in Brazil

Interview with Cleber Buzatto, CIMI: “The REDD mechanism is not a solution to the climate problems regardless of the colour of money and funding sources”

Interview with Cleber Buzatto, Executive Secretary of CIMI (the Indigenous Missionary Council). The interview was conducted by email in August 2015.

REDD-Monitor: Please describe the organisation CIMI and how CIMI works with social movements and indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Cleber Buzatto: The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) is a non-profit organization, with a religious character, founded in 1972. Since then, it has worked in the service of the indigenous peoples in Brazil. From its origins, during the military dictatorship, CIMI has opposed integrationist policies and publicly defends the right and the conditions necessary for indigenous peoples to continue to exist according to their own way of life. CIMI is linked to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), with a nationwide presence through 11 regional offices, a National Secretariat and 88 base teams, where about 200 of Cimi’s indigenous agents operate. This decentralized structure allows CIMI to work with approximately 180 indigenous peoples. CIMI prioritizes the capacity and support to the struggle of peoples for the protection and realisation of their rights, especially for having their traditional lands demarcated and without intrusions of non-indigenous on their lands, besides guaranteeing their rights to differentiated public policies, such as those related to health and education.

Each of the 11 CIMI regional offices has a basic structure that supports, guides and coordinates the work of its teams in indigenous areas. The National Secretariat plays the role of articulating the different actors at the national level and makes available to its agents, to the indigenous peoples, their leaders, communities and organisations a group of advisers in the political, legal, theological and communication areas. CIMI articulates and seeks to articulate the demands of the indigenous peoples with other social actors in Brazil, especially social movements that struggle for land, as well as organisations that defend human rights. The Via Campesina Brazil is one of the organisational platforms of social movements of which CIMI is a member and seeks to contribute.

REDD-Monitor: What is CIMI’s position on the way REDD is developing in Brazil and internationally at the UNFCCC level?

2015-10-23-160319_1168x1019_scrotCleber Buzatto: The REDD mechanism is being developed in Brazil through the strategy of “fait accompli”. There is no national law on the subject. In relation to indigenous lands, that is even more serious since the Federal Constitution states that the usufruct of indigenous land is exclusive to its people. REDD on indigenous lands can be equated to a land lease mechanism. Therefore the indigenous peoples and communities would not no longer have exclusive usufruct. This is against our Constitution. The lease was one of the main strategies used by the settlers to implement the practice of dispossession of indigenous lands in Brazil. We consider the way REDD is being developed in Brazil to be illegitimate.

Internationally, the debate involves economic interests of corporations, nation states and some non-governmental organisations. All are interested in the financial potential resulting from the application of this mechanism. When one or another Brazilian indigenous people defends this mechanism in a space for discussion or in an event on the topic at international level, in general, this participation, besides not having representation of the indigenous peoples in Brazil, so we have noted, has even served as a pro-REDD marketing effect.

REDD-Monitor: Please explain CIMI’s position on REDD as a carbon trading mechanism. If REDD were not funded by carbon trading, do you think it could be successful?

Cleber Buzatto: We believe that the REDD mechanism is not a solution to the climate problems regardless of the colour of money and funding sources.

REDD-Monitor: In September 2014, CIMI published a special issue of its magazine Porantim, under the title, “Nature for Sale”. The first article in the magazine described REDD as a “scam”, because it does not reduce emissions. It described “green capitalism” as synonymous with neocolonialism, and REDD as “recalling the strategy used by settlers in the 16th century to conquer and destroy indigenous peoples, seizing their territories”. Please expand on why CIMI is opposed to the financialisation of nature, the green economy and carbon markets.

Cleber Buzatto: The capitalist system is a chameleon. It changes colour constantly to self preserve and extend its reach. We believe that REDD is another expression of the capitalist movement. With the “greening”, it will be able to reach corners of the world that are still free from capitalism. It is common knowledge that climate problems are exacerbated by the capitalist mode of production that turns wishes into “needs”, generating consumerism, which is a source of profit and capital accumulation of an increasingly small number of people. Consumerism associated with the culture of disposal strengthens the movement of exploitation of natural resources, which have become commodities to feed back into the system.

We believe that the real solution to the climate problem is exactly the way of life of indigenous peoples, who preserve the environment because of their relations without commercial or financial interests. It is this model of indigenous peoples’ relationship with the environment that needs to be fed into non-indigenous society, and not the reverse. REDD distorts indigenous peoples’ non-capitalist relationship with their environment. It leads to the reorganisation of communities in capitalism’s own interest. With REDD people would no longer take care of the environment in accordance with their own relationship with it. They would do so because of an external contract and the possibilities of “capital inflows”. This, in turn, feeds capitalism’s own principles within the indigenous peoples. Strengthened by the injection of capital, capitalist principles could stifle the principles and values of the peoples, destroying them as such. This is unsustainable.

REDD-Monitor: The “Nature for Sale” issue of Porantim includes an interview with Henrique Suruí about the Paiter-Surui REDD project in Brazil. REDD-Monitor posted an English translation of the interview and a lively debate followed about the pros and cons of the project. Please briefly describe CIMI’s view of the controversy.

