On the evening and early morning of 27 th and 28th February, women of the Landless Rural Workers Movement from all over the Extreme South of Bahia gathered in the area that would become the Camp Sister Dorothy Stang. Many brought their children and looked like they were going to the best party in the world. On 28 th March, round about 4am, before the sun rose on the horizon, hundreds of useless eucalyptus trees were falling on an area planted by Veracel Cellulose, the largest land owner in the state of Bahia. And that’s how they resisted for the next 10 days.
Every morning, conscious that a development model based on highly unequal land distribution and agribusiness cannot be tolerated because it is responsible for the destruction of biodiversity, the women cut down eucalyptus and plant food crops. There are around 1,500 women of all ages, beliefs and colors. Kitchens, huts, food crops, school and health centre all built and planted together. A lesson of love and citizenship!
Under black plastic sheeting and a blistering sun, motivated by the chance of peace and equal rights, they advance on one of the greatest icons of human conceit. A monotonous, lifeless landscape gives way to huts, children’s voices, games and joy. Street Sellers also begin to arrive that, excluded from the “job market”, take the opportunity to earn their sustenance. The women begin to transform the desert in a creative and different community.
Many believe this green desert to be uncontestable. But landless women workers, excluded from society, tired of their precarious living conditions, no longer accept the repression of neo-colonialism. Stora Enso, Fíbria, Suzano, Arcelor Mital, BNDES or whatever other monster that comes near will be confronted and transformed through hard work and sweat. Many people came from near and far to widen the ranks of the struggle and messages of support and comfort have been received from far and wide.
On 4th March, the main road (BR 101) was blocked by the women who solicited a meeting with the Agricultural Development Minister exactly at the time that the President Dilma Rousseff was visiting Bahia in the town of Irecê. The women demanded the settlement of families camped on the roadsides in the Extreme South of Bahia. There are around 2,000 families living under plastic sheeting in a region where 700,000 hectares of eucalyptus are planted. For two hours drivers and passengers waited and the women finally unblocked the road thanking them for their patience and advising them of the objectives of the struggle.
On 8th March, the women began the day with a lively sing song of traditional music: “Oh woman lace maker, lace maker, come away from the oven and free yourself”. Women from the Struggle for Land Movement (MLT) arrived from another camp to help and participate in activities. They brought milk, manioc flour, beans and vegetables to complement a special lunch to celebrate the International Women's Day. This food was produced in the MLT camp, Baixa Verde located on government land on which Veracel planted eucalyptus. This areas consists of 1,333 hectares that now sustain 85 families. If these women and their allies have anything to do with it, the days of subordination, repression and discrimination are numbered.
Samba and other traditional music, poetry and theatre (“mística”) provided the dessert and festivities continued throughout the afternoon. Politicians, union leaders and comrades from all segments of society came to see for themselves the town of huts covered with plastic sheeting built by the women. Two hundred and eighty school children delighted the public with songs, art, místicas and games. The speaker begins her talk saying: “while there are so many people without land and so much land without people the struggle continues. Our country cannot be hostage to companies like Stora Enso and Fíbria, that poison the soil and people. We don’t want to inherit the ruins that this project will produce. The climate has already been transformed and unimaginable changes are sure to come. We can’t just stand back and watch. We have to build another reality’.
The women also reminded the listeners that the companies that plant eucalyptus also posses cellulose factories that contribute to global warming. They cut down forest to plant eucalyptus, in our case the Atlantic Forest. They use petroleum based agrotoxics that are greatly responsible for processes of global warming and use a lot of energy in the paper production process that also causes carbon emissions. And they still want us to believe that these same companies can solve the problem. They even seek credits from the so called “carbon market” arguing that eucalyptus plantations absorb carbon. But what happens when the eucalyptus is harvested after seven years? This is just another strategy to generate more profit and clean up their image, and mask the real threats.
This is why these women continue in their struggle for their rights to land and territory! For their right to life! Against all forms of racism, oppression and exploitation!
By Ivonete Gonçalves, CEPEDES (Centre for Studies and Research for the Development of the Extreme South of Bahia), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org