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Leaders of the Paiter Suruí ask that the carbon project with Natura be terminated – new post on REDD-Monitor

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The Paiter-Suruí REDD project in Brazil is often held up as a successful indigenous-led REDD project. In December 2014, REDD-Monitor published an English translation of an interview by CIMI(the Indigenous Missionary Council) with Henrique Suruí in which he gives a completely different opinion of the project.

The interview was originally published in CIMI’s publication, Porantim. You can read the interview in Portuguese here, and in English, here.

The Paiter-Suruí REDD project has appeared several times on the website Ecosystem Marketplace, always in glowing terms. After REDD-Monitor posted the interview with Henrique Suruí, the Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, Steve Zwick, wrote a response linking to reactions (posted on Facebook in Portuguese) from Julio Suruí,Almir Suruí, and Delson Gavião.

REDD-Monitor posted Zwick’s response, here.

Now leaders of the Paiter-Suruí have sent a Note of Clarification to the representatives of the Federal Public Ministry in Rondônia. CIMI has posted the note on its website along with a background explanation by Patrícia Bonilha, who did the interview with Henrique Suruí.

The following is an unofficial translation of the Bonilha’s post, followed by the Note of Clarification:

Leaders of the Paiter Suruí ask that the carbon project with Natura be terminated

By Patrícia Bonilha, CIMI, 12 January 2015

In a Note of Clarification sent to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) of Rondônia last week, leaders of the Paiter Suruí peoples state their position on the Paiter Surui Carbon Project and the Fifty Year Management Plan of the Paiter Surui Peoples, implemented on the Indigenous Territory of Sete de Setembro. After presenting various critiques and concerns in relation to project management, concerning above all the loss of autonomy and the division among the people, the document concludes with the the leaders demanding that “the Carbon Project Paiter Suruí be terminated and for the associations to develop and implement projects that ensure real autonomy for communities with a sustainable development and income generation without depredation of natural resources.”

This carbon sequestration project, signed by the Surui with the cosmetics company Natura in September 2013, has recently caused ripples on social networks and civil society email lists due to aggressive reactions to statements made by the village chief of Sete de Setembro, Henrique Surui, in an interview published in Porantim (newspaper of the Indigenous Missionary Council – Cimi). In the interview, Henrique says the project caused division among his people, changed the traditional way of life and that people had been deceived through false promises of a better life and financial resources, as compensation for forest protection. Read the interview here.

In December, the Association Metareilá of the Surui people, through Almir Surui, Grand Chief of the Suruí and one of those responsible for the project, and Júlio Suruí, Member of the Suruí Parliament, disputed the statements made by chief Henrique Surui, by Cimi, in Porantim and by the journalist Patricia Bonilha, editor of the publication. The Padereehj Coordination, representing the Arara-Karo, Gavião-Ikólóéhj and nine peoples of the Indigenous Territory Rio Branco, in Rondônia, issued a letter reacting to the statement by Henrique that funds from the Surui project were being spent to co-opt leaders of these peoples, among others, and convince them to also develop carbon projects.

In light of the accusations made against Henrique Surui and Cimi, four (of the seven existing) associations, ten chiefs and important leaders of the Surui issued a document clarifying some of the main issues addressed in the interview with Porantim, and reinforce Henrique’s statements and present new critical elements in relation to the project:

  • The promises of improving the lives of the Surui proved false and illusory, which left some indigenous people in an extremely difficult situation, and even facing hunger;
  • The creation of associations, to participate in the project, generated big divisions among the people;
  • The division of responsibilities for specific areas (agriculture, education, health, environment, culture and tourism) between the associations was not adhered to – instead, departments were created within the Association Metareilá, which diminished the involvement and autonomy of the other clan associations within the Suruí Fund;
  • The agreed payments were not made;
  • A huge discrepancy between the amount that the Suruí Fund received and the funds passed on to the associations; in addition to the fact that the Association Gãgbir (which has been critical towards the project since 2010) has received no funds at all;
  • The lack of transparency in reporting and requests that leaders sign receipts for amounts that associations did not receive;
  • The absence of answers to questions concerning project management;
  • Retaliation and repercussions suffered by associations that questioned project management;
  • The lack of dialogue with Almir Suruí.

In the document, the leaders also expose the fact that an independent audit has taken place, but that the audit team visited only four communities chosen by the managers of the project, out of a total of 25. “Interviewing indigenous peoples chosen in advance to talk about the benefits of the project,” the leaders who signed the note, point out.

They also confirm that “When discussions about these issues began, participation from our people was almost one hundred percent”, however, now they now question what improvement in the quality of life of the Paiter the project was brought. By phone, Celso Natin Suruí confirms that most of the people now are against the carbon project and he reiterates the suggestion made by the leaders in the document published: “It would be good if journalists visited the villages to see for themselves the reality people find themselves in.”

Regarding accusations about illegal timber trading, the leaders state that “Henrique Iabaday Suruí does not promote the illegal sale of wood from the Indigenous Territory Sete de Setembro, the decision to sell wood is of those who engage in this activity. We do not support this illegal activity …”

Read the Letter of Clarification sent by leaders of the Paiter Suruí peoples to the Federal Public Ministry to investigate the implementation of the project and sent to Cimi with a request to support the dissemination of the statement and the decision of the leaders to terminate the Carbon Project Paiter Suruí.

