An ocean of challenges
“They say we are now overcoming poverty, but in fact today we’ve got less support and many more problems. The situation is worse because the large projects are destroying everything. The government is trampling on nature and people, eliminating the mangroves that are a source of life. There is also the Industrial Area, the Aratu Port, the Landulpho Alves oil refinery, oil-drilling platforms, real estate speculation…
“In 2013, there was an explosion when the Golden Miller boat was being loaded with propane gas at the Aratu Port. The toxic fumes reached our communities, affecting our lives and some people fell sick. Oil leaks happen quite often and damage the mangroves. Violence against the communities is very strong. We get a lot of pressure to leave our land; they want to destroy the mangroves even more now with shrimp farming and the projects in the Aratu Port. Here we have already had people murdered in ambushes; others were shot and became handicapped; water sources have been poisoned; and women have drowned trying to go out deeper in an effort to make a living…”
Nega, as Mariselia Carlos Lopes is known, heads the Ilha de Maré Fishers Association. She is a fisherwoman in the Bananeiras community, in Ilha de Maré (Tide Island); and she speaks with indignation about the situation of the communities living on this island of the Baía de Todos os Santos, in the municipality of Salvador, Bahia state.
Unfortunately, the reality described by Nega spreads along all northeastern coasts, from Maranhão to southern Bahia, affecting thousands of traditional communities that have always lived in those areas. These people are accustomed to get their food, shelter, and medicine from nature. They also produce their culture, festivities and artistic products locally.
Sharing traditions and challenges
We have descendants of Indigenous peoples (who still carry in their culture and bodies traces of their ancestors), organized Indigenous villages, Quilombos, and fishers’ communities. For centuries they have occupied this strip of land between the sea and mountain; and they all share not only a very similar way of life, but also the negative impacts of the country’s development model.
In Caravelas, in the Bahia state deep south, we also find this mixture of peoples and cultures. However, there we see a struggle to value their cultural and natural heritage, for the recovery and protection of the environment (the Abrolhos National Park is located in this area), for the affirmation of their identities, and for rights to ensure a decent life for people who have been abandoned by public authorities for a long time.
Transforming through education and art
Jorge Galdino Santana is one of the activists of the Arte Manha Cultural Movement in Caravelas. Here is how he explains the emergence of this movement:
“Other activists created the movement to struggle through art and education, before I joined it. People who knew something got together and began to teach classes, expanding the movement for awareness raising, reflection, and organization of our communities. The group became consolidated and more focused. In 1992, the Arte Manha Cultural Movement was formally legalized to broaden its actions. Socioenvironmental issues are intrinsic to this movement and are present in everything it does. The Movement uses audiovisual instruments, as well as artistic expressions, such as theater, exhibits, and publications, to inform, educate, and reflect on the problems of the coastal region, and the struggle to create the Caçurubá Extractivist Reserve. In addition, it helps to strengthen the identity of Afro-Indigenous populations in the region, through valuing their knowledge and art. This in turn enhances their self-esteem.”
The CASA Fund has supported communities in Ilha de Maré and Caravelas, as well as dozens of other groups and associations along the northeastern coastal areas. It coordinates strategy with partners such as the Bahia Environmental Group (GAMBÁ), headed by Renato Cunha, in order to strengthen the traditional way of life of coastal populations who care for and respect the coastal marine ecosystem.
Support that builds capacity, creates solutions and gives voice
This support enabled the organization of educational workshops, meetings, and assemblies, the creation and strengthening of associations and groups, income generation projects, communication projects, production of audiovisual materials, and the dissemination of issues to a wider audience.
“Some years ago,” Nega explains, “if you talked to me, I’d say nothing…I learned in the struggle. Today we speak for ourselves. We are the ones who know what we have to go through here. To get to where I am now, years of education were needed. In all social movements, the greatest difficulty is political education, capacity building for the resistance, the struggle for rights, and institutional consolidation.
“Here lies the great importance of supporting small projects; their results are magnificent. I can give my testimony of the value of the CASA Fund support because I personally received this benefit. Today, like myself, here the women are prepared, the young people are prepared. Some time ago, institutions would arrive here to carry out environmental compensation studies. They were paid by the companies that wanted to develop their projects. They knew nothing about our reality, and could not prepare any plan. We have always lived here and have to rely on this place to continue living. We know our own needs. Today, with our empowerment, we don’t depend on anyone else to speak for us; we are building our present and our future.”
Networking and growth starting with little
CASA Fund support brought about significant change in terms of the growth and achievements of the Arte Manha Movement:
“The CASA Fund support came at the right time for our consolidation. The work here is all voluntary, but we need the infrastructure and funds to cover maintenance costs. Having our computers, equipment and bills paid for gives us stability. This enables us to take on more projects and activities, thus generating more work and income for our communities. And, we manage to send project proposals to other partners. Today we are a Point of Culture. Several of our documentaries received awards, and we reach a large audience. We strive to strengthen our territoriality in order to promote a good life for rural people, appreciating our traditional income-generating activities. We network with other groups and we look for other ways to reach our objectives, such as pedagogical and cultural tourism.”
GAMBÁ – partner and advisor since the beginning
In Brazil’s northeastern region, our main partner has been the Bahia Environmental Group (GAMBÁ), represented by Renato Cunha, CASA Fund’s Advisory Board member and founding partner. Working in this area since the early 1980s, Renato deeply understands its problems, needs, and struggles.
“The first struggles led by GAMBÁ were meant to draw Bahia society’s attention to the treasures of its natural heritage, focusing on the exhaustion of natural resources such as water, the Atlantic Forest, and associated ecosystems such as dunes, lagoons, and mangroves. These struggles also included the serious problems caused by industrial pollution, lack of basic sanitation systems, use of agrochemicals, pollution of beaches, rivers and lagoons, and the consequences of uranium mining.”
In addition to awakening society to so many environmental issues, through educational actions and mobilizations, GAMBÁ worked hard with public authorities to create legislative, executive, and judicial instruments to ensure an economic model based on sustainable development and environmental protection for present and future generations.
According to Renato, “strengthening small institutions of the Brazilian environmental movement was the greatest motivation we had, together with other environmentalists, to create the Socioenvironmental Fund (CASA). The existence of active citizens concerned with environmental injustices in Brazil and in the other South American countries needs indispensable support and solidarity to develop actions and unite people to fight against the prevailing predatory model; and to search for sustainable solutions at the level of each territory, maximizing networks and connections. Actually, these initiatives need to gain greater scope and be much more visible to society. The CASA Fund has played this important role and thus encourages us to continue this work.”
In the northeastern region, the CASA Fund also supported projects focused on the struggle against the São Francisco River transposition, and uranium mining in the city of Caitité (where the world’s largest reserves of this mineral are located). As well, we backed initiatives to protect and recover the Atlantic Forest by supporting local communities. We supported more than 168 projects over a ten year period.
|Text by: Angela Pappiani – Journalist, cultural producer at Ikore and CASA’s advisor since its foundation.
English translation by Jones de Freitas.