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Response from the Metareilá Association to Suruí leaders’ call to stop the forest carbon project: “A deplorable smear campaign”

The controversy surrounding the Suruí Forest Carbon Project in Brazil continues. In January 2015, leaders of the Paiter-Suruí wrote a “Note of Clarification” in which they called for the end of the project. The Metareilá Association, the organisation that runs the Suruí Forest Carbon Project, has now responded with a defence of the project.

Last week, Ecosystem Marketplace posted an unofficial translation of the Metareilá Association’s response.

Also last week, chiefs and leaders of the Paiter-Suruí travelled to Brasília for meetings with the Federal Public Ministry and the president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). During a three-hour-long meeting at the Federal Public Ministry, the Suruí said, “We request the immediate suspension of this carbon project, which is killing the Suruí.”

Below is Ecosystem Marketplace’s unofficial translation of the Metareilá Association response. The original version in Portuguese is available here. Ecosystem Marketplace points out that,

This is an unofficial translation of the Metareilá Association’s response to the “Note of Clarification” that the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) posted on its web site. We endeavored to be accurate, but no members of Metareilá have reviewed it, and any errors are ours alone.

This is the fourth in a series of posts on REDD-Monitor about the Suruí Forest Carbon Project. Here are links to the previous posts:

REDD-Monitor’s next post will feature translations of two articles about the Suruí’s meetings in Brasília.

Metareilá Association Answers the “Note of Clarification” Published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI)


1. Background: What is Happening?

This is not the first time that the Indigenous Missionary Council has fomented divisions within the indigenous movement, at least in the state of Rondônia. The actions are consistent with its long-term strategy of destroying the autonomy of indigenous and traditional groups, and this time they are focused on undermining efforts to develop REDD + projects in Brazil.
It is common knowledge that CIMI is, quite frankly, opposed to the mechanisms of the green economy. But this body should not reach the point of sullying their own historical importance in the indigenous movement only to win a discussion at all costs. A month ago, when the green economy was on everyone’s mind because of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC), CIMI published a special edition of its Porantim newspaper titled “Nature for Sale”. Contrary to their motto – “In defense of the indigenous cause” – the newspaper didn’t just discuss the idea of compensation for environmental services, but instead spread false and absurd accusations in an effort to shred the image of serious and autonomous indigenous-led projects, including the Surui Forest Carbon Project.
The political debate over REDD + is continuing, and the Surui people are participating in it, but we will not allow this discussion over our participation or lack thereof in ecosystem services – an issue that is so important for Brazilian indigenous peoples – to begin losing ground in the media because of a deplorable smear campaign.
In January, the Indigenous Missionary Council website issued a Note of Clarification with the signatures of a group of Surui leaders that supposedly had been sent to federal prosecutors. In fact, no one received official notification of this note, and it is only available on CIMI’s own web site. It does, however, deal with issues relating to the management Carbon Project, which is in its initial deployment phase, so we have provided this response.

2. Clarification of the Facts

The Surui Carbon Project is being implemented by eight associations of the Surui people, and one of them – the Metareilá Association – is responsible for its management. In this capacity, it has already responded to lies propagated by CIMI in December and it will continue taking other appropriate measures.
But now we address our brethren and partners, in the spirit of dialogue, with humility and firmness. We want to achieve the necessary understanding between the signatories of the note and the other readers. For this, we ask that you carefully read these facts:

  1. Regarding the opening-paragraph reference to alleged promises made, we must say that the Forest Carbon Project was intended, from the beginning, to support the general improvement and quality of life of Surui families on a sustainable basis as expressed in the 50-Year Plan. Consequently, it’s meant to strengthen all of our people, allowing us to achieve our dream of autonomy in the medium to long term. It is, however, necessary to recognize that this is a process, and it therefore develops gradually. Any process as innovative and complex as the Suruí Forest Carbon Project could unfold no other way.

  3. Neither when it was announced, or at any other point, has the project promised to deliver money directly to families. The increase in family income was always envisioned to occur through the development of sustainable projects for income generation, supported with the resources of the Forest Carbon Project, and this is happening now. This was agreed to by all, after a series of dedicated workshops, but the associations still needed to be nurtured before they could develop their own projects. This process was initiated in the second half of 2012, long before the sale of the first carbon credits (which only took place in December, 2013). One association, representing the Gabgir clan, claims to have received no resources from the project, and it refused to participate in the process of training and capacity-building that began in 2012, or in any activity related to the development of the Carbon Project. This clan says there were disagreements that led to its expulsion. In hindsight, shouldn’t they have taken the path of reflection and discussion of such differences, seeking a middle ground, given what is at stake is the future of Surui people, of which they are a part? However, we respect the autonomy of each Surui clan, so we respected the request for withdrawal that the Gabgir clan submitted to the management of the Carbon Project, just as we respected the other members of the Gabgir who stepped forward to represent their clan.

