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Wetlander communities gather in defence of the Cerrado

 

3rd Meeting of Traditional Wetlander Communities receives support from CESE’s Small Projects Programme and commemorates National Cerrado Day

 

A space to strengthen wetlanders and traditional communities in Norte de Minas. This was the intention of the 3rd Meeting and Exchange of the Traditional Wetlander Communities, run by the Rosalino Gomes Coalition of Traditional Peoples and Communities (Articulação Rosalino Gomes de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais), on 9, 10 and 11 September in the Traditional Japão Wetlander Community in the municipality of Bonita de Minas.  Approximately 300 people participated in the event, which brought together the peoples who inhabit the wetlands and who have risen up to guard the waters in the Cerrado’s arid environment.  The initiative was supported by CESE through its Small Projects Programme and commemorated National Cerrado Day.

Inspired by the theme “Living Wetlands and the Cerrado on its Feet”, the main aim of the meeting was to strengthen the identity of the peoples who live in the wetlands and provide an arena for meetings, the socialization of their struggles and strategies to confront the “development” model imposed on traditional wetland territories.  There was also an area for the sale of products from each community, displaying close up the riches of each location, the fruits and flavours of the Cerrado, as well as an exchange of native seeds.

The initiative’s aims included coordinating proposals that dialogue with these populations’ way of life; thinking about how to mobilise support for public policies to attain their rights; and debating proposals for the land regulation of these territories, within the legal framework for traditional peoples and communities. For this reason, there was a wide-ranging discussion about community mobilization aimed at preventing the impacts that the Brasil Agro company could have on the region – which include the deforestation of large green areas to plant soy and for pasture. Collective political action led to a legal impediment, blocking the planned installation.

Reorganization – The aim of this meeting was to reorganize the struggle of the wetlander movement and of the Rosalino Gomes Coalition, based on existing demands and conflicts in the Norte de Minas region. The lengthy pandemic paralysed meetings and exchange.  It is now important to strengthen wetlander communities and other traditional peoples to confront large-scale enterprises and the damage they cause, particularly through illegal deforestation to produce charcoal.

In addition to these discussions, training and workshop arenas, a booklet was prepared at the event containing topics relevant to the region, for example the issue of the waters, the importance of this environment for the wetlanders and what it means to be a wetlander.  “We have also included in the booklet something about the rights of traditional peoples and communities, the arenas for claiming rights and for the struggle, and the laws that support traditional peoples,” explained Mírian Nogueira Souza, Coordinator for Traditional Peoples and Communities, and Agroecology at the Norte de Minas Alternative Agriculture Centre (Centro de Agricultura Alternativa do Norte de Minas: CAA/NM).

According to Jaime Alves Santos, family farmer and President of the Central Wetlander Association (Associação Central Veredeira: ACEVER), “the meeting was committed to linking up peoples to generate the necessary documentation to halt the advance of neoliberal projects that have socio-environmental impacts in Norte de Minas and the Cerrado.”  According to Jaime, these impacts range from deforestation, with the loss of native trees, to the contamination of the wetlands, its springs and water tables.  “The companies cause all this damage, then they leave the territory and we are left with the losses.” For Jaime, one of the highlights of the event was dialogue with the Minas Gerais Department of Public Prosecutions (Ministério Público), which included mechanisms to protect the communities.

One of the activities deliberated at the event was the drafting of a letter to the Minas Gerais Department of Public Prosecutions, pressing for regularization – which has been promised for five years – of the wetland territories, within the district of São Joaquim in the municipality of Januária.  Regularization would prevent the occurrence of extreme violence and provide the necessary protections.  Also debated at the event was the situation regarding the repossession of seven communities in the region, compromised by the plan to form the Serra das Araras Park, a proposal rejected by the communities, who want to preserve their ways of life.

“The Wetlanders Meeting took place in the Japão quilombola and wetlander community, a very isolated community in the municipality of Bonito de Minas.  This community is closest to the Brasil Agro’s area of interest and would suffer its direct impact.  “We held the meeting there in order to strengthen the community and provide every support, so that the community knows it is not alone in this confrontation,” Mírian Nogueira explained.  It is important to strengthen these communities because large capital projects go into the villages promising to generate employment and income, development, but this is not what happens in practice.  Very often, what remains as a legacy is environmental destruction, particularly of the water and of traditional peoples’ ways of life.

Wetlander Identity – But what is a wetlander? This question echoed throughout the days of the meeting, in an attempt to inspire reflections about the identity of these people within the threatened environment.  “Being a wetlander is being a guardian of biodiversity, of our common good, of the waters of the Cerrado, of the richness of our Mother Earth.  She gives us everything and she shouldn’t be commercialized.  Being a wetlander is being a caretaker of nature,” Jaime Santos proudly asserted.  The wetlands are threatened and, since the 1970s, have been strongly affected by the installation of large companies.  Over the decades, the groups have continued to resist and have had success with the Department of Public Prosecutions, halting the installation of this project, whose effects would have been irreversible for traditional communities and the environment.

For the President of ACEVER, the partnership with CESE provides the conditions required for local movements to take the fight forward.  “Counting on the support of CESE and other partners enables us to fight for the fauna, the flora, the waters, so that our Cerrado can stand on its feet.  Those who support us help this preservation and nature thanks you,” he declared.  The first edition of the meeting took place in 2017, promoting exchange between the different groupings and the construction of activities to confront common challenges, particularly territorial and socio-environmental conflicts.

Coalition – The Rosalino Gomes Coalition of Traditional Peoples and Communities focuses on the urgent need to construct alliances between peoples, organizations, leaders, social movements and all those interested in good living.  The coalition is composed of eight traditional peoples from Norte de Minas (Xakriabá and Tuxás indigenous people, quilombolas, flower pickers, catingueiros, geraizeiros, wetlanders, vazanteiros and vacarianos) and is aimed at unifying the struggles of the peoples in the region.  The organization emerged in 2010 and today constitutes a space for the organization and construction of alliances involved in the traditional diversity of the region of Norte de Minas and Alto Vale do Jequitinhonha.

In August 2019, the wetlander communities set up ACEVER to assert their rights as Traditional Peoples.  The wetlanders’ struggles have focused attention on the role of traditional peoples and communities in the rational use and conservation of natural resources, given that, throughout their history, the wetlander communities have developed their own way of using and managing the forests, plateaus, uplands and marshes that are fundamental for the conservation of the wetlands and their waters.