National Cerrado Day: indigenous and traditional communities cry out for the Justice that springs from the Earth

On 10 July 2022, national and international states and companies were condemned by the National Campaign in Defence of the Cerrado (Campanha Nacional em Defesa do Cerrado) for the crimes of the Ecocide of the Cerrado and the Genocide of its peoples in a Session in Defence of the Territories of the Cerrado at the Permanent People’s Tribunal (Tribunal Permanente dos Povos: TPP). Two months after this sentence, organizations and communities from the biome continue to fight and in resistance for the right to life in their traditional territories.

Considered Brazil’s ‘water tank’ because it contains the country’s two main aquifers – the Guarani and the Urucuia-Bambuí -, the Cerrado is under threat and has been for some time.  According to the National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais: INPE), more than half its native vegetation has been destroyed and this devastation is ongoing.  The INPE also notes that, so far, more than 30 thousand fires have affected the region in 2022 alone.

According to data from MapBiomas, analysed by the National Campaign in Defence of the Cerrado, “between 2020 and 2021, there has been a 20% increase in deforested areas, particularly in the region known as MATOPIBA, which is composed of the parts of the Cerrado in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia.” The campaign’s member organizations stress that “if nothing is done by upcoming governments, in less than three decades, the new generations will not know the pequi, the buriti, the cagaita, the babassu coconut, the rivers, springs, swamps, trails and all the other riches in this forgotten region.”

Justice that springs from the Earth

“It’s time to obtain the Justice that springs from the Earth.” This was the slogan that the coalition of more than 50 organizations, movements and communities publically presented to the People’s Tribunal of the Cerrado one year ago, on National Cerrado Day 2021.  Twelve months following its inauguration, three themed hearings have been held, as well as a range of workshops, meetings, and activities for training, communication and mobilizing support.

Despite not having a direct connection with the justice system in the country in which they are held, the Permanent People’s Tribunal sessions gain prominence in public opinion and can support social and political transformations in the field of environmental legislation, for example.  This was explained by Deborah Duprat, former Deputy Attorney General of the Republic and one of the Cerrado TPP’s judges.

“The facts were extensively analysed and framed within Brazil’s legal categories. This sentence will probably reach the World Bank, the offices of the European Union, the UN System.  It isn’t something that produces a result over the very short term, but it opens up the possibility of taking a closer look at the Brazilian Cerrado,” she noted.

The Cerrado TPP was built by many hands, through a combination of knowledge, peoples and territories from the region. Fifteen cases (in Portuguese) from eight different states were presented to the jury, bringing together the vast diversity of the Cerrado communities that lead the struggles for lives and territories.

Grazer and pasture communities, Guarani Kaiowá, fishermen and women, Krahôs, babassu coconut breakers, quilombolas and peasant farmers are only some of the representatives of traditional peoples and communities that make up the Cerrado TPP, publicizing their denunciations, crying out for justice, but also sharing their traditional ways of life and ancestral knowledge, and celebrating resistance in their territories.

The Cocalinho Quilombola Community, located in Parnarama, in the east of Maranhão, was one of the members and builders of the TPP, presenting denunciations (in Portuguese) about the rights violations they have suffered for decades in their region, due to harassment from agribusiness enterprises and a pulp and paper company.  “They came here terrorizing everybody, erasing our landmarks, our memories, our histories, our waters.  Destroying everything with large-scale enterprises that bring us death,” explained one of the community representatives during the TPP’s Final Hearing.

Deforestation, criminal fires, religious intolerance, racism, pesticide contamination, conflicts and armed attacks by the State and gunmen from agribusiness ranches.  In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, these and other forms of violence form part of the Guarani and Kaiowá population’s daily lives and constitute one of the most symbolic cases at the TPP.  Since May 2022, at least three indigenous Guarani and Kaiowá people have been brutally murdered, within and outside their territories.

“We are an abandoned people. The Brazilian state kills us through hate, but we will resist,” exclaimed Eryleide Domingues, from the Guarani and Kaiowá people, during her statement to the Cerrado TPP’s Final Hearing. “Brazil is indigenous land.  We are here, we were born here, we have our ancestors, who are our books, our living inheritance. Brazil has always been indigenous land, but we don’t want the entire country, we want enough to live with dignity,” she concluded.


CESE in the Cerrado

Over the last 10 years, the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) has supported more than 500 projects that benefit indigenous peoples, traditional communities and organizations that work on the frontline in the struggle against the Ecocide of the Cerrado and the Genocide of its peoples. CESE has also joined forces with the group of more than 50 organizations, movements and communities that make up the National Campaign in Defence of the Cerrado, has been a member organization and a partner of the Cerrado TPP’s actions and projects since its launch, and is also part of the Agri is Fire Collective.

Olga Matos, CESE’s Projects and Training Advisor, noted that the denunciation of the ecocide of the Cerrado and the genocide of its peoples that was presented to the TPP demonstrated the strength and power of the peoples who inhabit these territories and who help them endure.

“The atrocities promoted by big business in association with the Brazilian state have been exposed in statements from people who face daily threats, losses, pain, scarcity, absence.  For CESE, contributing and participating in this process has been an experience that provided a great deal of learning and an affirmation of our commitment to the people of the Cerrado, through a Human Rights agenda, Good Living and caring for the Common House.”