Tag Archives: Brazil

Reporting from the Amazon

Environmental activists, indigenous people, and traditional river communities gathered in Itaituba, Brazil for a 3-day workshop on threats to the Tapajós River and its people.
A march kicked off the long weekend of discussions, culminating with an opening ceremony on the banks of the river.

In 2016, I was fortunate to make contact with the environmental news site, Mongabay. The group supported my travel to the Tapajós region of the Brazilian Amazon where approximately 40 new hydropower dams are being planned. The region is facing other environmental threats as well, such as a shipping canal that would lead from the heart of Mato Grosso state to the Atlantic Ocean along the course of the Tapajós River. Thanks to a former AMARC employee, I made contact with Father Edilberto Sena in the city of Santarém. He founded the Amazon News Network, which I profiled for Mongabay. I also reported on the conflict and tensions between small-scale gold miners in the region and local indigenous populations. In the city of Altamira, the hub for the disastrous Belo Monte dam project, I interviewed traditional fisherfolk whose needs have been almost entirely overlooked by those planning mitigation measures for the dam.

This work would not have been possible without the support I received from a range of people, from the Movimento de Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), the environmental NGO Xingu Vivo, and the Federal Public Ministry, among others.

The Cacique Geral, or General Chief, of the Munduruku tribe wears traditional body paint and a head dress during a 3-day meeting in Itaituba. The meeting aimed to bring different regional groups together to develop strategies for facing threats to the area´s river and traditional livelihoods.

 

Afro-Brazilian Women Claim Power, and Show It Through Hair

In August, just before the Olympics, I had the pleasure to collaborate with Ana Terra Athayde on a story for the Guardian. The piece focused on the growing trend among Afro-Brazilian women to use natural hairstyles instead of straightening their hair. Whether in braids, afros, or dread locks, more women are embracing their natural beauty, and with it, their political and social power.

Raquel Martins is a community and university activist who has decided to embrace her natural curls.

The Sweet River Turned Sour

The Doce River runs red some 50 miles downstream from Mariana, the municipality where the Fundão dam collapsed sending tens of millions of tons of iron tailings into the river. (Zoe Sullivan, 2016)
The Doce River runs red some 50 miles downstream from Mariana, the municipality where the Fundão dam collapsed sending tens of millions of tons of iron tailings into the river. (Zoe Sullivan, 2016)

In April, I accompanied a group of permaculture activists and artists during a trip along Brazil’s Doce River. “Doce” means sweet in Portuguese. They were aiming to connect with different communities to try to identify needs and potential responses to the environmental devastation resulting from the Fundão dam´s collapse on November 5th last year. Environmental news web site Mongabay.com published two reports I produced from this trip. Then first focuses on the impact that the roughly 50 million tons of toxic iron tailings had on the river basin and its communities, while the second examines the range of responses arising from the disaster.

Reporting on Zika, Highlighting Social Inequality

This protest banner reads “Sanitation Yes! Cable car No! ” It was part of a joint demonstration of the Rocinha and Vidigal favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Melaina Spitzer, Catalytic Communities, 2013.
This protest banner reads “Sanitation Yes! Cable car No! ” It was part of a joint demonstration of the
Rocinha and Vidigal favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Melaina Spitzer, Catalytic Communities, 2013.

The outbreak of Zika and the associated cases of microcephaly in Brazil have terrified many, and as the Rio Olympics draw near, the media are returning to the issue. Earlier this year, Al Jazeera English published my report from Recife on how gender, race and class play into this scenario. Recife is a majority Black city, yet wealth is unevenly distributed, and most low-income residents are people of color. One women’s rights advocate explained that women also represent the bulk of Brazil’s self-employed workers, which means they have no sick leave or safety net.

And while Brazil is fumigating to control the mosquito population, public health researchers sustain that mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue, which are devastating the population, will be controlled more effectively once Brazil ensures universal access to running water and sewer systems.

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Living in Paradise: a multi-media documentary on Pernambuco’s women fisher folk

Vania Maria de Alcàntara looks up at a mangrove tree as she starts a shellfishing expedition.
Vania Maria de Alcàntara looks up at a mangrove tree as she starts a shellfishing expedition.

I owe a debt of thanks to Allison Mills who suggested I look into the Creativist (now Atavist) platform for this project. Below is a link to the project I put together after my eight months in Brazil exploring the issues affecting women, especially women fisher folk, south of Recife near the Suape Port and Industrial Complex. The idea was to explore the impact that an expanding port and industrial complex (complete with a brand new Petrobras refinery) was having on the women and the environment that sustains their livelihoods. There is much more to say about this and the overall impact, but the link below will take you to the multi-media piece that I have finally finished.
This project was only possible thanks to the tremendous generosity I found in Pernambuco from people like Renato Amram Athias, Méle Dornelas and Diana Moura. The Centro das Mulheres de Cabo de Santo Agostinho deserves acknowledgement as well for all the connections and support they provided.
Since I started this project, Petrobras has come under investigation for corruption, corruption exemplified by the Suape refinery. Brazil’s economy has slowed down significantly, and the country’s political landscape is much more unstable than it was. The stories in this piece are stories you would not likely hear elsewhere. They come from the grassroots and express some of the realities of people who have been living a subsistence lifestyle in the midst of an expanding capitalist project. Please share the link widely.

https://zoe.atavist.com/suape

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Valeria Maria de Alcântará, marisqueira

Roughly 5000 women participate in Pernambuco’s “straw hat” community education course for fisher women. Unlike their male counterparts, who generally use boats to fish off-shore, the women fisher folk are marisqueiras, shellfish women. They collect mollusks, sand crabs, brown crabs and other shellfish from the tidal mangrove swamps that hug the state’s coast. They do the work barefoot since they can since up to their mid-calves in the muddy terrain. At times, the women will be waist deep in water or higher as they pry mussels from tree branches or coax small crabs out from their shelter among the mangrove trees. Marisqueiras subsist on what they catch, which generally supplements the income the men in the household earn on the water or through other work.

