BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE EDELSTAM PRIZE LAUREATE 2020: OSVALINDA MARCELINO ALVES PEREIRA
Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira was born on June 3rd, 1968, and lives in the state of Pará, Brazil. For the past 19 years, Osvalinda Alves Pereira has been living in the municipality of Trairão.
In 1998, Brazil’s land reform agency, INCRA, implemented the Areia Settlement Project in Pará and thus provided lots for approximately 300 poor families in need. Osvalinda Alves Pereira and her husband Daniel Alves Pereira were one of them. They have utilized their lot to cultivate organic agriculture and to craft artwork.
Gradually over the last few years, local cattle ranchers and people controlling large tracts of land, called fazendeiros, involved in the illegal logging have taken control over most of the Areia settlement, according to an internal government report and testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch.
In 2011, Osvalinda Alves Pereira founded the Areia II Women’s Association, in the land reform project where she lives, and obtained support from an environmental non-governmental organization to develop sustainable organic agricultural practices and to actively work to reforest areas affected by logging. The land reform project is geographically situated as a gateway to three major conservation units: the Trairao National Forest, the Riozinho de Anfrisio Extractive Reserve, and the Jamanxim National Park. These areas are all of great interest to illegal loggers. Currently, Pará is the state with the highest reported number of land and resource conflicts.
For Alves Pereira, it all started when she founded the women’s association in the land-reform area where she lives with her husband, Daniel Pereira. But people engaged in illegal logging distrusted the effort, asked members of the association whether environmental law agents were involved, and outright asked them to stop. When they did not, the illegal loggers started threatening them.
An alarming situation occurred in 2012. Osvalinda Alves Pereira was at the hospital in the city of Santarém when suddenly an unknown woman casually told her that there was a price on the heads of two of her neighbours. The day when she was brought home from the hospital by her husband, the couple found a group of approximately 12 loggers as well as a contingent of armed men waiting outside their house. The loggers offered the Alves Pereiras money in order to sign a letter on behalf of the Areia II Women’s Association, a letter asking Brazil’s federal agencies, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio), not to conduct any operations or activities in Areia.
When the couple refused, one of them said: “You are going to die like Dorothy,” referring to Dorothy Stang, an American nun murdered in Pará, in 2005.
On another occasion, a group of loggers approached Osvalinda Alves Pereira’s husband and another Areia farmer who participated in the association’s work when they were in the town of Trairão. The loggers brought the two men to a house and in the patio, located only 20 meters away from the police station, between 15 and 20 armed men waited for them. The loggers accused them, the two farmers, of providing information about their illegal logging to IBAMA and said that they would pay them to stop, or else be killed. However, they eventually allowed Osvalinda’s husband to leave as he was supposed to collect Osvalinda at the bus station when she arrived from the city of Santarém. The other farmer was forced to stay in the house in the meantime. Once the Alves Pereiras returned, Osvalinda announced that she had already reported their threats to the authorities: “If I die now, everyone will know it was you.” Ultimately, the loggers let them all leave after five hours.
This kind of threat is common, not only for the Alves Pereiras but for many other forest defenders in the Amazon. On various other occasions, armed men have circled the Alves Pereira’s house on motorcycles, sometimes even while the Women’s Association had meetings inside. The threats have been rather constant for almost a decade.
One morning in May 2018, Osvalinda Alves Pereira and her husband woke up and realized that someone had entered their backyard during the night. Someone had piled up two mounds of soil to simulate two graves and carefully adorned them with crosses.
This horrendous event, triggered Osvalinda Alves Pereira and her husband to flee. For 20 months, they received protection from the Federal Program to Protect Defenders of Human Rights, Journalists, and Environmentalists. However, Osvalinda Alves Pereira kept close contact with the Women’s Association.
The Alves Pereira couple has now returned to their home in Pará, and the Pará state authorities have committed to providing them with police protection as long as they build an additional room to shelter the police. Osvalinda Alves Pereira is determined to continue her work to protect and defend the forest.
The Amazon rainforest is recognized as a repository of ecological services not only for Indigenous and other local communities but also for the rest of the world. Since 2013, the annual rate of deforestation has shown an increasing trend. Smallholder farmers have shown great potential to stabilize land use in terms of agriculture, pasture, and natural forest, according to Campos’ and Nepstad’s “Smallholders, the Amazon’s new conservationists.”
Illegal deforestation in the Amazon is a multi-million-dollar business that involves logging, illegal deforestation, and illegal occupation of public land. The Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian environmental NGO, estimates that loggers operating in Areia, illegally extracted 23,000 cubic meters of timber, worth 208 million reais (US$63 million at the time) from the Riozinho do Anfrísio Reserve just in 2017. The criminal networks operating in the Amazon coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber as well as illegal land grabbing.
According to the organization Pastoral Land Commission, there have been more than 230 cases of fatal attacks, with more than 300 victims, in the context of conflicts over the use of land and resources in the Amazon. These have been registered in the Amazon region the past decade, but only nine cases have gone to trial. In Pará, the state with the highest number of killings, only four out of 89 cases went to trial between 2009 and 2019. Armed men that are part of organized criminal groups terrorize and retaliate against individuals and communities who oppose them. This occurs in a situation where the authorities fail to protect forest defenders. Human Rights Watch has documented the murder of 28 forest defenders in the Amazon and found that at least 19 of the attacks had been preceded by threats against the victims of their communities.
In the report “Rainforest Mafias”, Human Rights Watch states: “What the Bolsonaro administration has not done is announce any plan to address the underlying problem that drives the deforestation: the ability of criminal networks to operate with near-total impunity in the Amazon, threatening and attacking the forest defenders who attempt to stop them. As long as this violence continues unchecked, so too will the destruction of the rainforest, the preservation of which is crucial to Brazil’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to the world’s effort to mitigate climate change.”
The report further states: “Community leaders in two regions of Pará state told Human Rights Watch that they used to see only trucks removing illegally-harvested timber from the forest only at night, but since Bolsanaro’s election, the trucks also pass in unprecedentedly large numbers and in broad daylight.”
President Bolsanaro’s words and actions have effectively given the green light to the criminal networks involved in illegal logging, according to environmental officials and local residents. By doing so, he is exposing both the Amazon and the people who live there to greater risk — and he is undercutting Brazil’s ability to uphold its commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to help mitigate global warming.
Human rights are currently in jeopardy in the Amazon region. Victims include indigenous people, forest residents, and environmental agents working to protect the rain forests, i.e. the lungs of our earth.
For further information, please contact:
Caroline Edelstam, Co-founder and President of the Harald Edelstam Foundation
Tel: +46 (0)706 98 72 23, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org