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Brazil: Bolivia expels Brazilian citizens

Despite a recently announced amnesty on foreign immigrants in Brazil, benefiting mostly South American neighbors, the Bolivian government has banished about four thousand Brazilian rural workers, rubber tappers and farmers from Pando department, region which has borders with the state of Acre. The measure affects any foreigner who lives within 50 kilometers of the Bolivian border, but it has focused especially on Brazilians who live in the Amazon region.

Blog da Amazonia [pt] has been following the case and reported:

Milhares de brasileiros que vivem em território boliviano estão ameaçados de expulsão porque Evo Morales, sob a alegação de garantir a soberania do seu país, quer assentar 4 mil famílias de camponeses oriundos de La Paz e Cochabamba, em 200 mil hectares de terras localizadas na região fronteiriça.

As primeiras vítimas são as famílias de pequenos posseiros brasileiros expulsos do departamento de Pando. Cerca de 40 famílias já chegaram ao município de Plácido de Castro, a 97 quilômetros de Rio Branco. Neste ponto, o estado do Acre e o departamento boliviano de Pando são separados pelo Rio Abunã.

Thousands of Brazilians who live on Bolivian territory are suffering the threat of banishment, because Evo Morales, under the claim of guaranteeing his country sovereignty, wants to settle 4 thousand peasant families from La Paz and Cochabamba, onto 200 thousand hectares located in the bordering region.

The first victims are poor Brazilian settlers’ families , who have been expelled from the Pando department. Around 40 families have already arrived in the town of Plácido Castro, 97 kilometers away from Rio Branco, Acre's capital. Here, the state of Acre (the Brazilian side) and the department of Pando (the Bolivian side) are divided by the Abunã River.

Some settlers have been forced to leave their homes and land, whereas others have threatened to set fire to their possessions before handing them over to the Bolivians. The situations is portrayed by Blog da Amazonia [pt] which shows the despair of the heads of families, who have been investing money and time into those lands for more than 40 years:

Photo by: Alisson Ferreira e Altino Machado/ Published with permission

Threatened rubber tapper Djalma Soares left his belongings in BoliviaPhoto by: Alisson Ferreira e Altino Machado/ Published with permission

O seringueiro Djalma Soares, 55 anos de idade, vivia em território boliviano desde os nove anos. Em 46 anos de vida lá, jamais acumulou qualquer riqueza como seringueiro e coletor de castanha-do-brasil.

- Os funcionários do governo boliviano disseram que iriam subir o rio e na volta não queriam mais me encontrar na minha colocação. Eu falei: tudo bem, eu volto pro meu Brasil. Trouxe uma rede, um lençol e três panelas. O resto ficou tudo: bacia, machado, terçado, cabrita e outros instrumentos de trabalho. Lá eu dava meu jeito de sobreviver. Não sei como será minha vida aqui na cidade, sem emprego.

The rubber tapper Djalma Soares, 55, had lived on Bolivian territory since he was nine years old. Over 46 years there, he never accumulated any wealth as a rubber tapper and Brazil nut collector.’ – The Bolivian officials said that they were going down the river and they didn't want to see me there again when they came back. I said: OK, I will go back to my Brazil. So, I took only a hammock, sheet and three pans with me. The rest I left behind: basin, axe, machete, nanny-goat and the other tools for work. There, I could survive. I don't know how my life is going to be here in the city, without a job.’

Although promising that Brazilians who lose their property will be resettled in an area more distant from the Bolivian border, Evo Morales’ government will not offer any compensation for belongings such as houses or work done on the land. Nor will the government pay for properties where Brazilians are settled either. Because of this, there are some people who said that they will not leave the land in a peaceful way, as Blog da Amazonia [pt] also reports in an interview with another victim:

O que fazer então?
A Bolívia não vai ficar com isso de graça, não. Tem muito brasileiro revoltado com essa situação. Eu não vou deixar nada lá. Eu não quero ir para um lugar qualquer que eles vão oferecer. Eu prefiro tocar fogo na minha casa. Toco fogo em tudo e venho embora pra recomeçar a vida.
O senhor tem coragem de fazer isso mesmo?
Tenho, sim. Eu não tenho condição de gastar o que não tenho. Eu gastei, por exemplo, R$ 7 mil para construir minha casa. Eu não vou deixar ela na chave para um boliviano chegar e se apossar dela.

Tem mais gente pensando assim?
Tem gente com pensamento pior do que o meu.
Como assim?
Tem muita família de brasileiros pensando em fazer besteira com os bolivianos. Tem gente que tá pensando em ficar lá e matar esses caras. Quando estão no Brasil, os bolivianos parecem santos, mas lá são muito desumanos. Nesta semana mesmo eu vi eles tomando borracha. Um seringueiro vinha descendo o rio numa canoa e eles foram lá e tomaram a borracha. Chefe, eu pelo menos tenho uma partezinha aqui no Brasil, mas muitos tudo o que tem tá jogado lá dentro da Bolívia. Como é que alguém assim vai sair com uma mão no fecho e outra no cano, sem ter para onde ir nem onde ficar? Nenhum de nós vai mais pra dentro da Bolívia, ninguém quer isso.

