Why is the land titling of the Invernada Paiol de Telha Quilombo so emblematic?
Ondina Marques, the great-granddaughter of Heliodoro and Feliciana, who were slaves in the 19th century, now knows she can carry on with her life on the land that belonged to her ancestors, where she was born and had 12 children. This is because at the end of April the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), granted the land title for part of the Invernada Paiol de Telha Quilombo territory, the first Quilombola community to get a land title in the state of Paraná.
Winning back the territory, which is located in the municipality of Reserva do Iguaçu (PR), has not come before time. Ondina is now 104 years old and has spent almost half her life fighting to return to her land. She lived for four years in a tarpaulin-covered shack at the edge of the PR 459 highway while she fought for recognition of the right to her traditional territory.
Now, along with a further 400 families, she has gained the land title of two of the fifteen areas recognized as being the right of the Quilombolas. The land title gives joint domain of 225 hectares of land forming their traditional territory – just a small part of the 2,900 hectares recognized by INCRA as rightfully belonging to the community, but nevertheless an historic victory for the families. Now Ondina intends to return to her territory. “It will be my heart’s delight. I won’t die before I’m back there”.
João Trindade, President of the Quilombola Association, is beaming with happiness. “We’ve managed to make our dream come true. I trust in God that we’ll be able to achieve much more. Today the Black people [of Paiol de Telha] are being talked about all over the world”.
The recognition of the Quilombolas’ right is historic in a state where almost 70% of the population states it is White.
Even so, Paraná is the state in the southern region of Brazil with the largest self-identified Black population. Between 1991 and 2010, the number of people identifying as being Black increased 73% owing to social and political factors than enabled people to recognize themselves as being Black in a state that practiced - and still practices - institutional racism as a means of denying the existence and the rights of the Black population.
The first and only quilombo to gain a land title in the state of Paraná, Paiol de Telha has accumulated other achievements which make it particularly emblematic in the fight for territory: in 2004 it was the first Quilombola community in Paraná to take out legal proceedings to obtain its land title; in 2005 it was the first such community in Paraná to be recognized by the Palmares Foundation; and now it is officially the first quilombo to gain a land title under the Jair Bolsonaro government – a president who openly stated that in his administration “not so much as a centimetre” would be demarcated for Indigenous and Quilombola communities and who thinks that Quilombolas are good for nothing, “not even for procreating”.
At this moment in time, however, the granting of the land title to the Paiol de Telha Quilombolo is not a form of government remission. In fact it was the enforcement of a court ruling, resulting from a lawsuit taken out by the Quilombola Association with legal aid from Terra de Direitos.
At the end of March, the Federal Appeal Court in Curitiba gave INCRA until May 2nd to grant the land title for the first part of the territory, given that these areas of land had already been purchased by the Institute. The granting of the title depended only on the signature of the Institute’s president, João Carlos Jesus Corrêa. If the court ruling had not been obeyed, INCRA would have had to pay a fine of BRL 600,000 per day.
The community now hopes that the Federal Government will comply with another court ruling given by Judge Silvia Salau Brollo: by August, BLR 23 million must be made available to INCRA in order for it to buy and grant the land title for another part of the Quilombola territory. The Government has appealed against this ruling and the appeal is to be judged shortly by the 4th Regional Federal Court (TRF-4) in Porto Alegre.
After facing land expropriation and overcoming the land tenure conflicts with the company that claimed ownership of them, the Paiol de Telha families will continue to have to deal with the sluggishness of the State and the low Quilombola policy budget in order to get the land title for the new area. They will also have to deal with surrounding economic interests and the possibility of a small hydroelectric power station being built on their territory.
A longstanding fight
The land, which is located 13 km from Reserva do Iguaçu town centre and 100 km from Guarapuava city, has a history of resistance. It was there that enslaved people were force to work at a ranch called Capão Grande in the 19th century. Balbina Francisca Siqueira, who owned the ranch and had no heirs, left 3,600 “alqueires” of land to eleven slave workers who were freed when she died. The land grabbing process soon began: Pedro Lustosa, Balbina’s nephew and first mayor of Guarapuava, inherited the rest of the ranch and only transferred to the Quilombolas part of what had been left to them, namely the “fundão” part of the property.
There the Quilombolas reared their families, grew their crops and kept their traditions. A process of land expropriation was intensified during the 1960s and 1970s and led to the families being driven out of the territory. With nowhere to go and wishing to return to the land that had been given to their ancestors, the Paiol de Telha families began a series of illegal land occupations with subsequent evictions. For 20 years part of the families lived in tarpaulin-covered shacks on the land occupation known as “Barranco”.
The Quilombola families’ claim to the land gave rise to conflicts with the Agricultural Cooperative that had become its new owner. The battles in court with the company led to Paiol de Telha becoming known in other parts of the country. A court case taken out by the Agricultural Cooperative resulted in the Quilombola families going as far as Porto Alegre in 2013 to stand up for their rights.
It was there that judges of the 4th Regional Federal Court (TRF-4) ruled that Federal Decree No. 4887/2003 – which regulates the land titling procedure for Quilombola territories in Brazil – is in agreement with the provisions of the Federal Constitution. This ruling was part of the judgement of the lawsuit taken out by the Agricultural Cooperative, arguing that the Decree was unconstitutional and that therefore INCRA could not continue with the process of granting the land title for Paiol de Telha.
Shortly after this victory the Quilombolas achieved another breakthrough: in 2014 INCRA published an Ordinance recognizing the 2,900 hectares of the traditional territory. In the same year, President Dilma Rousseff signed a decree authorizing the expropriation of 1,460 hectares of that area of land.
Even after the Quilombolas’ right to the land had been recognized and after a court agreement regarding an ownership repossession lawsuit allowed them to remain in the area, albeit temporarily, the families still faced uncertainty and appalling living conditions because of the lack of the land title.
The purchase of the area by INCRA and the compensation payment of BRL 10.2 million to the Agricultural Cooperative that owned the property should contribute to reducing conflicts in the region. “There were many farm owners here who said we would never see this land again. Now we’re here, happy and living in what is ours”, says João Trindade.
But the area of land that has been given a title deed is small in comparison to the needs - and the fight - of the Paiol de Telha Quilombolas. The families continue to claim titling of a further 1,235 hectares for which expropriation has already been authorized. “We are more than 400 families. The land that has been titled is very little for us to work on”, emphasizes Quilombola Ana Maria Cruz, who is a member of the National Coordination of Black Quilombola Rural Communities (CONAQ).
The first in Paraná
The titling of part of the Paiol de Telha land has given a new breath of hope to other Quilombola communities in Paraná state, who will still have to face a long process until their right to their traditional territory is made effective. None of the 38 quilombos in Paraná recognized by the Palmares Foundation is at an advanced stage in the land titling process: the Technical Identification and Delimitation Report (RTID) has only been issued for three communities so far, and only two of them have gone on to the next stage involving the signing of an ordinance recognizing their territorial boundaries.
The long delay in the titling processes underway at INCRA appears to be the general rule for Paraná’s quilombos. Of the state’s 38 communities, 30 of them began the titling process more than 10 years ago, without any significant move forward having been made.
The long time elapsing before the State grants land titles to the quilombos and realizes the right provided for in the Federal Constitution - namely article 68 of the Act of Transitional Constitutional Provisions - leaves the Quilombola communities with a disheartening scenario. It is estimated that Brazil will take around a thousand years to grant titles to all the 1,716 territories that have titling processes underway at INCRA.
Insufficient budget for the Quilombola territory titling policy is a further stumbling block for the realization of this right: in 2019, only BRL 3.4 million have been allocated to this area. This is a derisory amount, given that it is intended for land titling for the whole of Brazil – it would only be enough to purchase 15% of the Paiol de Telha territory for which expropriation has been authorized. This scenario has been reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has urged the Brazilian State to put into place an effective national titling plan for all Brazil’s Quilombola communities within a reasonable time frame.
For as long as the territories remain untitled, the Quilombolas have to live with fear and insecurity. In the town of Doutor Ulysses, in the Metropolitan Region of the state capital Curitiba, 17 Gramadinho Quilombo families, at the Varzeão Quilombola Territory, are living with the possibility of being evicted, since judgement of a lawsuit claiming ownership repossession has been given against the community.
The eviction has been suspended by a restraining order given by the Federal Appeal Court in Curitiba, but may take place if the ruling is overturned. Fernando Prioste, a popular and community lawyer at Terra de Direitos, highlights that it is important that struggles for Quilombola rights also be fought within the Judiciary Branch. The titling of Paiol de Telha by means of a court order and the suspension of the eviction at Gramadinho are examples of the possibility of successful articulation between Quilombolas and popular and community lawyering.
Prioste, who works on these cases on behalf of Terra de Direitos, emphasizes the role of the Judiciary Branch in ensuring the realization of Quilombola rights, whose interests are often not taken into consideration by the Executive and Legislative Branches. “In the current scenario of difficulties, it is the Judiciary Branch’s duty to ensure the realization of Quilombola rights provided for under the Federal Constitution: not only to guarantee titling, but also to ensure that communities have ownership of their traditional territories before they are titled”, he points out.
Before long the Judiciary Branch will once again have the destiny of the Paiol de Telha families on its hands. The 4th Regional Federal Court will judge an appeal for ownership repossession made by the Agricultural Cooperative to evict 90 families from a stretch of land recognized as Quilombola territory, but which has not yet been titled. In its lawsuit, the company claims that the area occupied by the Quilombolas can leave farmers who belong to the Cooperative “in a situation of vulnerability”. The Quilombolas, in turn, justify their need to have recourse to a larger piece of land which is theirs by right, given that the 225 hectares of titled land will be divided between some 400 families. As such, each family would have just half a hectare on which to plant their subsistence.
Now that they have the title deed of part of the land in their hands, the Paiol de Telha Quilombolas are facing yet another threat to their territory. The natural riches peculiar to the area may become a source of profiteering by the same social group which in the past oppressed the Quilombola community. Surrounded by rivers, the community may be hit by the building of two small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) - one of which would be inside the quilombo itself.
A project of Reinhofer Energia Ltda., the Foz do Capão Grande HPS is planned to be built on the river that bears the same name and which borders the Quilombola territory. More than 13 of the community’s hectares will be flooded by the undertaking. Apart from reducing their land, the families may be prevented from accessing the river water and will suffer other direct and indirect impacts as the power station is built and then operates. Similarly, Paiol de Telha will be affected by the Pituquinhas HPS, just 400m away from the other HPS, as per the map submitted as part of process number 01420.005696/2013-13
The two HPS projects are already at an advanced stage and their Environmental Impact Studies and Reports have already been finalized. However, the directives of International Labour Organization Convention 169 determine that there must be prior consultation of indigenous peoples and traditional peoples and communities in the event of works that will impact their territories. In the case of Quilombolas, the Free, Prior and Informed Consultation process is conducted by the Palmares Cultural Foundation.
The Paiol de Telha families have already indicated that they want to take part in this consultation process but that, in order for compliance with the agreements established to be secured, their territory must be fully titled prior to the consultation being held. “We want to preserve what still remains of the Environmental Reserve”, explains Ana Maria Cruz.
In Santarém, in the Western region of Pará state, pressure brought to bear by Quilombolas led to a Federal Court suspending the Environmental License of a port project that would impact at least 12 Quilombola communities in the city.
Plans for the future
Even though part of its land has been titled, Paiol de Telha still faces a huge struggle. The families continue to demand land titling of the 1,235 hectares for which expropriation has already been authorized, plus a further 1,400 hectares awaiting expropriation to be decreed.
Apart from this, the families are now working to turn important plans for the titled territory into reality. One of the first steps to be taken by the families, with the title deeds at hand, is to demand that the utility companies provide electricity and basic sanitation services to the community. “We’re moving on from the minimum [the need to have land] to building quality of life for our people”, says Quilombola Isabela Cruz.
Another of the community’s projects is to build a rural Quilombola school. The funding for building the school is expected to be provided by the Paraná state government by the end of this year. Isabela explains that the school will be a space for producing and sharing knowledge, intended to offer all school grades from primary school through to high school, in addition to a literacy and schooling programme for youths and adults. The project will follow the model of the Diogo Ramos Quilombola State College, at the João Surá Community in the town of Adrianópolis. That college also currently offers a Rural Education Licentiate course for teaching Natural Science.
According to Isabela – who is also a Law student through the National Agrarian Reform Education Programme –, the teaching method to be used at the Paiol de Telha school will be created jointly with the community. “We want there to be courses - not just formal Brazilian education -, but differentiated activities as well”.
The plan is for the school to also have information technology equipment and a library containing, among other resources, sources of information about the history of the Quilombola population.
Another project that will benefit the families at the quilombo is a proposed community agribusiness, developed in partnership with the Southern Frontier Federal University (UFFS). Currently, although they have little land, the families produce greenery and other varieties such as manioc, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, as well as rearing livestock. Quilombola Jucemara dos Santos explains that the idea is to package and sell this food as fresh produce or for it to be used as the basis for other products, such as jam or conserves. “We are going to produce and sell this food labelled as a quilombo product. Totally free from agrichemicals”, she says.
The community also has expectations with regard to accessing other public policies, such as rural housing, but is aware that it will face difficulties because of budget cuts. In 2019, resources intended to boost the development of quilombos and other traditional communities – allocated to the budget for Promoting Racial Equality and Overcoming Racism, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights – have been cut by half. Whereas in 2018, BRL 7.1 million were allocated to this area, the 2019 Budget Law only provides for BRL 3.4 million. “In the current political scenario the perspectives are not heartening, but we will wait and not lose hope”, Ana Maria emphasizes. She points out that despite the difficulties, the Paiol de Telha Quilombo will continue to resist. “Now more than ever the Community needs to be united”, she adds.
Special story produced by Terra de Direitos
Text: Franciele Petry Schramm | Videos: Lucas de Souza and Lizely Borges | Art: Brenda dos Santos | Contributions: Terra de Direitos Legal Aid Service and Isabela Cruz
Emblematic Cases: Comunidade quilombola Paiol de Telha
Axes: Earth, territory and space justice