Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The dust whipped up by the trucks lies like a red fog over the road ahead, meaning we’re driving blind most of the time. Occasionally one of the trucks, transporting wood charcoal, veers dangerously close and its overburdened load leans ominously towards us.
We’re driving along a track in the middle of the Brazilian cerrado (savanna) attempting to get to a scattered farming community, Cana Brava, before nightfall. The subsistence farmers ahead are surrounded on all sides by eucalyptus plantations that provide the raw materials for the charcoal in the trucks. There is a chance we might be stopped by the armed guards that ‘protect’ the plantations. Between the encroaching twilight, the unpredictable trucks, the guards and the dust, nerves are beginning to fray.
Finally we arrive in the absolute darkness that can only be found in rural areas, far away from the orange glow of the city. The house we reach belongs to 48-year-old Maria Camargo Soares, whose grandmother worked the land here. Now she continues the family tradition of subsistence farming. She’s uncertain that her children can or will carry the traditions into the next generation.
Cana Brava dates from over a hundred years ago, which is a long time in the remembering of a young colonial nation like Brazil. The community is 22 kilometres from the nearest town along the aforementioned dirt road. There are over a thousand people living in the area; two thirds of the original inhabitants have now moved to the city as the encroaching plantations gobble up water and land around them.
‘They left because when the company came in 1975 the land become so little that people couldn’t support themselves. When my grandparents had their farm here there was enough land for everyone to live comfortably. Now the water has dried up and this year we didn’t harvest anything at all because of the drought and the drain on the water from the plantation,’ Dona Maria explains.
Juarez Teixeira, a local trade union worker, adds: ‘These people used to have freedom to use these lands, to come and go, to graze their cattle, to extract wood, to collect fruit and herbs. Today they are confined to this small area. One side it’s rock and on the other the armed guard of the company.’
The company in question is Vallourec & Mannesmann (V&M), a French-German steel company that uses the eucalyptus charcoal to fuel steel production. They have over 40,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations in this region alone. In total there are five million hectares of eucalyptus in Brazil, a country where land issues are top of the political and social agenda. The history of eucalyptus is closely tied to that of the oppression of the military dictatorship, during which people were forcibly removed from their lands to make way for the ‘green revolution’.
V&M did not evict the people from the lands in Cana Brava, yet their more subtle tactics are just as effective. Dona Maria describes how the company flouts agreements by not terracing the land within the plantation, resulting in rains flooding through to her farm and causing silting. Her first home was destroyed when a V&M truck crashed into it after careering off the nearby road.
Juarez Teixeira catalogues many other problems caused by the company, such as health and safety violations where workers have been put in danger or poorly compensated for death and injury; outsourcing to small contractors who illegally log native forests so the company can not be held accountable; and breaking environmental laws by planting near to water sources. ‘The threat to workers and people here is great. Shots have been fired on people by the armed guards. They feel prisoners within their own lands.’
Perversely, an agreement designed to ameliorate climate change now adds to the burden local people face in the form of the new carbon market. In 2003, V&M announced a landmark deal with the Dutch government and Toyota to secure carbon credits as a result of their switching to wood charcoal instead of coal to fire their steelworks. At the time there were objections locally and internationally that support for the company meant new financial incentives to plant more eucalyptus, thereby increasing the pressure on the community’s water and land resources. According to Juarez Teixeira, ‘Carbon credits are just another way for V&M to make money and continue as before.’
The local people beg for intervention here, yet it seems the manner in which the international community has become involved seems only to increase pressure on an already fragile existence. The subsistence farmers of Cana Brava manage the land in an infinitely more climate-friendly way than companies like V&M. Unfortunately they don’t qualify for carbon credits.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya