If you have ever wondered why or how the United States became a world power, part of the answer lies in the word, 'geography.' If you have ever wondered why slave revolts in the U.S. were unsuccessful, again part of the answer lies in the word, geography. Brazil however, in the 19th century, possessed the geographical layout that presented slaves with the opportunity to escape from their Portuguese colonizers into unmapped areas to create their own freedom within their own communities called Quilombos. As with the descendants of any civilization, the task of carrying the legacy of their ancestors is an inevitable responsibility. More often than not that work is challenged or interrupted by colonialism, war, slavery or--as in this case--structural racism. Although slavery in Brazil ended in 1888, the settlements of escaped slaves, also known as Quilombos, still exist today.
Since its inception, Quilombolas have struggled to keep their land. At the centennial of the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1988, the Brazilian government recognized (for the first time) the African descendants' right to land, but not their legal right to own the land. Instead, the government set in place both procedural and structural measures that make acquiring the title of their land an extremely burdensome process. Without this documentation, the government essentially provides an open door policy for big businesses to exploit the natural resources on Quilombo land. The government deemed Quilombos historic sites. While their acknowledgement is certainly important in maintaining the integrity and cultural identity of these communities, they have failed to live up to their responsibility of protecting the people and their land from exploitative corporate practices as Brazil forges ahead in becoming a world power. Plagued by a government that has failed to protect them from their own economic interests, big businesses seeking their natural resources, procedural delays in the titling process and negative portrayal in the media, a fair and just day for Quilombolas seems obstacles away.
Campinho da Independencia has overcome those obstacles and was the second Quilombo to earn the title to their land. Three women--Antonica, Marcelina and Maria Luiza--pioneered the fight to take back the land after the descendants of the Portuguese landowners returned to reclaim it after having realized its value. Anthropologist and author of Terra de Preto Terra de Mulheres ('Black Earth, Land of Women') Neusa Guzman aided in the process to gain their title which aligned with the government who decided that the claims for legal property be examined on the basis of an anthropological assessment to evaluate the authenticity of claims to a Quilombo ancestry. NGOs and international attention have raised a mirror to the shameful practices that have perpetuated contradiction.
Now it's a matter of moral consciousness that one day must outweigh the corporate drive fueled by financial gain.