The Pitaguary are an indigenous group that inhabits the highlands of the Metropolitan Region of Fortaleza, the capital city of the Ceará State. Their population is of approximately 4400 people. Their economy depends upon communal agricultural practices, breeding of small animals, fruit recollection and fishing. Since 1997, the Pitaguary initiated a process for land demarcation with Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and, in 2006, the Justice Ministry declared the Pitaguary Indigenous Territory, comprising 1,735 ha. Since the declaration, the Pitaguary have exerted control over the newly created territory. However, it hasn’t yet been recognized by the Presidency of the Republic. This lack of recognition and its proximity to the urban area of Fortaleza make the Pitaguary susceptible to constant pressure by real estate speculators, among other threats. In 2011, Britaboa Ltda., a local mining company, asked for the renewal of their license to exploit crushed stone in a concession contiguous to the Pitaguary demarcated territory. The mine had been inactive for more than 15 years.
Other mining projects in the area have already cause fissures in houses, and dust, which affect animals and crops. The Pitaguary also claim these projects have generated deforestation and respiratory diseases that mostly affect children. They also state that reopening the mine would partly destroy the Pitaguary highlands, threatening both local flora and fauna and degrading the soil. Furthermore, they consider the area in dispute to be a sacred place to connect with their ancestors. Not only they don’t want the quarry to reopen, they also claim this area as part of their territory. Moreover, they claim that the environmental licenses acquired by Britaboa Ltda. didn’t follow the Law. First, because they have been granted by the Ceará’s State Superintendence for Environment (SEMACE) while only Brazil’s National Institute for Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) can decide on projects with relevant impact. Second, they demand a Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. Since 2011, the Pitaguary have organised several actions against Britaboa’s intentions to restart exploitation. The first, only a couple months after the company announced its intentions, was a day of protest in front of IBAMA and SEMACE offices. Workers of FUNAI’s regional administration accompanied them during the initiative. At that time, they managed to talk with both superintendents – at IBAMA and SENACE – and expose their worries. In the following months, the Pitaguary started organising to face the threat of the quarry’s reopening and put pressure on different institutions. This ended up with FUNAI’s and the attorney general’s representatives visiting the quarry and realizing several irregularities in licensing.
The authorities fined Britaboa Ltda. and, as a result, the local manager started a campaign of intimidation. Some people claimed they have received unexpected visits by local police bringing notes from the company and that suspicious cars started circulation in indigenous territory without permission. They also stated some people fired shots in the area, which caused some apprehension in the communities. An indigenous group tried to speak with the company’s representatives but these were aggressive and even made death threats. Hence, the Pitaguary decided to occupy the quarry on November 2011. Since the occupation of the quarry, the Pitaguary organised a series of events to discuss the recognition of their land. In May 2012, they called a general assembly to build strategies to guarantee the protection of their territory. In early 2013, the courts decided in favour of the company and determined that the occupants had 45 to leave the quarry. As a result, the Pitaguary intensified their struggle and blocked a main road close to the indigenous territory. Other indigenous groups from Ceará, university students and members of the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) accompanied them in solidarity. At this occasion, the regional coordinator of FUNAI informed the present that the SEMACE had decided to wait for FUNAI’s approval before renovating Britaboa’s license. The company’s lawyers insist Britaboa’s mining operations would be carried outside the indigenous land, but the Pitaguary insist they will stay and defend it as part of their territory, their memory and cultural heritage.