Women’s Protest at Aracruz Celebrates 5 Years [3-4-11]

Friday, March 4, 2011

2006 action at aracruzBy Bianca Costa

On the morning of March 8, 2006, 1,800 women from Via Campesina carried out a major action against the monoculture of eucalyptus in Rio Grande do Sul.

Organized, women occupied the nursery tree farm of Aracruz Celulose, in Barra do Ribeiro, a city that is about two hours from Porto Alegre. In the action, they destroyed greenhouses and trays of eucalyptus.

The impact of the protest broadened the debate on the monoculture of eucalyptus and drew the attention of society on social evils, environmental and economic impacts of this type of culture.

Why the Aracruz cellulose

In 2006, there occurred in Porto Alegre, the international meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an organization linked to the United Nations (UN) to discuss agrarian reform and rural development.

The women decided it was time to make visible for the countries that participated in the conference the consequences of large-scale planting of eucalyptus. "The women decided to make public what was happening with the land, with farmers and health for the whole of society. Deciding that Aracruz symbolized the complaint and therefore they occupied and destroyed the seeds and seedlings from nurseries as a way to draw attention to the society that represents this type of cultivation, "says Ivanete Tonin, the MST activist.

Eucalyptus trees need plenty of water for their development. Originally from the humid regions of Australia, the plant needs an average of 30 liters of water per day throughout their growth phases.

In Brazil, although it has many rivers, there are vast regions of wetlands, so the large scale planting of eucalyptus can cause imbalances in the waters in the region for planting. As a result of this, there will be a lack of water for plants, human and animal consumption.

Because their roots are very deep, eucalyptus dry meadows, artesian wells and slopes, bringing the dryness to the land surface in the region and changes in rainfall patterns. The lack of humidity makes it harder for the cold fronts to enter and there occur more droughts, as recorded in the southern region of Rio Grande do Sul, where more eucalyptus is planted.

At the time, Aracruz was one of the largest producers of pulp in the world. In 2006, in Rio Grande do Sul, the multinational had 300,000 hectares of land to plant eucalyptus, from which is extracted plant cellulose. The company's intention was then to arrive in 2015 with one million hectares of land planted in the state. Over 95% of the pulp is exported.

The product is used for the production of toilet paper, paper towel, tissue, absorbent paper and other disposable products, according to the information from the communication "The Eucalyptus plantation: Basics information about monoculture of trees and paper industries," by Via Campesina of Rio Grande do Sul.

This situation, symbolized by Aracruz, caused the women to decide to act. "This action was intended to denounce this entire pattern of production that turns the poor countries into only colonies. We are only left with the injury", reports Ivanete.

The act during the week of the FAO workshop was intended to draw attention to the federal government's actions. "The government came to Porto Alegre to advertise that Brazil was ending hunger. But in fact, this government represents the interests of capital in the field. It is a government that does not make agrarian reform and advocates for agribusiness, "said Ana Hanauer, the state leadership of the MST.

Role in class struggle

In addition to reporting the rural exodus caused by the expansion of plantation areas of eucalyptus monoculture, the expulsion of small farmers from nearby areas due to the scarcity of water and also the terrible conditions of workers who are hired without labor rights by enterprises in the sector, the action had a strong impact within the social movements, of the left in general and in society.

"The March 8, 2006 action represented the statement and the construction of a proletarian feminism against capital. Because until now, feminism was closely linked to the middle class, to the demands that are important to women, but until then we didn’t have a more concrete action to confront capital," says Claudia Teixeira, the Movement of Unemployed Workers (MTD).

The action in Aracruz has given greater visibility to the struggles of women of Via Campesina. Until then, actions were realized along the line of affirming the presence of different sectors women from the perspective of rights.

In 2006, women become the protagonists of the point of view of the struggle against capital. "We arrived in time to say that in this model of society, neither men nor women have a life. Also there was a big reverberation in the movements, as women took all assumed all demands of the preparation of the act. This represented a very important internal empowerment," said Brixner Sarai, of the Movement of Small Farmers (MPA).

The demonstration also marked the first strong action of the women of MPA. "It meant, then, a milestone for us as a social movement of women's struggle. Moreover, the action revealed a whole discussion about monoculture and transgenic contamination of the environment with the production of pulp," said Rosiel Lüdtke, of the MPA.

In La Via Campesina, the women entered a period of ascension, in which they participated more intensely in debates and gender issues. "This action designed as a reference in the policy of class struggle. We had to respond to the moment and that exceeded the guidelines of the movements," explains Ana Hanauer, of the MST.

The action represented a reaffirmation of a larger struggle against capital and reveals, according to Ivanete Tonin, the idea that there is no women's liberation without the destruction of capital. "The liberation of women is not only in the home, or in relationships, but to build another model of society. The oppression of women is also grounded in capitalist society," says Ivanete.

The leadership of women in the action is also highlighted by the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB). According to Patricia Prezotto, women begin to guide the class struggle. "It was a historic moment for women. They begin to not accept what the capital required. This action in Aracruz shows that women are able to make the fight against capital," notes Patricia.

The identification of capital as the great enemy of the working class was also an accumulation of the struggle." 2006 brings us to the discussion of the pulp and monoculture, because until then, society did not realize the harm this kind of culture poses to humanity," recalls Izanete Maria Colla, the Movement of Rural Women (MMC).

Moreover, the construction of the struggle in Aracruz represented a stronger unity among women. "Women have been identified, because the action pounded hard on the issue of monoculture, the environmental issue and the issue of capital. This greatly strengthened the movements that participated in the struggle," says Elci da Paz, of the MMC.

Another aspect is that the struggle of March 8, 2006 questioned the option of the left to bet on the electoral process to make structural changes in society in favor of workers. "That action showed that poor women who moved there did not feel included in this power, in so far as they  denounced the Lula government for releasing GMOs and relaxing the environmental laws. So it's an action that also shocked by questioning this means to make the fight," explains Ivanete.

2006 action at aracruzReaction of society

Women estimate that at first, the immediate reaction of the population was to criticize and condemn the action, especially by the influence bourgeois media, but after the matter was first discussed, many people came to see the occupation of Aracruz with other eyes and supported the fight against the monoculture of eucalyptus.

"An important part of society understood that women have destroyed that which was destroying the earth, drying rivers and causing a lot of problems, including health," estimated Neiva Vivian, of the MST.

However, due to the approach of the media that treated the action as a crime and defended the company, ignoring the impacts of monoculture to the population and the environment, some sectors of society have not yet grasped the importance of the destruction of the Aracruz tree nursery. "We're not against technology, we are against a technology when it's just for profit," reports Ivanete.

The action in Aracruz is in the context of the condition of barbarism of women living in patriarchal capitalist society. "We women have nothing to lose. And this is understandable gesture of radicalism from the time when women say that only socialism solves the problem of women. It is not possible to overcome it in any other way. There is not reform, no government action that eases the condition of oppression of women in the society in which we live," summarizes Ana.