What can you do, then?
Bolivia will not take it for granted, not at all. There are many Brazilians outraged with this situation. I will not leave anything behind and I don't want to go just anywhere they offer me. I'd prefer to set fire to everything and go back (to Brazil) to resume my life.Do you have the courage to do this?
Yes, I do. I can't afford to spend what I don't have. I have spent, for example, R$ 7 thousand (approximately $ 3,780 dollars) to build my house. I'm not going to leave it ready for a Bolivian to come and take over.

Are there more people thinking like you?
There are people thinking worse than me.

What do you mean?
There are many Brazilian families thinking about doing something silly with Bolivians. There are some people thinking about staying there and killing them. When they are here in Brazil, Bolivians look like saints, but there they are very ruthless. This week, for example, I saw them seizing rubber. One rubber tapper was going down the river in a canoe and they (the Bolivians) went there and seized his rubber. Man, I have at least a small property here, in Brazil, but there are many who only have what is left there in Bolivia. Who on earth is going to leave Bolivia empty-handed? None of us is going to go deep into Bolivia, nobody wants it.

Many settlers have been disturbed, even though the Bolivian government has set next December 14 as the deadline for the problem to be solved. According to Blog da Amazonia, Brazil has invested $10.2 million in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to tackle specifically this problem within Bolivia.

There are blogs, such as Tomando mais uma [pt], who are deeply disappointed with the situation and the way in which the Brazilian government is dealing with it. Not only does the blog highlight Evo Morales alleged connection with cocaine growers, but also says that electioneering and political matters are behind the banishment:

Homens, mulheres e crianças estão sendo forçados por funcionários bolivianos a abandonarem suas posses apenas com a roupa do corpo. Isso porque o departamento de Pando é tradicionalmente de oposição ao governo de Evo (…)

E pior, essa “grande marcha da coca” que está resultando na expulsão dos brasileiros, ocorre menos de um mês depois de Lula sancionar a Lei da Anistia Migratória, que autoriza a residência provisória de cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular no Brasil, beneficiando centenas de milhares de bolivianos que perambulam por aqui tocando flauta andina. Cadê a reciprocidade?

Ô Amorim, vê se faz alguma coisa que preste…

Men, women and children are being forced by Bolivian officials to leave their own land with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. That's because the Pando department has, for many years, supported Evo's opposition group (…)
And worse, this “big cocaine march” that is causing the banishment of Brazilians comes less than a month after Lula sanctioned the Migratory Amnesty Law, which allows temporary residence for foreign citizens who are in illegal situations in Brazil, benefiting hundreds of thousands of Bolivians who walk around playing Andean flutes. Where is the reciprocity?Oh, Amorim (Foreign Ministry Celso Amorim), can you try to do something worthwhile…?
Photo by Alisson Ferreira e Altino Machado/ Published with permission

Brazilian Francisco Siqueira and his family were also expelled from Bolivia. Photo by Alisson Ferreira e Altino Machado/ Published with permission

Ednei Muniz [pt] adds that the upcoming elections, this December, are the main reason behind Evo Morales actions:

Políticos de oposição a Evo Morales, por sua vez, segundo dizem os jornais bolivianos, acusam o Executivo de utilizar a reforma agrária para tentar modificar a tendência eleitoral de Pando, onde candidatos opositores sempre venceram.

Dizem os oposicionistas, que Evo planeja transferir para o Departamento de Pando apenas os militantes do ‘Movimento Rumo ao Socialismo’, grupo político que dá suporte ao Presidente. As eleições gerais ocorrerão em 06 de dezembro próximo – e como a Bolívia ainda não superou o fantasma do golpe é bom o governo brasileiro ficar de olhos bem abertos – ainda mais agora diante da possibilidade real de envolvimento de brasileiros nos conflitos, em função, claro, das graves questões fundiárias que se avizinham diante das medidas adotadas por Morales.

Se não bastasse todo esse cenário, os conflitos em Pando – de setembro de 2008 – envolvendo camponeses favoráveis ao governo e opositores liderados por Leopoldo Fernandes deixaram feridas profundas na região, e com elas também a certeza de que o problema deve – considerando a tradição boliviana – reaparecer nas eleições de dezembro.

Opposition politicians to Evo Morales, according to the Bolivian press, have accused the Government of making use of agrarian reforms to change the electoral tradition of Pando, where opposition candidates have always won.

The opposition say that Evo wants to move militants from the ‘Movement Towards Socialism’ to Pando department; they are a political group that support the President. The general elections happen on 6th December – and because Bolivia has not overcome the ‘ghost of the coup‘, it is recommended that the Brazilian government be alert – even more so now that Brazilians are likely to be involved in those conflicts, due to the land disputes caused by the measures adopted by Morales.

On top of this, the conflicts within Pando (September 2008) involving peasants supporting the government and those against it led by Leopoldo Fernandes, have left deep scars in the region, and also the belief that the problem – considering the Bolivian tradition [of recurring conflicts] – will reappear again in the December elections.

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