Cleber Buzatto: We were aware that the mentioned issue of the Journal Porantim would cause a reaction and a heated discussion on the topic. That’s exactly what happened. CIMI came under quite an attack in this process, but we understand that we fulfilled our responsibility to shed light on the case and the issue at hand. Although used as a model around the world, the Paiter Suruí REDD project is exacerbating a number of internal conflicts and creating social stratification typical of capitalism within the Suruí people. We understand that this issue needs to be known and discussed in great depth, especially among the Indigenous Peoples. Controversy always generates reflection and, therefore, was and remains necessary.

REDD-Monitor: REDD proponents often claim that REDD is a way of ensuring respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, particularly land rights. What is CIMI’s experience of the impact of REDD on indigenous peoples’ rights in Brazil? Will REDD safeguards, such as free, prior and informed consent, help to address the dangers of REDD?

Cleber Buzatto: Every case we know of implementing or attempting to implement REDD projects among indigenous peoples in Brazil have caused and cause great confusion and profound social and cultural distortions. We understand that the threats to indigenous lands in Brazil, which are very intense, stem from the insatiable greed of economic sectors aimed at generating capital through the exploitation of these lands. This movement occurs in the lands already demarcated, which are being held and preserved by the peoples, as well as in those lands that have been invaded and exploited by non-indigenous people. We understand that although distinct from conventional mechanisms, REDD is also a mechanism for appropriation and exploitation of these indigenous lands.

We do not know whether the safeguards and free, prior and informed consent will be effectively implemented and will help people to face the dangers of REDD. Based on the experiences in Brazil so far, this is unlikely to happen. The Brazilian government is about to be denounced precisely for not meeting the Convention 169, of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

At the same time, Cimi believes in values and helps strengthen the role of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil. As a result, the respect for the choices and political decisions of these peoples is a foundational institutional principle in CIMI. We consider it essential that these decisions are truly conscious and collective. In this sense, it is necessary that indigenous peoples understand and deeply reflect on REDD so that the eventual decision to implement REDD projects does not result from the imposition of the will and interests of minority groups and outside organisations. CIMI has the institutional responsibility and willingness to contribute to this process.

REDD-Monitor: Brazil’s Congress is considering a constitutional change (PEC 215) that would transfer the power to demarcate indigenous peoples’ land from FUNAI (Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency) to Congress. What do you see as the implications of PEC 215 for indigenous rights and for the future of REDD in Brazil?

Cleber Buzatto: The so-called “ruralist caucus” – made up of parliamentarians who defend the interests of large national and multinational agribusiness corporations – is trying to approve this change in the Brazilian Constitution with the main objective of preventing the recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands, the creation of new areas of environmental conservation and the issuing of land titles to quilombos in Brazil. Many indigenous peoples continue to live out of their traditional lands, in a permanent struggle with the Brazilian State, requesting the State to comply with the Constitution and guarantee them the right over their lands. The PEC 215 constitutional change would give even more power to the sectors that oppose the implementation of this fundamental right of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil.

REDD-Monitor: Deforestation in Brazil has fallen since 2004. This was partly a result of agricultural commodity prices, but it was also the result of a series of NGO campaigns, moratoria, government policies, government monitoring, and enforcement of the law. This happened before REDD started. Brazil’s rate of deforestation is now increasing. Is REDD supporting these earlier measures to reduce deforestation, or is it undermining them?

Cleber Buzatto: We do not have enough information to support a position on this issue.

REDD-Monitor: In June 2015, Barack Obama and Dilma Rousseff agreed a new US-Brazil climate partnership, under which Brazil committed to restoring 12 million hectares of forest and expanding renewable energy to between 28% and 33% of its energy mix. What is CIMI’s analysis of this agreement?

Cleber Buzatto: The Brazilian government’s political practice and investments go against the discourses and agreements allegedly committed to defending environmental balance. Brazil has also recently formalised agreements with China that include major investments in infrastructure projects, especially for hydropower generation and better transport of agricultural and mineral commodities in the Amazon region. The prospect is that Brazil will quadruple mineral exploration and can advance even into the indigenous lands in the coming years. In practice, this will mean intense pressure and large scale, irreversible environmental destruction. The Brazilian government is good at international marketing regarding environmental protection, but the reality is different.

REDD-Monitor: What do you see as the biggest threats to the people and forests of Brazil? And what do you see as the best way of addressing these threats? Is there any role for REDD to play in addressing these threats? Could REDD be reformed or is it a false solution to climate change and saving the forests?

Cleber Buzatto: In the Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si – On Care for our Common Home”, Pope Francis addresses humanity and, referring to the indigenous peoples, teaches “For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.” (LS 146) These teachings are deeply attuned to the reality experienced by indigenous peoples in Brazil.

In proposing “Lines of Approach and Action,” the Pope is even more emphatic: “They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples.” (LS 179)

As is evident, Francis proposes that the whole of humanity should live more in line with the way of life of indigenous peoples. We agree that this is truly a necessary move that humanity should do, in seeking a solution to climate change (at least regarding human actions) and “saving the forests”. Our understanding is that REDD goes totally against this movement. Therefore, it is not a solution to these issues.

Full Disclosure: This interview is part of a series of posts and interviews about REDD in Brazil, with funding from Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung e.V. (Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.)

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