The fight for social equality in Brazil
Julia Esther Castro is the executive coordinator of Christian Aid partner organisation the Process of Dialogue and Networking (PAD), which works on capacity building, networking and advocacy on human rights, especially the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights.
In the eyes of the world, Brazil is a country of promise, economic growth and influence. But for many people, the reality is a stark contrast. With high inequality between the rich and the poor – just three per cent of the population own two-thirds of arable land – those living in rural areas are being left behind by the expansion of countless public and private sector business ventures.
I recently joined other campaigners from ecumenical and civil society organisations to lobby the government in Brasilia – coordinated by Christian Aid partner organisations The Process of Dialogue and Networking (PAD) and The National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC) – over the rights of indigenous and Quilombola peoples, and the violence and discrimination they face for merely standing up for themselves.
We met government representatives to denounce the criminalisation of social movements and human rights defenders, and to call for the Brazilian government to respect the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous people and tribal peoples, including Quilombola, who are descendants of escaped slaves. The Convention states that such communities should not be discriminated against because of their heritage, and should enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms without the hindrance of discrimination. Special measures should also be adapted to safeguard people, institutions, property, labour, cultures and environments of these peoples.
However, this is not always a reality in Brazil. Numerous campaigners have been murdered after speaking out about the rights of rural communities. Indeed, in January, sugar cane cutter Cicero Gueses, the leader of Christian Aid partner organisation the Landless Movement’s (MST), was fatally shot while returning home from a meeting on his bicycle. His crime? Defending the distribution of land and resources in one of the unequal countries in the world.
Rural communities in Brazil are struggling to live a full life, as they continue to face daily disputes over their rights to land. According to Christian Aid report The Scandal of Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean (2012), which outlines the scale of inequality in the country, even though there has been progress, with MST resettling more than one million poor people since 1984, and the Quilombola gaining collective land titles for 185 communities, there is no doubt that the ‘agrarian aristocracy’ is still firmly in place in Brazil.
It is only since the creation of Brazil’s constitution in 1988 that the Quilombola have had the right legally to own their land, and today, only around six per cent of communities have such titles. Those who do own their land are often saddled with huge tax bills under the 1996 land tax for not cultivating their land, often sums of money poor rural communities have no way of paying.
Attacks on indigenous communities are currently one of the most serious issues of human security in Brazil in the face of the economic ventures of multinational corporations and local projects in ancestral indigenous lands. Currently, MAB – an organisation supporting the rights of indigenous and Quilombola communities affected by dams – are fighting against the construction of dams on the river Tapajos.
While in Brasilia, we also handed over a joint statement issued by the World Council of Church (WCC) on peace and human security in Latin America, condemning all attacks on indigenous people and communities, as well as violence, the increasing number of extra-judicial killings, and the discrimination and social exclusion of women, youths and migrants in the region.
Hopefully, in the future rural communities will be consulted by big corporations when they want to use their land for economic venture, and that peaceful life can become a reality for indigenous and Quilombola people in rural areas of Brazil.
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