In 2009, communities of ribeirinhos (traditional riverine settlers) launched a major land rights protest in the Amazon against Alcoa, the transnational mining company. Their action led to an agreement that proved decisive not only for the ribeirinhos, but for collective land rights activists across Brazil.Alcoa came to Juruti, Pará state, Brazil in 2000 with big plans to mine for bauxite. At first, the 44 communities on the south bank of the Amazon River, made up of Indigenous and traditional peoples, supported the plan, hoping it would bring jobs and prosperity.But land rights organizers argued the mine would be a disaster for the environment, traditional livelihoods and culture. Attempts to block the mine failed. But efforts to get collective land rights recognized, along with financial compensation, were successful.The government granted full collective land rights, and Alcoa agreed to pay rent for occupying community land, compensate for losses and damages, and give locals an annual share in mine profits. Land rights activists have pursued similar goals — with varying success — in the Amazon ever since. JURUTI VELHO LAKE, Pará, Brazil — No one knew what a momentous day it would be. On 28 January, 2009, about 1,500 people blockaded the road linking the town of Juruti with a mine belonging to Alcoa, the giant U.S. transnational company. That protest was calculated to gain international attention by coinciding with the Fifth World Social Forum, a gathering of progressive civil society organizations which had opened in Belém, the Pará state capital, the day before. The Forum’s slogan: “Another world is possible,” interpreted by the Juruti occupiers as a bold call to direct action. “We knew the eyes of the world would be on Amazônia [that day], and there would be international repercussions if anything happened to us,” recalls Sister Nilma, a Franciscan nun and participant in the occupation, and also responsible for organizing contacts with the Forum. The protest proved decisive for the local communities that organized it, and also for mining in Juruti. Gênesis Costa, Alcoa’s current general manager in Juruti, diplomatically characterizes that community victory as “a moment of deepening our dialogue.” Gerdeonor Pereira, one of the occupation leaders, is more blunt: “It was the highpoint of our confrontation with the mining company.” Certainly relations were bad between Alcoa and the activists at the time: So bad that the company had recently gone to the courts to request a “prohibitory interdict” aimed at Pereira and three other leaders — a judicial action to protect a valuable asset threatened by dispossession. Alongside Pereira on the blockade was Sister Brunhilde, a 69-year-old German missionary, also targeted by the “prohibitory interdict,” which accused her of threatening company employees and “trying to prevent the growth of the municipality.” Gerdeonor Pereira, president of ACORJUVE, the Association of Communities in the Juruti Velho Region: “If we hadn’t occupied the mining company’s base in 2009, and hadn’t been protected by law, Alcoa would not be paying us [for our cooperation], because capital goes over, capital starts, capital kills, capital does not kneel to anyone.” Image by Thaís Borges. Tensions mounted at the blockade; military police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and pepper spray. The local press and company supporters called the protestors “land squatters,” saying they lacked rights to the territory they and their ancestors had lived on for at least a century. But the demonstrators, nearly all inhabitants of 40+ communities that would be severely affected by the mine Alcoa was opening, were there precisely because they believed they had land rights and wanted authorities to back their claims. Most were descendants of the Muirapinina Indigenous group, who had been living in the region when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. What the demonstrators achieved during that 9-day occupation, some say, was momentous: It got Brazilian authorities to consider new ways of dealing with collective land claims, not just locally, but across all of Amazônia. “In my opinion this is one of the best [most positive] stories about mining in Pará state,” says Lílian Braga, a prosecutor for the Pará state Public Ministry, a body of independent public litigators, who played an important role in the battle.