The fight for water in Correntina

In the east of the Brazilian state Bahia there is a historical conflict of which the affected population suffer daily with threats.

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The dispute and conflict over natural resources last for years in the east region of Bahia. The ancestral riverine population, quilombolas (maroons), indigenous and other traditional communities of the “Fechos de Pasto” region have suffered all types of violence to defend their territory, the typical Cerrado biome, the life and own existence. Groups of gunmen, foreigners and land-grabbers are present since the seventies, during military dictatorship, threatening the population and always counting with the state's protection in many cases even with the police, once that many of the justice officials were also gunmen hired by large farm-owners.

“First, they come fencing the areas, slowly, without cultivating anything, only to mark presence, afterwards comes the mono-cultures. The first of the mono-culture where pine trees”, affirmed Zé,

seventy-five year old resident of one of the communities of “Fechos de Pasto”, who's born and grew up in the region, he estimates that his family live in that area for more than 300 years.

It didn't take long for the people to mobilize in defense of their territory.

“When they came with the pines it was the moment that the people noticed what whas happening (land-grabbing) and started to mobilize and to confront without fear,” said Zé.

Since then, the territory where he lives represents now only 5% of the original area.

The conflict here shed a lot of blood. One of the main martyrs of this land was the lawyer Eugênio Lyra, defender of the peasants rights of this region.

On September of 1977, one day before his declaration at the Parliamentarian Inquiry Commission on falsification of land titles, which would happen in the city of Salvador, he was shot in his head when he was at the door of the barber shop by the side of his pregnant wife in the city of Santa Maria da Vitória.

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Eugênio Lyra, lawyer and defender of the small farmers

In this context, two land-grabbers, Mr. João Branco and Mr. José Cavalcanti, attempted to take over the region of “Fechos de Pasto” by violence, the communities have suffered for years. Nowadays, other names do the same in the region.

In 2012, the people from the communities revolted with the justice's delay they detained thirteen people that were supposed to be “security guards” of the company, which is charged of falsification of land title over fifty thousand hectares in the regions of Lodo, Morrinho e Gado Bravo. The organized people occupied the farms headquarters, detained the gunmen and took them to the police station of Correntina. But not long afterwards the gunmen were released.

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Newspaper “A Foice” (the sickle), edition of 1981, which denounced the violations of land-grabbers (Photo: MAB's arquive/Biblioteca Campesina)

The threat of Hydro-power dams

The context of the struggle intensified when the projects of the great capital reached higher levels and the greed of the great businessmen turned to the generation of energy. The rivers of the region came to be seen as an extraordinary source of profit in the years of 2000.
The project involves the construction of about 39 small hydropower plants, with potential of more than 100, a true crime from the environmental and social point of view, as Temóteo Gomes, coordinator of the Movement of the Affected by Dams.

"If these projects are approved, it will flood an area of thousands of hectares. Here is an area of the cerrado biome, totally preserved, the communities that live here will have all their history, their ancestral culture, totally flooded. We will not allow it," he says.

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MAB's base group meeting in the region affected of Rio Formoso (Photo: MAB)

In the beginning of 2015, policemen started to distribute mandates that permitted the studies at the dams construction areas, even before any techical study, and in case the families did not permit the entry at their territory they had to pay a penalty of 500 reais per day.

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The woman is obliged to sign the document to the police (Photo:MAB)

The police action, as usual, was disproportional, intimating the small farmers, making them sign documents, even if they couldn't read it, as many of them are illiterate. The lack of information and the threats were permanent.

“It was a very difficult time, the police came to our houses and forced us to sign documents. I hadn't any study at the time, I had to put my fingerprint in a document of which I did not even know the content,” affirmed Dionísio.

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Policemen force man who doesn't read to sign document (Photo: MAB)

In reaction to this, the organized riverine population resisted, encamped for days, avoiding the entry to the community. At the occasion more than 100 people said “no” to the company Data Traffic, responsible for the dam project Arrodeador, in the Formoso river.

 

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Women cook at camp organized by the affected families (Photo: MAB Archive)

The struggle of the people has always been in defense of the river, wealth without any monetary value, as explained by the small farmer who was born and raised there: "The river for me is everything, it's my life. There is no price, and for it we will fight until the end of our lives. Our struggle is mainly for our children, our grandchildren, what inheritance will we leave for the next generations? "Asks Dionisio, one of the riverside people who suffered most from police repression and the process of criminalization of the struggle.

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Arthur, Dionísio's grandson in the river which runs at his backyard. (Photo:MAB)

Dispute over water

More recently, the agribusiness installed in the region have been aiming the most precious good of the riverine population. Today the struggle is for water.

Data collected by the Pastoral Land Commission CPT points that more than 17 streams of the Arrojado River is totally dry. The actions of Companies as Sudotex, Celeiro, BrasilAgro and Igarashi, for example, with investments from other countries, as New Zealand, United States, Japan, are enhancing towards the region's rivers. Igarashi, a Japanese transnational corporation, consumes in the region the equivalent of 100 times of the water consumption of the city of Correntina.

“ At the region of Jaborandi, the agribusiness have 117 central irrigation entries, which consumes an absurd volume of water. In all the east region of Bahia 160 thousand hectares are being irrigated, there are even business with twelve bombs of water extraction functioning 24hours/day. The most of this business are of production of grains (most soy) for export, nothing stays here in the region,” reinforces Temóteo.

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Agribusiness irrigation pivotsseen by satellite (Source: Google)

According to Temóteo, the demand is focused for the immediate suspension of grants that authorizes agribusiness to freely exploit water in the region.

“Our demand is for the withdraw of these grants given to big companies responsible for the deforestation, which is drying our rivers and violating these populations for so many years”.

 *text and photos: MAB's Communication Collective,

Special report in Correntina-BA