But the marisqueiras say that the conditions in the mangrove swamps has deteriorated dramatically over the past several years. The decline corresponds to expansions at the Suape Port and Industrial Complex which houses two shipbuilding firms, a coca-cola bottling plant, and various chemical companies, among other enterprises.

The complex is located roughly 2 hours south of the state capital, Recife, on a coast known for its beautiful beaches. For some, the expansion has led to job opportunities in the port complex, which contributes roughly 10% of the state’s revenues. For Brazil as a whole, the new oil refinery offers a way to process some of the country’s oil wealth and avoid paying a premium for refined products it has to import. For many others in the area, the expansion disrupted lives and livelihoods by displacing people from their homes and crippling damage to the mangrove swamps’ ecosystem.

I owe tremendous thanks to Valeria Maria de Alcântará, who is featured in this slideshow, as well as to Melé Dornelas of the Comité Pastoral da Pesca, which organizes subsistence fisherfolk like Ms. de Alcântará. Many others deserve recognition for their help:  Helenilda Cavalcanti of the Fundaçao Joaquim Nabuco and Nivete Azevedo of the Centro das Mulheres do Cabo.

Suape’s Children: The Social Impacts of Brazil’s Top-Down Development

After reporting on the BP oil spill and its aftereffects, I became interested in the dynamics of oil production and coastal communities. Suape, a port and industrial complex in Brazil’s northeast gave me an opportunity to do some research into an area with some similarities to coastal Louisiana. What I found is a pattern of development that has received a fair bit of attention in relation to the World Cup:  a top-down model that imposes plans on low-income communities, all too often with violent methods.

Many people helped me over the course of this project. I am particularly indebted to Alex Shankland, my professor at the Institute of Development Studies, who first mentioned the Suape complex to me. Alex also connected me with Renato Athias, who provided extensive contacts and support during my first months in the area.

One result of my efforts is this piece published by Pacific Standard Magazine.

Valeria de Alcantara hunts for crabs on a beach near the Suape port complex.
Valeria de Alcantara hunts for crabs on a beach near the Suape port complex.

Brazil’s Fragile Energy System: Another Impetus for World Cup Protests?

An image from the massive 2009 blackout that struck Brazil.
An image from the massive 2009 blackout that struck Brazil.

“The big frailty today in the electrical system is the national grid system,” he said.

In early March I saw an article about the risk to Brazil’s power supply presented by low reservoir levels. Al Jazeera America agreed to work with me on an article about the way the instabilities in the country’s power system could feed into social tensions leading up to the World Cup. The result is here.  I owe a huge thanks to Pedro Telles for connecting me with a key source in this story, as well as Peter Ratcliffe, for the same reason.

 

Photo from the MadeInBrazil typepad blog:

Industrial Impacts Highlighted in The Guardian

The Guardian recently published a piece of mine about the impact that the Suape Port Complex, just south of Recife, is having on traditional fishing communities. This is the project that brought me back to Brazil, and I’m working on developing other outputs for it. My hope is to create a photographic and audio installation that will communicate some of the experiences of the people who live in the area near the port. In the meantime, you can read the story on how pollution from the port is impacting women shellfishers here.

  • Vania Maria de Alcàntara contemplates a mangrove tree at the start of a shellfishing expedition in a swamp near the Suape Port Complex.
  • Valeria Maria de Alcàntara tests a stream bed to ensure she doesn't step on a stinging eel.
  • This kind of exposure to polluted water results in high rates of skin and reproductive infections according to a study done by the Sociedade Nordestina de Ecologia.
  • A kilo of crab meat will sell for roughly 70 Reals, and it now takes 3 mornings to collect this amount, when it used to take just one.
  • Valeria Maria de Alcàntara styles her daughter's hair after a morning's work in the mangrove swamp.
 

 

 

“Rolezinhos” Fill Brazilian Malls — And Reveal Racial and Class Tensions

Janaína Oliveira, a racial justice activist in Recife, Brazil, tells onlookers at the Rio Mar shopping mall that this "rolezinho" aims to ensure that malls are accessible to people of color.
Janaína Oliveira, a racial justice activist in Recife, Brazil, tells onlookers at the Rio Mar shopping mall that this “rolezinho” aims to ensure that malls are accessible to people of color.

In January, Brazil was filled with news about “rolezinhos,” little outings. Rolezinhos are get-togethers organized on facebook. Primarily, they have offered way for low-income youth, who are also often people of color, to hang out, flirt, and shop in malls. But in early December roughly 6,000 youth came out to a rolezinho in São Paulo, and the event was accompanied by rumors of theft and mass muggings, although only three people were reportedly arrested. This blog post by Rio Gringa, offers an excellent review of the course of events and the debates around the gatherings. Repression by mall administrators and police, including pre-emptive arrests, led Amnesty International to call the response to the rolezinhos discriminatory and racist. Solidarity rolezinhos were planned and held in different parts of Brazil, including Recife. Public Radio International´s The World gave me an opportunity to cover this phenomenon for them, and to talk about the class and racial tensions that the rolezinhos are revealing as Brazil heads into the final months of preparing to host the World Cup.