  5. We must not forget that the first installment of project funds wasn’t received until December 2013, and the disbursal wasn’t implemented until January 2014. In June of that same year, the first resources for clans participating in the training/capacity-building process were transferred. The project activities of each clan came from their individual strategic plans for the year 2014 and were conducted between November 2013 and January 2014. Also in 2014, we conducted two training sessions on good managerial and organizational practices and two on project design and fundraising, as well as on strategic planning. The projects of participating clans were developed during these workshops, and their implementation was part of the training process; for this reason, there was a spending limit of R$ 15,000 per project (which, at the request of clans, could be raised to as much as R$ 26,000). Funding for these projects was, as is common, disbursed in two installments. The first was made after determining the project’s feasibility; with the second to follow after a process of accountability and reporting. To support this work, the Metareilá Association established a monitoring commission whose responsibility is to help projects develop, analyze accountability and reporting, and provide guidance, if necessary.
    As of this date, out of the seven clans that participated in the process, the vast majority – five of them – have received the second installment, because they provided accounts and sent their reports. The other two clans have merely to send their reports and provision of final accounts to complete the process. Each one has a different situation: one didn’t send a report, and the other sent a report that had some expenses that weren’t reflected in the budget. Therefore, Metareilá requested the rationale for unforeseen expenses and, as of this date, is waiting for the clan’s response so it can disburse the second tranche. These are normal procedures, because Metareilá must also maintain accounts that can withstand an audit. In the second half of 2014, an eighth association asked to join to the Carbon Project process.
    Their request was promptly served and their experimental project approved after talks led to some technical and financial adjustments. This clan has already received the first tranche of funds and has been developing its activities.

  7. The document also claims that the general coordinator of the Metareilá Association told the treasurer of one of the other clans that said clan would only receive funds if it changed its coordinator. This can only be a misunderstanding. All Surui clans respect the freedom of organization of other Surui clans, and the Metareilá Association also follows this principle. Furthermore, the clan in question has already received its first installment, and the only reason it has not received the second installment is because it has not met the criteria of the project monitoring committee, as explained above.

  9. One lie (and a troubling one) is the charge that leaders would have been asked to sign receipts for payments that were never made. We would sincerely like to know what underlies such an accusation. The Metareilá Association never asked such a thing and has, in its financial records, receipts of all the activities performed and / or payments or deposits made for each of the receipts signed on its behalf.

  11. Indeed, the carbon project stipulates that each clan will take responsibility for a thematic area of the 50-Year Plan. But it also provides an entire training process for clan associations – many of which have only recently been created and have just a few years of experience – so that they are ready for the challenge. The carbon project unfolds over 30 years, and in steps that are to be implemented gradually. As was already stated above, the clan associations have only just begunto receive training, and some have opted out of the process. How can we demand immediate results in such a short time? Here, too, it’s necessary to clarify that Metareilá hasn’t just now created departments in its structure. These departments have been around since 2007. Any association, depending on their level of maturity, will naturally come to structure itself according to the different functions it performs.

  13. The Note states, “It had been approved in the project budget that the board members of each of the clan associations would receive a monthly salary of R$ 2,000.00 in the three-year period,” which is not correct. If so, the annual total from the carbon project would not be sufficient to cover this expense, because each of the nine existing associations have at least three directors (coordinator, secretary and treasurer), which means we would face an annual bill of R$ 648,000, excluding social security contributions. That would be completely impractical. The carbon project was built to find sustainable alternatives to generate income with the potential to ensure autonomy and a good future life for the Paiter, according to the ways expressed in the 50-Year Plan.
    What was agreed was that each association would receive transitional support of R$ 2,000 per month for overhead. This began in 2011, well before the first sale of carbon offsets, and the Metareilá Association covered the cost with the support of foundations and partner organizations. Then, in early 2014, this support was replaced by carbon-project resources (i.e., the Suruí Fund), with an increase of R$ 500 per association, totaling R$ 2,500 monthly for each. However, the support was terminated five months after the Surui Fund transfers began, because the associations had become too dependent on this resource and were not exercising their autonomy, even though they were developed enough to launch their own projects (and were still counting on the full support of Metareilá for this).

