for reviewing ecotourism issue No. 10:
Coastal Communities fighting Land Grabs
While tourism itself is a major force for the alienation of local communities
from their traditional territories, the real issue is often the expropriation
and privatization of village commons, fisheries, forests and farmlands
that forces residents into survival mode. The two following stories about
the resistance of coastal communities in the Northeast of Brazil - Prainha
do Canto Verde and Tatajuba - against illicit land grabs exemplify the
worldwide ongoing corporate takeover of people’s lands for speculative
and unsustainable development projects. Once the ‘growth coalition’
of land owners, developers, brokers, planners and managers comes in from
outside and works through influential local actors and institutions, communities
face unanticipated and irreversible consequences. Local people, and especially
the poor and marginalized, get exposed to greater political, social, economic
and ecological insecurity, while their own initiatives for self-reliant
and sustainable development are jeopardized.
The Brazilian fishing villages highlighted here are still lucky since
they have developed strong community organizations and networks to fight
for their rights, and they have also been able to rally international
support for their cause. Elsewhere, local people under siege of predatory
market economy forces rarely have a chance to raise their voice in public,
and without any power and assistance, they are losing the battle against
land encroachers in most cases.
Notably, both villages Prainha and Tatajuba have become internationally
known as ‘unspoilt’ tourist destinations. While Prainha was awarded an
international prize in 2000 for its community-based ecotourism project,
the pristine coastline at Tatajuba was recently featured in the Washington
Post as one of the ‘world’s top ten beachsites’. Experience shows, however,
that such ‘successes’ make communities even more vulnerable because the
advent of tourism inevitably triggers a greater contest for places and,
where money is to be made from natural beauty and authentic culture, the
‘growth coalition’ will use all - legal and illegal - means to gain access
and control. The latest assault on Tatajuba by a company that wants to
build a huge ‘ecotourism’ resort indicates that this process is coming
into full speed in the area, and probably none of the traditional fishing
villages there will be safe from tourism-related development aggression
in the long run.
For all those, who want to express their solidarity and support for the
villagers’ land struggle in Prainha and Tatajuba, we have added the respective
contact addresses below.
The campaign coordinating groups:
Third World Network
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (t.i.m.-team), Thailand
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Malaysia
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia
TWENTY YEARS OF LAND STRUGGLE AT PRAINHA DO CANTO VERDE
Conflicts in Brazil between owners of huge tracts of land and the movement
of landless peasants have put a lot of pressure on the Government of Fernando
Henrique Cardoso to press ahead with the much-needed land reform. The
reason for the success of the movement is due much to the determination
of its people and their unity, as well as to the moral and financial support
given by others over the past twenty years.
An illustrative example is the coastal community of Prainha do Canto Verde,
which has become internationally known since it was awarded the TO DO
99 Prize for a ‘socially responsible tourism project’ at the International
Tourism Exchange in Berlin in March 2000.
Prainha do Canto Verde is a village of about 1,100 inhabitants located
approximately 125 kms southeast of Fortaleza, the capital city of the
Brazilian federal state of Ceara. The people living in direct proximity
to the sea earn their living with fishing in coastal waters. In adjacent
villages further inland, people primarily support themselves by subsistance
Fortaleza, a 2.5-million metropolis, is often referred to as a ‘Tropical
Manhattan’, which is something of a euphemism for the outcome of 20 years
of uncontrolled urban growth with mushrooming high-rises, banks, hotels
and shopping centres. Fortaleza is where affluence and modernity is conspicuous,
but the outskirts of the city are fringed with ‘favelas’, or shanty towns.
The surrounding rural areas are still dominated by feudal structures
in terms of both land tenure and the exercise of power on the part of
inidividual mayors, provincial politicians and influential businesspeople.
At Prainha do Canto Verde, the suffering for local residents began in
1979, when the ‘grileiro’, Portuguese for speculator, Antonio Sales Magalhaes
discovered the village and other beaches nearby. Only after six
years, the fishing families found out that the ‘grileiro’ had managed
to register the 749 hectares of Prainha do Canto Verde and that even the
judge had been misled to believe that nobody lived in the village. With
the help of some officials in the Land Registry, Magalhaes had become
the ‘rightful’ owner of the land. Once the property was properly laundered,
it passed on to the real estate company of Henrique Jorge.
According to Rene Schaerer, the co-founder of the local NGO ‘Instituto
Terramar’, the company originally wanted to build holiday homes on the
land, but such a project would have violated a municipal zoning law. Later,
a plan to sell the property for US$1 million to a Portuguese investor
group for the construction of a hotel or resort failed in view of the
burgeoning land conflict.
Already more than ten years ago, the first group of villagers organized
to defend themselves against the unscrupulous speculators and developers.
They were supported by the then Archbishop of Fortaleza, D. Aloisio Lohscheider,
who founded the Center for Human Rights to assist communities with legal
advice. Lawyers from the Center were able to convince the judge of the
State Superior Court to hear the case.
Eventually, 20 years after Antonio Sales Magalhaes ‘bought’ the whole
beach of Prainha do Canto Verde through document falsification and Henrique
Jorge’s real estate company took over, the Superior Court Justices of
the State Ceara recently ruled unanimously in favour of the community
by canceling the registry of real estate as ruled by a lower court judge
However, this may not be the final victory for local residents. If the
company, which is backed by the state government of Ceara, makes use of
its right to appeal the court ruling, it probably means more years of
struggle for the villagers who are already tired of this seemingly endless
battle against the powers-that-be.
Jorge’s real estate company has repeatedly resorted to psycho-terrorism
and tried to divide the community by intimidating some and rewarding others.