Note of Clarification

We hereby clarify the news being broadcast by the media about the Carbon Project and the Fifty Years Plan of the indigenous peoples Paiter Surui. When discussions about these issues began, participation was almost one hundred percent. There were promises that life would improve for our peoples, that families would have a monthly income, that each family member would gain, that people would become entrepreneurs. At that time, some of our people sold wood to survive and in 2009 discontinued this illicit activity thinking that now things would get better.

However, legal and bureaucratic obstacles delayed the availability of financial resources, which only materialized in November 2013, when a contract was signed with [the company] Natura. Funds became available to the Surui Fund only by January 2014. In 2012, some community members were forced to return to selling wood, because there was no project that would have allowed the these families to sustain their livelihoods, many people were going hungry. The associations were lacking physical and technical means to seek development projects, awaiting being strengthened institutionally through revenue from the sale of carbon.

In 2010 the Association Gãbgir of the Indigenous Peoples Paiter Suruí withdrew because of differences between it and the Metareilá Association, the project proponent; and despite having contributed to the Fifty-years plan and the elaboration of the Carbon Project, Association Gãbgir never received any resources. And some associations were created to participate in the Carbon Project which generated major divisions among the Paiter Suruí people.

During the preparation of the project, it had been agreed that each association would be responsible for an area: agriculture, education, health, environment, culture and tourism, but when the funding arrived, from the sale of sale to Natura, this agreement was not honoured. Almir created departments within the Metareilá Association, reducing the involvement and autonomy of the other clan associations within the Suruí Fund. It was foreseen in the project budget that the board members of each clan association would receive a salary of R$ 2,000.00, for a period of three years. This salary would be paid for accompanying and supervising the project together with the communities that each association represents. But no such payment was made.

All participating associations were requested to elaborate a project with a maximum value of R$ 15,000.00, to be submitted to the Suruí Fund for evaluation and approval. However, associations questioned this value and were able to have their projects approved with a higher value, but not exceeding R$ 25,000.00. The projects that had been approved received their contributions in two instalments, the first was released in June 2014 and not all associations have to date received the second instalment. Technicians from Metareilá claim that they are still analyzing the statements of accounts presented for the first installment.

The participating associations also received funding for institutional support. Contracts had been signed for an amount of R$ 7,500.00, payable in three monthly installments of R$ 2,500.00, however, associations received two installments of R$ 2,000.00 and one instalment of R$ 2,500.00; and when they requested the amount still due, the Metareilá Association claimed that it had no means to pay the outstanding amount. Later, another contract was signed stating that instalments had been received over three months, worth R$ 2,500.00 each instalment.

The values cited above are those that the participating associations received to date. We are not questioning the Surui carbon project and the partners of the same, which we understand are serious organizations with good intention. However, there is a huge discrepancy between the funds that the Surui Fund received and the amount passed on to the associations, in addition to the Association Gâbgir not having received any funding at all from the Fund. The associations have been questioning the way in which the funding is being managed, but they have yet to receive a response.

We have not received the amounts promised, yet some leaders are being called upon to sign receipts for amounts that associations did not receive. And there has been no transparent presentation of financial accounts for the funds received. In light of all the facts exposed here, leaders are fearful of what may be happening. There was an independent audit that only visited the communities chosen by the project managers. Out of a total of 25 villages, they visited only 4, interviewing indigenous peoples chosen in advance to talk about the benefits of the project.

In a meeting, the coordinator of the Association Kabaney questioned how the project is being managed and Almir replied that if he did not want to work he make his place available to others. He also told the treasurer of the association that they would only receive funds if they changed the coordinator. Other associations have suffered retaliation when they questioned the project management.

We also wish to clarify that Henry Iabaday Suruí does not promote the illegal sale of wood in the indigenous territory Sete de Setembro, the decision to sell wood is of those who engage in this activity. We do not support this illegal activity, yet we understand that our relatives who are acting in that way, do so because they do not have another alternative to obtain an income. In a statement of repudiation published through social networks, Naraykosar Julío Suruí states that the project defends the right for the Paiter to live a life in good quality; communities are questioning what improvements this project has brought in the quality of the lives of the Paiter. In the villages no improvements are visible. It would be good if journalists visited the villages to verify the reality in which the communities find themselves. We expect that the Federal Public Ministry, in addition to monitoring the illegal logging also monitor the correct implementation of the Project, because it is an innovation and might serve as an example to other indigenous peoples, if well executed.

In response to questions raised in the note of repudiation by Delson Gavião, we do not want to undermine the development of other carbon sales projects in other indigenous areas, but we would like to bring attention as to the correct execution of such projects. Delson Gavião does not know the reality experienced by those living in the Paiter Suruí villages.

We appreciate the opportunity created by Henrique and the journal Porantim which has provoked discussion about the Carbon Project, that Henrique spoke about the reality lived by our people. The Paiter failed to establish dialogue with Almir and the media was the way available for people be heard. Many tried to have a conversation, but to no avail.

Given the above, the leaders who have signed this document want that the Carbon Project Paiter Suruí is terminated and for the associations to develop and implement projects that ensure real autonomy for communities with a sustainable development and income generation without depredation of natural resources.