The community of Tambaba

Algums Fundadores do Assentamento

Currently, there are 4 houses, 2 pousadas and a settlement of rural workers in Tambaba. Part of the reason we chose this place was that we were fascinated by the good energy of this settlement. There, we felt a special atmosphere of community and simplicity that we hope to be a part of in the future.

During our last visit to Tambaba, we went there to introduce ourselves and to get to know some of the families, who are living there, and by whom we were welcomed with open arms. We listened to their stories, were captivated by their solidarity, learned from their determination and felt powerless as we saw how many norms and policies are perpetuating the inequality that still exists in this country.

We are used to read and hear fierce critiques in the national media against social movements promoting agrarian reform, so getting to know these families of Tambaba was very enlightening. We got to understand the human dimension of this fight. We realized that we could have found ourselves on the other side (the side of the settlers) if we had not had luck in the lottery of birth: we were born into families where never anything was lacking.

We decided to share the story with you as we heard it during the interviews we conducted with the residents of the Tambaba settlement. The facts described below are based exclusively on the accounts given during these interviews. We have hope that telling this story we can help the settlers to gather support so that the public policy machinery may act in their favor.

For almost 20 years the rural workers of Tambaba are waiting to receive the collective land title that was accorded to them in all judicial instances. The lack of this title leads to difficulties in accessing public and private support and more importantly, the settlers remain vulnerable in the face of local interests that view them as an obstacle to development.

In 1986, 64 families of rural workers of the region decided that they did not want to work under inhospitable conditions anymore and that they would fight for a piece of land of their own. According to José, the decision to fight for a piece of land followed an “awakening” stimulated by the agents of Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), an organ of the National Bishops Conference of Brazil (CNBB).

The agents of the CPT educated them about their rights and taught them that unproductive lands (land that does not fulfill a social function as described in the Brazilian constitution) could be redistributed as part of the agrarian reform. The CPT guaranteed support from national and international movements, besides helping them to engage in local and state politics, which was necessary for the transfer of the land to their names.

When they arrived at the place in Tambaba where the settlement is still located today, they were welcomed violently, as is the case in many land disputes. The former owners and the heirs of these landlords had the support of local police to remove them from there. According to Luiza, one of the original settlers, they feared for their lives and the lives of their children when policemen and mercenaries came to the settlement.

During these campaigns (there were several of them) the settlers lost everything they had (which was already little) and were obliged to start from zero. Tractors were driven across their planted fields, destroying work of weeks. Their houses, which at the time were huts made of cloth and wood were torn down (some were burnt down more than 5 times). Even the flour mill, essential for processing cassava and corn to ensure that their families had something to eat, was torn down and burnt.

The difficulties of this period were such that of the 64 original families only 18 stayed. When we asked them why they decided to stay the reply was unanimous: “We had nowhere to go, there was no other option!”

In 1992, after 6 years, 5 attempts to chase them away, several protests in front of the redemption palace (the seat of the government of Paraiba) and countless negotiations with the state government, an agreement was reached to expropriate the occupied land and transfer it to the rural workers.

Casa de Farinha

At that point, a long process of expropriation started, which is still not concluded. Today, almost 20 years later, there are no legal options left, neither to appeal the court decision, nor in regards to the value owed as indemnity. The only thing left to resolve the situation of the rural workers of Tambaba is for the state government of Paraiba to disburse the last payment of indemnity owed to the former owners of the land. The demand notice for payment was sent to the state government on June 11, 2003 and still has not been paid. In other words, what is lacking is political will!

Not having a collective land title has a series of negative implications for the settlers. Since they do not have a formal land title, they have only restricted access to some social and economic government programs, to credit, and to technical assistance. Even more, the lack of the land title leaves them vulnerable against those who see them as an obstacle to the development of tourism and the real estate market in the area.

The settlement occupies an area that is considered very valuable: its almost 100 hectares are crossed by one of the main roads of the state, the PB008; and it is located on the coastal cliffs between the Coqueirinho and Tambaba beaches, two of the main attractions of the southern coast of the state.

We disagree with those who think that the settlement of Tambaba represents an obstacle for tourism in the region. Rather, we believe that this community of rural workers offers great human capital that has to be taken advantage of. Tourism has to be developed with and not despite them. They can be the source of fruits and vegetables for local pousadas, as much as offer additional tourist attractions by, for example, setting up local crafts markets or restaurants with home cooked food.

Willingness of the residents is not missing to put these and other ideas into practice. Sólon, the current President of the Rural Workers Association of Tambaba, told us that most of them dream of being their own bosses and see a big opportunity in tourism. Yet, they always run into the problems created by the lack of secure and legally recognized rights: lack of access to credit and political support.

Tentativa Projeto Mandala

One clear example of this is the settler’s difficulty of solving the problem to get access to water for irrigation. Since they do not have access to credit and can only count on little support by politicians, the settlers do not manage to find funds for the construction of a second well. The community is currently supplied with water through a well with a suction pump that only manages to pump enough water for domestic consumption.

As a result, the farmers of Tambaba can only plant at large scale during the rainy season (between May and November) and they are restricted to planting cultures that depend on little water such as cassava, corn and yam. This means that the big majority of the residents of the Tambaba settlement, besides working on their own fields, needs to earn a living from other activities, as caretakers, kitchen helps, masons or guards to guarantee the livelihood of their families.

After 24 years and the right to their land gained in the courts, the rural workers of Tambaba are still waiting that the judiciary, the state government of Paraiba, and the municipality of Conde fulfill their duty to ensure that the last due payment to the former owners is disbursed so the settlers finally receive their collective land title. The settlers also wish that the state government and the municipality support their participating in the development of tourism in the region, helping them in the construction of the second well, supporting their initiatives and building their capacity as necessary.

The local politicians, merchants and entrepreneurs who see the settlement as an obstacle, have to realize that the settlers are there to stay. Keeping them down will thus only help create a pocket of poverty in the midst of a potential tourist area. This in turn would be counterproductive for the development of the region, as it would deter tourists and investors alike. We do hope that writing up this story may help open a dialogue to search for joint projects. If this is done, we are sure that everybody will win in the end!


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Translation support - Suporte nas traduções: Manuela Sampaio


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