Armed gangs acting on the instructions of Jorge threatened villagers to
expel them from their land. Beginning of this year, the company took advantage
of vacation recess of the judicial system and put up a barbed wire fence
between the road and the sand-dunes just to show everybody who is in charge.
While several government agencies rushed to embargo the fence, there was
no police action because of the justice recess. Part of the fence was
taken down at night by opposing forces, but the next day, it was rebuilt
by Henrique Jorge’s men, starting a tug of war that threatened to escalate
and turn violent. On 10 February, more than 500 women, children and fishermen
from Prainha do Canto Verde supported by 25 fishing communities from all
over the state, including a group of 11 representatives of the indigenous
people of ‘Tremembe’, ‘Genipapu’ and ‘Tapeba’, destroyed the fence to
show their indignation about the continuous human rights violations by
real estate companies without any intervention by the government.
Although the recent court ruling certainly brings relief, the villagers
have to remain vigilant. If the company does not retract, local people
need to be prepared for an extended period of resistance and continue
their campaign for public support. They will also need financial support
for legal action, the conduction of environmental studies and educational
projects. The people of Prainha trust in God, and lately also in the judicial
process. But to make justice work, they have to mobilize all possible
Their plea to the international community is: ‘Your moral support is just
as important for our people, so please send us a short e-mail expressing
your solidarity and support’ (including full name, address and name of
organization if any).
Associacao dos Moradores de Prainha do Canto Verde
62.840-000 Beberibe, Ceara, Brazil
This article is based on the documents ‘Land Tenure: One of Brazil’s Problems.
The Threat to the Fishing Village of Prainha do Canto Verde’ (http://www.fortalnet.com.br/~fishnet)
and ‘ToDO 99 Contest Socially Responsible Tourism Award Winner: Tourism
Project by the Village Community of Prainha Do Canto Verde’(http://www.studienkreis.org), as well
as personal communications with Rene Schaerer working with the local
NGO ‘Instituto Terramar’. For more information, visit website http://www.fortalnet.com.br/~fishnet
or contact Rene Schaerer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
TATAJUBA THREATENED BY MEGA-'ECOTOURISM' PROJECT
The small village of Tatajuba is located 390 km from Fortaleza in the
Northeast of Brazil and is surrounded by wonderful beaches, which have
been selected as part of the world’s top ten beach sites by the Washington
Post. As opposed to the internationally known resort Jericoacoara that
also lies on that famous coastline, Tatajuba is still practically unspoiled.
This extraordinary nature site and the life of Tatajuba’s roughly 700
inhabitants is now being threatened by the real estate agency Vitoria
Regia Empreendimentos Imobiliarios Ltda. that, using the euphemistic label
of ‘ecotourism’, has illegally taken possession of the grounds.
The 150 families make their living mainly from small-scale fisheries,
agriculture and animal production. The surroundings are characterized
by drifting dunes, mangrove forests and lagoons whose waters seasonally
mingle with the sea. Since the 19th century, the local population
lives in harmony with this ecosystem, which apart from being exceptionally
beautiful is also extremely fragile, and has a limited carrying capacity.
Under the name of Condado Ecologico de Tatajuba the company Vitoria Regia
Empreendimentos Imobiliarios Ltda., registered in Rio de Janeiro, is planning
a gigantic tourism project. Trying not to be noticed by the public in
1993, the company secretly registered a property of 5.275 ha in the local
land registry and it was only in April of 2001 that he village community
found out about it. Although living right in the middle of that property
since several generations, the community has not officially been notified
of the planned tourism project. In addition to that, by Brazilian law
the land is state property and is considered as to be “permanently preserved”.
The village community is now outraged about the possibility of being driven
out of their lands and being exploited as cheap labor. In order to weaken
the community the company’s agents threaten the villagers or try to deceive
them with cheap promises of a better future.
In the name of the population of Tatajuba and in protection of a unique
coastal ecosystem we hereby call for your solidarity against unscrupulous
investors that try to make profits using labels such as “development”
and “ecotourism”. In order to prevent these investors to start their destructive
construction activities, we ask you to join in this campaign by sending
emails to the appropriate authorities (sample letters in Portuguese are
posted on website http://www.geocities.com/novatatajuba):
State Secretaries Office, Secretary of Tourism, State Authority for Environment,
Institute for Agrarian Development
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
Brazilian Institute of Environment
Authors of this email campaign:
Forum for Coastal Preservation in Ceara - Network of the NGOs, Associations
and Peoples Organizations of Ceara’s Coastline, Scientists and Citizens
engaged for Sustainable Development
, website: http://www.geocities.com/novatatajuba
* INSTITUTO TERRAMAR;
* AQUASYS - ASSOCIACAO DE PESQUISA E PRESERVACAO DOS AMBIENTES AQUATICOS;
* CETRA - CENTRO DE ASSESSORIA E ESTUDOS SOBRE O TRABALHADOR;
* IMOPEC - INSITUTO DA MEMORIA DO POVO CEARENSE;
* CIPAT - COOPERATIVA INTERDISCIPLINAR DE PESQUISA E ASSESSORIA TECNICA
* COOPERH - COOPERATIVA DE RECURSOS HUMANOS;
* INSTITUTO AMBIENTAL;
* AGB - ASSOCIACAO DE GE?GRAFOS DO BRASIL;
* FORUM DOS PESCADORES DO LITORAL LESTE;
* FORUM DOS PESCADORES DO LITORAL OESTE;
* CONSELHO PASTORAL DA PESCA;
* SINDICATO DOS PESCADORES.
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