- São Paulo gave Tenda construction company a permit to cut down 528 trees, part of native Atlantic forest in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It felled 522 trees on Jan. 30. In response, the Guarani Mbya people established a vigil to prevent more of what they call “environmental crime.”
- Tenda’s lot directly adjoins the Jaraguá indigenous reserve with 620 Guarani inhabitants. The Guarani charge that international law dictates their prior consultation, and demand an immediate environmental impact study with an indigenous component.
- Since January 30, the Guarani have maintained a vigil at the entrance of Tenda’s lot to prevent workers from entering and cutting down more trees; a public hearing on the subject is scheduled for May 6.
In a city known for the color grey because of skyscrapers and high pollution levels, the green of Jaraguá State Park’s famed Jaraguá Peak provides a welcome respite. Situated in São Paulo’s northeast at 3,724 feet (1,135 meters), Pico do Jaraguá is the city’s highest point, with a postcard 360-degree view. The peak is swathed in Atlantic Forest — a biome that used to traverse through several countries, but in Brazil alone has seen an 80% loss. The unique locale, a world biosphere reserve and part of the UNESCO-designated São Paulo Green Belt, has a cooling effect on the climate of the warming city below.z
In 2010, São Paulo delineated the mountain base’s tree-covered buffer zone as part of a protected area that includes two indigenous reserves, including the Jaraguá reserve, where 620 Guarani Mbya indigenous people reside in six villages. At less than 5 acres (1.7 hectares), it is the smallest indigenous reserve in Brazil. When established, Carta Capital magazine stated that the protected area would prevent improper occupation, or “real estate profiteering.”
Now real estate speculation has come to the Guarani reserve border. In January, São Paulo City Hall gave Tenda Negócios Imobiliários, a construction company, a permit to cut down 528 trees on the lot adjoining the Jaraguá reserve.
“There are other areas of the city available that aren’t in environmental protection zones where this kind of construction could be built,” said Daniel Santos, a Jaraguá resident, in an interview with Mongabay at the reserve.
In an emailed statement, Tenda says it bought the 8,624.59 m2 lot from city hall in 2017 to build 11 towers for 2,000 low-income families. According to the company, the project requires the preservation of 50% of the area, including a “a specific proposal for tree enrichment.”
Lack of consultation
Under international law known as International Convention 169 (ILO 169), indigenous people have the right to free, prior, and informed consultation in any matter that might affect them. But this right wasn’t respected, Guarani indigenous spokesperson, Thiago Henrique Karai Djekupe, says. He says the distance between the Jaraguá reserve and Tenda’s lot is just 200 meters. Based on that distance, the Guarani should have been consulted according to ILO 169.
“Why [did] the São Paulo municipal government [give] Tenda a permit to deforest [this area] without respecting International Convention 169?” Djekupe asks. “We need to be aware of this, and also to have a voice.”
Tenda argues that any failure to consult with indigenous peoples was the responsibility of São Paulo’s city government. In an emailed statement, São Paulo’s environment department stated that it approved the construction on January 10, 2020 but denies wrongdoing. “It is not [located] on an indigenous area, [and therefore] consultation of the [government] organ in defense of indigenous rights is not necessary,” says the statement, referring to Brazilian indigenous agency FUNAI.
Princeton professor of Brazilian culture Marília Librandi says the fight against real estate profiteering is “ferocious.” “The objective of this condominium project in Jaraguá is profit through real estate speculation. The Guarani weren’t consulted, they were ignored, as always in Brazil’s history.”
In December 2019, Tenda advised the Guarani that they would cut down 4,000 trees to build “five towers for 800 inhabitants,” said Guarani spokesperson Djekupe in an interview at the reserve.
Ultimately, only 528 trees were approved to be cut down, and on January 30, Tenda cut down 522 of those. The felled trees included native species like cedars, araucaria, and aroiera; some were 35 meters (115 feet), according to Jaraguá resident Santos. All were sacred to the Guarani—red cedars and araucaria are among Brazil’s top seven trees at risk of extinction.
“It’s an irreversible blow to the forest we’ve been trying to protect for so long,” Djekupe said.
Since January 30, the Guarani have maintained a vigil at the entrance of Tenda’s lot to prevent workers from entering and cutting down more trees; a public hearing on the subject is scheduled for May 6.
The Guarani are also calling for a study of environmental and sociocultural impacts to assess how Tenda’s construction project will impact them going forward.
The licensing department of the federal environment agency Ibama in Brasilia told Mongabay via phone that neither the city nor the state government had forwarded them the project for review, and so their hands are temporarily tied.
Djekupe says the Guarani people want the project to be moved to another area of the city and a public park to be opened on the land.
“If Tenda builds this project here, without any impact studies, my community will lose their culture. We will lose our culture because for us this violence is unacceptable. And when we are assaulted, our spirit is wounded, and we as a people can die. And a Guarani without a spirit stops being Guarani,” Djekupe said.
Banner image caption: Guarani indigenous people protest against real estate speculation in a lot close to Jaraguá indigenous reserve in São Paulo. Image by Tommaso Protti for Mongabay
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