In 2012, after the Suruí Forest Carbon Project was validated by the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard, this was “pathbreaking news for the project … and the progress of REDD worldwide,” according to Forest Trends.
But last week, Suruí chiefs and leaders travelled to Brasília for meetings with the Federal Public Ministry and the president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Their demand was simple: the immediate suspension of the carbon project.
This is the fifth in a series of posts on REDD-Monitor about the Suruí Forest Carbon Project. Here are links to the previous posts:
- 17 December 2014: “What are projects for that destroy life?” Interview with Henrique Suruí about the Paiter-Suruí REDD project, Brazil
- 30 December 2014: Response from Steve Zwick, Ecosystem Marketplace, to CIMI’s interview with Henrique Suruí: “Indigenous Leaders Call Foul On Once-Revered Catholic Organization”
- 13 January 2015: Leaders of the Paiter Suruí ask that the carbon project with Natura be terminated
- 3 March 2015: Response from the Metareilá Association to Suruí leaders’ call to stop the forest carbon project: “A deplorable smear campaign”
The Suruí and the Carbon Project: For the world to know
By Egon Heck, CIMI, 24 February 2015
“We request the immediate suspension of this carbon project, which is killing the Suruí.” This was the call from all chiefs and leaders of the Suruí at a hearing in the auditorium of the Federal Public Ministry that lasted for more than three hours. Deborah Duprat, coordinator of the 6th Chamber, listened carefully and discussed with the delegation of Indigenous Peoples from Rondônia, in an atmosphere of great trust and openness. After a brief presentation, Dr. Deborah expressed her bewilderment about the presence of some security guards in the auditorium. After having enquired who had sent them, she commented: “We never need such presence at our meetings with indigenous people. So I ask you to withdraw.” Despite claiming ‘higher orders’, they withdrew from the room.
“For me, this is perhaps one of the most important activities of our coming to Brasília,” said Antenor Karitiana. In fact, the Federal Public Ministry has become one of the important areas of struggle and guarantor of the rights of indigenous peoples. Even though the operating structure imposes limitations, it is undeniable that indigenous peoples have an important ally in their struggle for constitutional rights in the Federal Public Ministry.
Controversial project, abhorred by the Suruí
Most of the meeting time at the Federal Public Ministry revolved around the controversial Surui Forest Carbon Project which started in 2007. It is considered the first of its kind implemented on indigenous territory in our country. And in the view of the Suruí and the delegation of indigenous peoples from Rondônia, it should be the last. That is at least what they are fighting for, so that a similar deception is not repeated on any other indigenous territory. The general chief of the Suruí, Henrique Iabaday, who was part of the delegation, said the following about the project in an interview published in the September 2014 issue of Porantim: “The Carbon Project on our land is to take the life out of the Suruí Peoples, it will take the happiness from our life, take the right to live off the territory … It’s a bomb to the life of any human being … What happened to the Suruí Peoples is a story for life, and for the world .. . So that no other indigenous [peoples] engage in this type of project on their land … There is no way of expressing what happened to the Suruí. Our peoples are without life. We want the project to be suspended.”
After testimonies from Suruí leaders, Dr. Deborah Duprat shared her reflection: “I want to be very honest with you. We have a very serious problem with the Surui carbon sequestration project. The 6th Chamber advised not to accept the project. The contract was signed, and therefore, continues to be valid. For advancing a legal case, proof is required that what was agreed is not complied with. I can assure you that the Federal Public Ministry will press for a rigorous and thorough evaluation of the project and its consequences in terms of the violence that resulted, the serious conflicts that can lead to deaths and misappropriation of resources, and about who benefits from them. I’ll ask that Funai conduct a detailed assessment on which to base future decisions. What is needed is to analyze and discuss with all of the communities the terms of the contract. We will investigate, and you do your part.” And she made it very clear that: “The Public Ministry will not interfere with the internal matter of the peoples, because those in the best position to prevent this project are you.”
It was evident, after the more than two hours of debate and clarification that the perverse consequences of this type of project should serve as a lesson and strong reminder to prevent the same happening to other indigenous peoples. The important thing is to understand such a project as part of ‘green capitalism’ policies and as neocolonialism. In February 2012, CIMI issued a statement strongly condemning the insistence of implementation of REDD projects on indigenous territories. From the perspective of the rights and vision of these peoples “those projects transform nature into a commodity, gratitude in obligation, the mythical in terms of contracts and well-being in alleged ‘benefits of capital’. It is the commercialization of the sacred and the changing of human relations at the interface with the environment”, and therefore, we “join those who say NO to the financialization of nature, NO to the green economy and NO to the carbon market” (Porantim , September 2014).
War over land and health
The serious situation in relation to [indigenous] land, because of the invasion by large projects and various economic interests, as well as the paralyzed state of advance in recognition of indigenous territories, coupled with initiatives, such as the PEC 215, against indigenous peoples’ rights as enshrined in the Constitution, amounts to a declaration of war by the Brazilian State against indigenous peoples.
Regarding the paralysis [of the demarcation processes], Dr. Deborah pointed out that the Public Prosecution has urged Funai to take steps regarding the demarcation procedures under way and they have been considering adjustments to the process to enable the continuation of the cases. As for the PEC 215, she reported that steps had already been taken in relation to the unconstitutionality of the initiative.