  15. For the management of the Carbon Project resources, everyone knows that the Surui Fund exists and is managed by Funbio (the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund), at the invitation of the Surui themselves. The resources of the Surui Fund can only be accessed in accordance with a previously established work plan, not randomly. In June 2014, a financial report with all the resources spent to date was presented. All participating clan associations and project partners were present on this occasion. For the process to be transparent, we must be able to present and provide regular accounts so that it’s possible to know how these funds are being used. The Surui Carbon Project began one year ago, and it offered its first accounting after just four months of operation. We will not shy away from financial reporting, because we believe it should happen, and we believe that now, after one year of operation, the time is approaching for a new presentation of accounts.

  17. As for the independent audit referenced, we surmise it refers to the CCB verification, which evaluates the current conditions of the project in terms of Climate, Community, and Biodiversity, and proposes adjustments. We have to report that the evaluators visited the villages that they themselves prioritized. During this visit, they identified problems and proposedadjustments, similar to the social impact report completed by independent consultants as the result of Metareila’s planning workshop held in July 2014.
    We realize there are problems, as there are in all cases involving groups of people. But problems are not solved from night to day, and not with pressure and sensationalism. We always knew it would not be easy running the Surui Carbon Project, but even so, we haven’t shied away from bringing it to our community to help them implement the 50-Year Plan. Now that it’s here, we’re seeing intrigues and irresponsible remarks running amok. Why? Would not it be more responsible and logical for grievances, doubts and possible contradictions to be discussed in a healthy way for the collective good, instead of bringing in the media and undoing the progress made?

  19. What improvements has this project brought to the Surui so far? Certainly more than just a few, especially if we have in mind that many actions have been developed even before receipt of the first installment of carbon credits of resources:
    a. Seven fish ponds installed in the villages, almost all having received fish fry, with regular technical assistance;
    b. Three nurseries for reforestation (with native species) and production (in agroforestry systems), with regular technical assistance;
    c. the Pamine Reforestation project, with recovery of degraded areas in the Sete de Setembro indigenous territory in about ten villages;
    d. the Paiter Art Shop in operation for four months, with regular financial returns to the participating artisans and sharing of importance of the Surui culture in local and national media;
    e. Further strengthening and organization of the movement of women Surui artisans, with regular Women’s Meetings and modular training courses in Indigenous Rights, Business Development and other topics chosen collectively; visibly increasing the participation of women in all training activities and decision making.
    f. Two training workshops in good managerial and organizational practices;
    g. Two training workshops on project design and fundraising;
    h. Announcement of development of eight pilot projects as part of the methodology “learning by doing” in the areas of: identification of medicinal plants (association Garah Pameh); improving nutritional conditions (Garbawawe association); food and nutrition promotion and income generation for laying hens (association IEJAC); Gabgirey cultural strengthening (Forestry Institute association); Gobawe cultural strengthening project (Kabaney association); Gamebey Memorial Centre (Metareilá association); Online Forest project for internet antenna deployment in a village (Pamaûr association); and the Babaçu Surui Peoples’ project to use babaçu to generate income for communities (Soenamã association).
    i. Several diagnostics for territorial management. All the people can benefit from these diagnoses given that they deal with topics that concern all existing villages in Sete de Setembro;
    j. Training for young people in the use of communication technologies;
    k. Exchanges with other people to exchange experiences;
    l. Permanent dialogues and claims by the Rondônia state government;
    m. Tourism Development Plan for Sete de Setembro indigenous territory;
    n. Business Development Plan for Paiter crafts;
    o. Brazil nut Business Development Plan;
    p. Training indigenous environmental agents, biomonitoring agents, and forest firefighters;
    q. Biomonitoring of fauna within the Sete de Setembro territory, with production of georeferenced data that have already begun to demonstrate the growth of animal populations in that territory;
    r. Courses and training offered in partnership with educational institutions as IFRO, UNITE, EMATER, SEDAM (State Department of Environmental Development), SEMAST (Municipal Social Assistance via Pronatec), SECEL (State Secretary for Culture and Leisure) etc., in the areas project management, fish farming, horticulture, agroforestry, nurseries etc.
    s. Recovery and reuse of the Paiter Surui Training Centre with performing regular activities involving the Surui associations plus all the indigenous movement of Rondônia and the Amazon region;
    t. Growing awareness and collective engagement of Surui to protect its own territory, which can be perceived by the decrease of Surui family dependency on sharecropping, leasing, and illegal extraction of natural resources.
    u. In addition, the resources have enabled a major part of the cost of continuation of the very Surui Forest Carbon Project. This project has high costs with verifications and certification seals, account maintenance for trading of credits, and high demand for administrative tasks. All this initially depended only on partner resources, and today is increasingly being funded by the Surui Fund on its own, on the way to the full autonomy of the Paiter.

