Conservation news

Brazilian ‘quilombo’ community entitled with 220,000 hectares of rainforest

Quilombo people in Brazil in this file photo from 2000. Photo courtesy Brazil Ministry of Culture.

On March 3, one community in Brazil descended from African slaves celebrated a victory they’ve waited generations for: the government entitled them with 220,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest.

The land is designated for the Cachoeira Porteira quilombo community of 500 people in Brazil’s Pará state. The newly-entitled landowners are descendants of the 4.5 million slaves who were brought to Brazil between 1600 and 1850. Many slaves escaped and formed rural Afro-Brazilian communities known as quilombos.

These quilombos were also used as a form of resistance against slavery – the communities literally banded together for survival and learned how to live off the land. That cultural tradition of community support and collective fate has persisted today.

There are about 3,000 officially-recognized quilombos in Brazil, but about half still do not own the land they and their ancestors traditionally inhabited. The communities are spread out over 20 million hectares – some 60 percent of the Amazon.

After a lengthy legal fight to win the land entitlement, in February 2018, Brazil’s Supreme Court reaffirmed that quilombo people have rights over their territories. The right of Quilombos to traditional lands are guaranteed under the Brazilian 1988 constitution.

The Supreme Court decision – and the following official entitlement to the Cachoeira Porteira community just days ago – could be the first of many more. Quilombo communities have had difficulty securing land titles in the face of powerful agribusiness interests that need land for development and use. But the Cachoeira Porteira land-titling success could be a boon to other quilombos that are still seeking land titles from the Brazilian government going forward.

Only a little more than 1 million of the 20 million hectares of territory claimed by the Quilombo peoples have been titled. That’s only about 170 land titles. The borders of the land entitlement were demarcated through a lengthy process and map project overseen by the New Social Cartography Project of the Amazon.

Banner image: Quilombo people in Brazil in this file photo from 2000. Photo courtesy Brazil Ministry of Culture.

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