The document submitted to the coordinator of the 6th Chamber further emphasized: “Another major problem we, indigenous peoples of Rondônia and Mato Grosso, face, is the use of pesticides in the surrounding of our territories. This is seriously affecting the health of our people and compromises biodiversity, reducing the fish in our rivers, the hunting in our forests, and it contaminates the water we consume.”
Regarding the health issues raised, the delegation denounced the overall lack of assistance and expressed their opposition to the creation of the INSI (National Institute for Indigenous Health). Dr. Deborah added: “If the indigenous health is bad already, it will get worse.”
Suruí leaders confirm in meeting with president of Funai that they no longer want the carbon project on their land
By Patrícia Bonilha, CIMI, 25 February 2015
Twelve leaders of the Paiter Suruí whose Indigenous Territory (IT) Sete de Setembro is located in the state of Rondônia, confirmed at a meeting held in the morning of the 24th of February with the president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), Flávio Chiarelli, that they want the Suruí Forest Carbon project to be suspended. The main arguments made by leaders were: serious divisions that have occurred among their peoples; non-fulfilment of promises that life in the communities would improve (while at the same time, they noted, a few families have benefited significantly); the removal of leaders and the centralization of representation of their peoples; and the threats made to several among their peoples who have recently voiced their opposition to the project.
The project signed [a contract] with Brazil’s largest cosmetics company, Natura, in September 2013, which includes carbon credits equivalent to 120,000 tons  of carbon sequestered [in the forests] on the Sete de Setembro indigenous territory. The contract is from 2009 to 2012, for a reported value of R$ 1.2 million, according to press reports . As the first REDD project on indigenous territory, and with international certification, the project won acclaim around the world, in addition to being “sold” as a model project by companies that promote the “green” economy.
However, when the current general chief of the Paiter Suruí, Henrique Iabaday Surui, gave an interview to the September 2014 issue of Porantim newspaper about the severe impacts of this project, another reality was revealed. “The promises were very good: Better quality of life, health, education. Everybody contributed. But soon the conflict started and there was a lack of respect. We are all guilty of accepting this, of signing. But we were deceived and now, we are experiencing the consequences. The suffering is increasing. We regret. This project is not working for us”, explained Jonaton Surui, second chief of the village Linha 14. Then, he said that “if this project continues, there will be deaths, fights, jail. Not only among the Suruí, but among other peoples who are also getting involved with these projects, such as the Arara.”
Speaking in the Suruí language, the elder Joaquim, deputy general chief, reinforced the concerns expressed by his kin, Jonaton and Henrique. “We fell into the trap of a misleading proposal. We’re here to call for the suspension of this project which was also approved by Funai. We are here in front of the president of Funai to call for him to also take responsibility towards us. We do not want this project for our peoples any longer”, he stated emphatically.
In a document delivered to Funai, indigenous peoples from 10 peoples in Rondônia state:
“We demand with urgency the suspension and subsequent cancellation of the carbon project on the Suruí and Cinta Larga indigenous territories and the halting of implementation of any project that involves this kind of exploitation in all indigenous territories in the state of Rondônia and in Brazil. We emphasize the responsibility of FUNAI for the implementation of the Carbon Project on Suruí territory, in the absence of legislation providing for such an initiative.”
After explaining that FUNAI gave approval to the project because they had concluded that the project would benefit the community, and at the insistence of one of the leaders of the peoples, Flávio Chiarelli said that the facts reported by the Suruí leaders present at the meeting were serious and that the agency first needed to better understand what was happening. “This is the first time that the community says that this project is a problem. Once we have heard more [detail], we can refer the case to the attorney to review and, if necessary, bring a lawsuit against it,” he said.
The ongoing struggle for land
After a debate on the need for strengthening of regional Funai coordination and of the agency as a whole, another topic discussed during the morning meeting was the situation regarding the demarcation processes of indigenous territories in the states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso.
The director of ‘Territorial Protection’ at Funai, Aluísio Azanha, after presenting a brief analysis of the difficult political context in which the Funai has been working due to a lack of staff and the curtailment and reduction of financial resources, in addition to the offensive against indigenous rights, provided information on some of these processes. He said that, for example, the Karitiana and Kaxarari indigenous territories were facing legal problems and that in relation to the territories of the Cujubim, Migueleno and Wajoro, it would not be possible to set up working groups this year. Regarding the study in relation to the land of the Puruburá peoples, Azanha confirmed that field work in the area claimed as indigenous territory was expected to take place still in 2015.
In response, representatives of the Puruburá peoples, Antônio and Hosana, urged swift action from Funai in relation to the demarcation of the land and respect for their peoples. “Funai pulled us away from our original territory. We would never have left. The dream of our Elders is to have our land demarcated, but they are dying without seeing this dream come true, having to live in hiding because of the threats that we suffer,” said Hosana Puruburá.
Discussions about the demarcation processes on indigenous territories of the indigenous peoples in Rondônia were held in a meeting in the afternoon. However, already during the meeting in the morning, several leaders expressed their concern about the grave, and unfortunately quite common, invasion of indigenous territories in that state by loggers. A complaint shared by all of the 10 peoples present was related to the feeling of having been abandoned by Funai and a need for the strengthening of this agency in order to be able to provide the support that indigenous peoples need, for example in relation to surveillance and punishment of those who steal wood.
Read the full document the indigenous peoples in Rondônia presented to Funai.
 Índios suruí concluem 1ª venda de créditos de carbono indígenas do país, globo.com, 12 September 2013.
 Índios de Rondônia fecham primeira venda de carbono certificado, Folha de S. Paulo, 11 September 2013.