In 1988, Brazil issued Article 68 in their new constitution that stated: “To the remnants of quilombola communities who are occupying their land will be recognized as the ultimate owners of this property and the state must grant them their respective titles.” Quilombos were communities of runaway slaves during the colonial period in Brazil. Quilombolas refers to the communities that are descendents of the colonial quilombo and still abide by the traditions and culture left behind by their ancestors. The change in the constitution was issued as a response to the Black Movement in Brazil fighting for the equality and recognition of rights for the people who are descendants of slaves. Article 68 represents a great victory for the Black Movement as it is the first movement in the world that provides reparations to the descendants of slaves for the ill treatment of their ancestors. Unfortunately, Article 68 has only proven to be effective on paper. In practice, many of these communities have been recognized as quilombolas but only a handful have been given the actual title to their land. The Quilombola Movement was formed as an extension of the Black Movement to create a more specific focus on ensuring that the Brazilian government abides by Article 68 and fulfills its obligations as stated in this law. Obtaining land for these communities is more significant than the economic benefits. For the quilombola, it means that they are being recognized as citizens of the nation that their families have called home for a long time.
By giving this brief history, I hope to convey a bit of context to the focus of my research this semester. I choose to go deeper into the importance of quilombolas in Brazilian politics by finding areas that quilombolas are used as political symbols. Additionally, I wanted to take a deeper look into the relationship between Quilombola Movement and the Black Movement.
Quilombolas are important in Brazilian politics because government officials constantly exploit the images of these communities to demonstrate positive changes that are happening because of Brazilian legislation. For instance, the Fundação Cultural de Palmares was created as an organization that recognizes these communities as quilombolas. By doing so, they created an image of government efficiency by showing that there was actual change happening in Brazil. Not only did this foundation recognize quilombolas, but it created awareness of the Afro-Brazilian culture through educational and cultural programs which expanded the positive image of the government to the Black Movement. The creation of this foundation addressed major issues the movement was fighting for such as the recognition of the Afro-Brazilian history. Additionally, when looking at news articles created by major Brazilian news journals, the majority of them use quilombolas as the perfect example of the government listening to the oppressed people of Brazil and actually making changes. Globo, for example, did a piece on how the state of Gioana is giving one of their quilombolas free housing. Other articles in my blog highlight the work that the government is doing to provide programs that improve the standard of living in quilombolas. These articles are only highlighting the superficial changes that have taken place with the quilombolas.
On the other hand, you have more liberal international news sources that choose to publicate the reality that the quilombolas are living. The article, I posted by the Huffington Pos,t was an investigative piece on various quilombolas in Brazil. This piece highlighted the inefficiencies of the government and brought to light the actual results of Article 68. It showed that not all officially recognized quilombolas have been given the title to their land. On the contrary, quilombolas have to partake in an extensive battle with the government for their land. The Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária has the final verdict on giving these communities their land, and they do not grant this land the majority of the time. In my “Maps” post, I demonstrate the actual amount of land titles given in Brazil amounting to only 190 out of the 2471 quilombolas that have been recognized.
Moving on to my exploration of the relationship between the Quilombola and Black Movement, I found that the issue of quilombola land rights actually unified more people to the Black Movement. Historically, the Black Movement has not been successful in gathering large volumes of people for their cause because many Brazilians do not consider themselves black. Their identity is tied to their socio-economic background. This is due to Brazilians not recognizing any “race” and considering themselves a racial democracy. Fighting for the land rights of quilombolas allows Afro-Brazilians to unite without having to specify their race. Additionally, Barbara Olivera Souza, a social anthropologist from the University of Brasilia, writes that members of quilombola communities are united through an idea of brotherhood that is possessed by each of these communities throughout Brazil. This unity allows for the Quilombola Movement to be unified in their fight for land.
Through this semester long research project, it is evident that quilombolas are a significant symbol of legislation affecting the minority communities in a positive way. Brazil is constantly taking advantage of the small impacts it has made in these communities by allowing news sources to over-exaggerate the minimal changes that have taken place in quilombolas. It is important to realize that quilombolas are still fighting a long battle for the title of their land. The Quilombola Movement creates an opportunity for the Black Movement to increase the people in their fight for equality. I found that these two movements have a mutually beneficial relationship where each of them provide support to address the needs of the movements. As a result of this research, I have been able to discover the flaws in a Brazilian legislation that I felt were very forward thinking. In my opinion, the most impactful part of the Quilombola Movement is their association of land rights to their recognition of Brazilian citizenship. I also recognize that it is never easy for a government to expropriate the land for quilombolas. Economic incentive is the biggest driver of government actions so it will be interesting to see how much land is truly going to be given to these communities.