Public Hearing about Rio dos Macacos ends in impasse between the Navy and the quilombola community

The conflicted relationship between the remaining residents of the Rio dos Macacos Quilombo (Simões Filho, Greater Salvador) and the Brazilian Navy was the focus of a public hearing held on Wednesday 28 February at the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Salvador, Bahia.

At the hearing, the Commander of the Aratu Naval Base reiterated their proposal that a gate be installed in the wall that will divide the quilombola area from the Naval area, restricting the community’s access to the river.  One of the alternatives put forward by the Naval representative was that the fishermen and women from the Rio dos Macacos community should register to have access to the waters.  “From the time that we have a road and free access for all, a third party may have access to the dam and commit all kinds of crimes.  We are here to reach common ground for everyone and not merely for a relaxation on the part of the Navy – the Navy yielding and the community not giving way in any aspect”, said the Commander.

The community disagrees with the alternative presented. “We cannot allow this gate, to once again have women raped [which has already happened up there] and different types of violence, which have taken place, because we are going to get water.  We cannot accept that wall, which will completely destroy our community, our lives.  I wouldn’t mind being dead, but I will not carry the coffin handle of one of my daughters, nor of any of my people within the community,” stated Rose Meire Silva, one of the Rio dos Macacos leaders.

Rose suggests that the community is not exactly against the wall, but rejects the way in which it will be made. “We can accept this gate, if it’s on the other side.  We do not want control of the dam, we want shared use of the water.  What you said was right, it was the Navy that constructed the dam, but the Navy made the dam, making our parents work as slaves in order to carry those stones, saying that it would give water to the community and to the Suburbio district of Salvador and there is a document proving this”, she declared.

The requirement for a professional fishing certificate creates problems because of the difficulty in acquiring the document and in other ways.  This is because residents of the community also use fishing as a form of subsistence, with no commercial intent.  “Water and life, the waters have to be respected, the people need to be respected too and nobody needs credentials when they make their reference to the waters,” added Olinda Oliveira (one of the local leaders), using one of the expressions of faith that they make about the waters.

Júlio César de Sá da Rocha (Federal University of Bahia) is categorical about the community’s access to water.  “There is historic institutional racism in this case”. He adds, “there are no private waters.  If there is a dam in a territory, it has to serve multiple uses,” referring to law 9433/97, which is the Law of the Waters.  “There are no Naval waters, the waters are goods of a diffuse nature, they are available to serve multiple uses, under penalty of the Navy violating the legal right of the National Policy of Water Resources.”

The public hearing was the result of a claim by the community and organizations that support the struggle of the Rio dos Macacos Quilombo which demands the conclusion of the entitlement process, as well as the resolution of issues that involve the guarantee of infrastructure and access to public policies in respect of the liberty of ingress and egress, access to water sources and the shared use of the Rio dos Macacos, which is barred by the Brazilian Navy, as well as other topics that directly involve the realization of fundamental rights.

The conflict began with the invasion of the quilombola territory by the Navy at the end of the 1950s and has been marked by a history of aggression, threats, the practice of torture, the destruction of the community’s economic potential, the violation of social rights and the expulsion of a number of families who had lived on the land for generations.  It has dragged on until now, when, even with acknowledgement of the community’s right to the territory by the Public Authorities, obstacles have been created to prevent the conclusion of the process, which is the definitive land entitlement of the traditional territory.

Present at the hearing were representatives of the Rio dos Macacos Quilombo, of the Aratu Naval Base Command, the Federal Public Defender’s Office, the Federal Public Defender’s Ombudsman, the Palmares Cultural Foundation, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária: INCRA), the Department for the Promotion of Equality of the State of Bahia (Secretaria de Promoção da Igualdade do Estado da Bahia: SEPROMI), the Federal University of Bahia, the Association of Lawyers for Rural Workers in the State of Bahia (Associação de Advogados de Trabalhadores Rurais no Estado da Bahia: AART), CESE, and other public and civil society organizations.






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