are a variety of different accounts and complaints of seizure of carts, and of the workers’ farm tools, of verbal and physical assaults on inhabitants. A climate of terror reigns in the community, in which the residents are deprived of the right to come and go as they please due to the constant threats. The Rede Alerta contra o Deserto Verde alerted the agrarian and human rights authorities for an immediate and energetic intervention against VM’s excesses, namely: the Coordinating Body for Human Rights, the Environment and Land Conflicts of the Minas Gerais Public Prosecutor’s Office, through Dr. Afonso Henriques de Miranda Teixeira, the president of the Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission, parliamentary member Durval Ângelo, the National Agrarian Supervisory Body through Judge Gercino José da Silva Filho, the State Public Prosecutor of Bacia de São Francisco, Dr. Paulo César, and ITER through Dr. Luiz Chaves. Complaints are going to be made to FSC Brazil and FSC International for an immediate termination of the Green Label that was awarded to VM despite knowledge of the environmental impacts and inhuman conditions this company is imposing on the community.

  • This is a translation into English from the original in Portuguese that has not been checked or authorised by the authors.

The Green Desert by Heidi Bachram in the Red Pepper

As the struggle for land and water resources in Brazil intensifies, Heidi Bachram discovers that the new carbon market is an added burden for vulnerable communities.

The dust whipped up by the trucks lies like a red fog over the road ahead, meaning we’re driving blind most of the time. Occasionally one of the trucks, transporting wood charcoal, veers dangerously close and its overburdened load leans ominously towards us. We’re driving along a track in the middle of the Brazilian cerrado (savanna) attempting to get to a scattered farming community, Cana Brava, before nightfall. The subsistence farmers ahead are surrounded on all sides by eucalyptus plantations that provide the raw materials for the charcoal in the trucks. There is a chance we might be stopped by the armed guards that ‘protect’ the plantations. Between the encroaching twilight, the unpredictable trucks, the guards and the dust, nerves are beginning to fray.

Finally we arrive in absolute darkness that can only be found in rural areas, far away from the orange glow of the city. The house we reach belongs to 48 year old Maria Camargo Soares whose grandmother worked the land here. Now she continues the family tradition of subsistence farming. She’s uncertain that her children can or will carry the traditions into the next generation. Cana Brava dates from over a hundred years ago which is a long time in the remembering of a young colonial nation like Brazil. The community is 22 km from the nearest town along the aforementioned dirt road. There are over a thousand people living in the area, two thirds of the original inhabitants have now moved to the city as the encroaching plantations gobble up water and land around them. ?They left because when the company came in 1975 the land become so little that people couldn?t support themselves. When my grandparents had their farm here there was enough land for everyone to live comfortable. Now the water has dried up and this year we didn’t harvest anything at all because of the drought and the drain on the water from the plantation,? Dona Maria explains.

Juarez Teixeira, a local trade union worker adds: ?These people used to have freedom to use these lands, to come and go, to graze their cattle, to extract wood, to collect fruit and herbs. Today they are confined to this small area, one side it?s rock and on the other the armed guard of the company.? The company in question is Vallourec & Mannesmann (V&M), a French-German steel company that uses the eucalyptus charcoal to fuel steel production. They have over 40,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations in this region alone. In total there are 5 million hectares of eucalyptus in Brazil in a country where land issues are top of the political and social agenda. The history of eucalyptus is closely tied to that of the the oppression of the military dictatorship where people were forcibly removed from their lands to make way for the ‘green revolution’.

V&M did not evict the people from the lands in Cana Brava yet their more subtle tactics are as effective. Dona Maria describes how the company flout agreements by not terracing the land within the plantation resulting in rains flooding through to her farm and causing silting. Her first home was destroyed when a V&M truck crashed into it after careering off the nearby road. Juarez Teixeira catalogues many other problems caused by the company such as health and safety violations where workers have been put in danger or poorly compensated for death and injury, outsourcing to small contractors who illegally log native forests so the company can not be held accountable and breaking environmental laws by planting near to water sources: ?The threat to workers and people here is great. Shots have been fired on people by the armed guards. They feel prisoners within their own lands.?

Perversely a climate change agreement now adds to the burden local people face in the form of the new carbon market. In 2003 V&M announced a landmark deal with the Dutch government and Toyota to provide carbon credits from supposedly planning to use wood charcoal instead of coal to fire their steelworks. At the time there were objections locally and internationally that support for the company meant new financial incentives to plant more eucalyptus, thereby increasing the pressure on the community’s water and land resources. Juarez Teixeira: ?Carbon credits are just another way for V&M to make money and continue as before.? Intervention here is begged for by the local people, yet it seems the manner in which the international community has become involved seems only to increase pressure on an already fragile existence. Bets have been hedged on the bad guy. Ironically the subsistence farmers of Cana Brava manage the land in an infinitely more climate-friendly way than companies like V&M. Unfortunately they don’t qualify for carbon credits.

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