A Meeting of Struggles: Early Warning System Co-administrators and Community Organizers Gather in Brazil
By Alexandre Andrade Sampaio
With areas of native vegetation as far as the eye can see, a vibrant cultural scene, one of the most advanced technological and educational parks in the world, the description of São José dos Campos, metropolis of the Brazilian Paraíba Valley, could make us think of the city as the ideal destination for tourism, work and life. In fact, in a not-too-distant past, it was with this perspective that people sought comfort and well-being in the region that, in the early 20th century, was considered a favourable climate resort for the treatment of tuberculosis due to the so-called “sea in constant calmness”. — the millennial park named Banhado.
It was in this city that we decided, in June 2022, to hold the first meeting of organizations and communities that co-administer the Early Warning System (EWS) and the Network of Communities Impacted by International Financial Institutions (Network of Communities). The meeting included the 9 organizations that co-administer EWS for Latin America and the Caribbean [International Accountability Project (IAP) — global; Instituto Maíra — Brazil; Sustentarse — Chile; Fundación para el Desarrollo de Policies Sustentables (FUNDEPS) — Argentina; Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) — regional; Network of Communities — regional; International Platform Against Impunity — regional; Coesión Comunitaria and Innovación Social (CCIS) — Mexico; and the Colectivo sobre Financiamiento e Inversiones Chinas, Ambiente y Derechos Humanos (CICDHA) — regional] and with all the communities that co-created the Network of Communities (Movimiento Ríos Vivos Antioquia, from Colombia, Associação de Favelas de São José dos Campos, from Brazil, Movimento Cajón del Maipo, from Chile, and Mujeres Changas, also from Chile).
We also had the privilege of being accompanied by leaders and organizations of extreme relevance to our work and life: a quilombola community in the Araripe region in Brazil, impacted by the New Development Bank; a community in Piauí, also in Brazil, impacted by the World Bank; a leadership of the Prevention Amazon Group, which is collectively impacted by projects of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the BNDES and other financial institutions; a Paraguayan peasant community impacted by the World Bank; and a Guatemalan movement impacted by the IDB Group.
In addition, the following organizations were present: Bank Information Center, Sinergia Animal, Earth Rights International, The Hunger Project, Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres, the Public Defender’s Office of the State of São Paulo, and CONECTAS Direitos Humanos, whose partnership was essential for the organization and coordination of the event.
Choosing São José dos Campos as the setting for our meeting sought to honor all the aspects for which the city is known, which would provide a dignified welcome to the important communities and organizations that we invited to accompany us. However, we found a completely different reality than expected. We were surprised by police monitoring and persecution, in the municipality that we discovered to be classified as the first smart city in Brazil — that is, which has a security monitoring and communication system with cameras and agents everywhere. We were told that our meetings were being monitored and that our guests were being followed, with reports of people being approached by plainclothes agents inside the hotel where our guests were staying. When visiting one of the most pristine areas of the city in environmental terms, the aforementioned Banhado, we also discovered that communities of quilombola and indigenous ancestry, who live sustainably in the region, are fighting against strong real estate speculation and an ostensible presence of public security, which seeks to clean the area for the construction of parks and luxury condominiums — first comes the park and then the parking, as Ailton Krenak would say. Once a source of health, Banhado has also been suffering from climate change and the land that composes it has been burning from within, perhaps in the most perfect expression of autophagic necrocapitalist chaos, spreading malaise and respiratory diseases throughout the region.
The unique reception by São José dos Campos, however, was not enough to undermine our impetus for collective work, seeking to take stock of our efforts and plan for an even more promising future, in alliance with organizations and communities. Regarding the Early Warning System, a unique early monitoring tool of international financial institutions’ projects and plans, we evaluated how our dissemination of information and partnership with communities is successfully preventing and addressing human and environmental rights violations in Latin America and the Caribbean. We discussed how we can make our information even more accessible, reaching a greater number of people that might not have been consulted in relation to projects, in which their community priorities do not appear. We evaluated the importance of some of our tools, such as our Community Action Guides, community development plans, consultation protocols, podcasts. In this spirit, we reflected and developed a plan on how best to use and disseminate them. At the end, we renewed our alliance and committed to seek greater synergies to increase our capacity to help communities, in partnership with the other organizations that participated in the event.
The Network of Communities had the opportunity to celebrate the alliance between its members and the objectives achieved collectively. At the same time, the Network was celebrated by representatives of other communities and organisations that share its vision. The thematic discussions and the territorial and cultural incursions, chaired by the Network’s board with the help of the hostess community in Brazil, the Associação de Favelas de São José dos Campos, point to a more promising future than the already fraternal one of the present.
There were six days of work in São José dos Campos, sharing hugs, food, laughter, cries, customs and dreams for the future. After years of working online, we have dedicated ourselves to an extremely intense agenda, in an environment that unfortunately proved to be hostile to our presence, which even made us fear for the safety of our colleagues, but which at least brought us more empathy towards the conflict experienced by our host organization on a daily basis and that will surely strengthen us in the search for common protection and well-being. We have a lot to thank to all of those who, during a pandemic and all its implications, were able to support us and contribute to the construction of our history of struggle. This fight is essential for places like the Banhado to be preserved and for the communities that inhabit them to be able to stop violations in progress and prevent those that could come. This future we seek can only be achieved with the strength of our fraternity, empathy, mutual protection and union of our network. Ours was up to the challenge. Thanks to Network of Communities, to the co-administrators of the EWS, to our allies who came to honor and help us, and to São José dos Campos. We will be back!
Alexandre Andrade Sampaio is the Policy and Programs Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Brazil.
Note: All images used in this post are collectively owned by event participants.