  21. It is essential to clarify that Natura Cosmetics Company did not create the Surui Forest Carbon project; the company was simply the first to purchase credits from Project.

  23. The Metareilá Association had no influence or inducement of any kind in the creation of new clan associations between Surui. We believe that, as in any process of creating community organizations, the creation of these associations was driven by a felt need for direct representation, participation and distribution of benefits. These needs are independent of the existence of the Suruí Forest Carbon Project.


3. Roots of the Problems

The Note provided several lessons for us, for all the organizations promoting indigenous causes, and for the future of the Surui Carbon Project and the management of indigenous projects:
The first lesson is on INFORMATION: we believe that our population involved in the project is still in the learning process, to be able to understand why some results take longer to appear. Despite the project management efforts so far, it is necessary to achieve greater flow of information in the villages on how complex collective financial management is, on the management of local associations, on benefit distribution mechanisms, and on the time it takes a community project to mature and produce results.
The second lesson is on COMMUNICATION: we need to achieve many different and complementary forms of action to ensure that false expectations (which generate dissatisfaction) or misinterpretations (generating offenses) are not created. Because the population involved is large, the project is complex, and our team is small, unfortunately mistakes can happen, resulting in staggered information and rumors. We do not need an external missionary body to increase the confusion. We need partnerships here in our office, in our land, and in our villages, to help us improve communication.
The third lesson is on DECISION MAKING: some practical decisions have to be taken by the Metareilá Association. Its directors always seek the broadest possible dialogue, but even so, for those who are not close and present regularly in the Association’s day to day meetings, it is more difficult to participate and be heard in the day-to-day implementation of the project. This demonstrates that the horizontal decision-making mechanisms and conflict resolution, especially the Surui Parliament, still need more encouragement and support to fulfill their function, which is to be the space in which all Surui can make decisions together and guide their common projects.
These lessons do not only address the complaints in the “Note of Clarification” issued by our Surui relatives, but also with previously raised questions in three independent evaluations of the Suruí Forest Carbon Project, in the aforementioned internal management workshop conducted in July 2014, in the “monitoring social impacts” participatory meeting (in which were present many of those who signed the note) held in June 2014, and the CCB audit, completed in October 2014 and still ongoing. Knowing this, we consider it absurd to try to destroy the project instead of joining efforts to correct and improve issues that are already being treated with honesty and commitment.

4. Solutions

We express our repudiation of the destructive intent of the entities that oppose indigenous autonomy. Now, with a constructive look, the Metareilá Association of the Suruí Indigenous People take this opportunity to propose that the Carbon Project becomes stronger and more clear to all, and to better serve the entire Paiter. Doors and dialogue are open to all players – all associations of our people, the Federal Public Ministry, and all partner organizations – we will work together on solutions.
Finally, we have to say that the Forest Carbon Project Suruí can certainly serve as an example to many other indigenous peoples, not only in Brazil but in the world if everyone understands that the processes are not easy to implement and require understanding and forward thinking on the part of all involved. Community processes always have limitations and misconceptions, as they involve different ways of seeing and thinking. But we understand that gaps and problems should be solved on the basis of productive and healthy dialogues and not unproductive, irresponsible and corrupt gossip, which can only lead to destruction of the chance to achieve the ideals and dreams of an entire people.
To extinguish the Suruí Forest Carbon Project would mean to forego the benefits of the project, and, more seriously, to disregard the earlier years of struggle that required great boldness, energy and financial resources of all the partners involved in this endeavor. But, above all, it would demonstrate a complete incapacity to analyze and overcome the problems that arise along the way, and even more, a great and preoccupying irresponsibility for the future of our children and youth.
Metareilá Association of the Suruí Indigenous People


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