How a quilombola community created a consultation protocol to defend its way of life

In the northeastern region of Chapada do Araripe, remnants of the Quilombo Serra dos Rafaéis are impacted by wind farms and fight for a fair energy transition

Criança da comunidade faz a leitura do protocolo de consulta durante o lançamento do documento. Foto: Jeferson Batista/Conectas Criança da comunidade faz a leitura do protocolo de consulta durante o lançamento do documento. Foto: Jeferson Batista/Conectas

The mandacaru cactus dominates the landscape of Serra dos Rafaéis, in the Chapada do Araripe – a region on the border between the states of northeastern states Ceará, Pernambuco and Piauí. It is a resistant, strong and grandiose cactus. These characteristics can also be used to describe the quilombola people who live there.

The remnants of the Quilombo Serra dos Rafaéis, in the municipality of Simões (state of Piauí), have set up a center of resistance and refuge in the caatinga scrubland region of the state. They have been living there for decades in an integrated way with nature. They derive much of their sustenance from the land, primarily by cultivating cassava. The residents of the community have established their own social and cultural practices there. One of them is the organization of community life around the activities of the local chapel, where women and men stage celebrations, religious events and meetings of the community association.

Local families continue to resist and fight for their rights, including for their way of life and their territory. With the official end of slavery, their main concerns are no longer the slave masters, but instead the impacts caused by the growing installation of wind farms in the region. 

A protocol in defense of quilombola lives

The community defined its position in this context and drafted its own protocol for free, prior and informed consultation, based on Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organization) and other national and international legal instruments. Launched in May 2023, the document was produced in partnership with the Maíra Institute, Conectas, the National Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the Piauí State Public Defender’s Office and the International Accountability Project.

The purpose of the protocol is so all levels of government – federal, state and municipal – and all companies, irrespective of size, can learn about the community, its territory and its rights, including the time necessary for residents to prepare and to understand the issues that affect the place they live. 

“We must be consulted on anything that will impact us, regardless of whether it is done inside or outside of our territory. This could be public works, a law, an infrastructure project or issues involving the right to healthcare or education, or anything else that affects our people. We expect free, prior and informed consultation to be carried out at all stages of Environmental Licensing, and also during the granting and renewals of licenses, for any undertaking or project,” reads an excerpt from the document. 

“This document is the result of a great deal of struggle. Now, anyone who comes to our community will know how to enter, who to talk to and how they will be received by our association,” said José Antonio Nonato, aka ‘Seu Zezito’, one of the community leaders, during the event to launch the consultation protocol. “With our protocol, we have one more tool to request respect for our community.” 

During the process of drafting the protocol, the community association, which was created to organize local issues, sought information about the history of the founders of the community and knowledge about the laws that guarantee their rights. “This work by the association helps people in the community to understand who they are and what rights they have, and the protocol is very important in this regard. The protocol represents the voice of the community,” said Ana Clara Ribeiro de Sousa Castro, a Piauí state public defender, also at the launch of the document. 

According to Daniel Lopes Faggiano, executive director of the Maíra Institute, “the community is victorious”. The launch of this protocol is a victory. The community has shown that it is possible to build a better world”. 

The event, held at the end of May, was organized by the community in its territory and was attended by members of its partner organizations, the quilombola thinker Negô Bispo and a team of researchers from the Research and Study Group on Urban, Rural and Environmental Sustainability Indicator Systems (SURA), of the Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG).

Installation of wind farms

Over the past decade, the main threat to the rights of traditional peoples and communities, which are guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution and international treaties, are renewable energy projects. Wind farms have transformed not only the landscape, but also people’s lives. Their social relations and connection with the surrounding vegetation are being impacted. 

Inaugurated in 2017, the Ventos do Araripe III Complex was built by the Brazilian company Casa dos Ventos Energias Renováveis S.A. with financing from BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank) and NDB (New Development Bank), the financial institution of the BRICS group of emerging counties formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

In January 2020, a team of researchers from Conectas and the International Accountability Project visited the region, interviewed dozens of families from different communities near Ventos do Araripe III and found that the project has had an impact on the community. 

Among the main complaints are the loud noises made by the blades, which increase dramatically with the strength of the wind, even making it difficult for people to sleep. Increased frequency of lightning and death of animals, particularly birds, are also cited as new incidents that have started to occur since the arrival of the wind farms in the region. Right now, new wind farms are in the process of being installed in Araripe. 

Renewable energy and human rights 

The ever-increasing demand for renewable energy production is urgently needed in a world facing climate emergency that can no longer afford the impacts of fossil fuels and that requires real decarbonization alternatives. But this change necessarily implies respect for the most vulnerable populations, especially traditional communities, such as indigenous peoples, quilombola and fishing communities that have always been the guardians of natural resources, the environment and the preservation of life. As a recent report by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change stated, “shifting to a low-carbon economy can unlock new jobs and opportunities but it must be done in a way that is as socially and economically fair as possible for everyone”. This is the main point of the concept of just transition. 

“Wind energy is one of the alternatives available for the necessary and urgent shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. However, for energy to be truly ‘clean and cheap’, it is necessary to respect local communities. So-called sustainable energy projects cannot commit the same human rights violations that occurred at the Belo Monte Hydropower Plant, in the state of Pará, at the Capão Grande Small Hydropower Plant, in the state of Paraná, and that we have found in Araripe,” said Júlia Neiva, coordinator of the Defense of Socioenvironmental Rights program at Conectas. “It is clear that the production of clean energy must be encouraged, that Brazil needs to decarbonize its energy mix, but not to the detriment of local populations and their rights”.

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