“This decision messes with our lives,” says Denilson Rodrigues. “It could put to rest our entire history, our entire identity.”
Rodrigues has spent his entire life in Ivaporunduva, the oldest quilombo community in São Paulo’s pristine Vale do Ribeira. Unlike the vast majority of Brazil’s quilombos – secretive communities formed by runaway slaves in the West’s last country to abolish slavery – Rodrigues’s community has a land title. But Rodrigues, now a coordinator at National Coordination of Articulation of Quilombolas Rural Black Communities (CONAQ), is concerned that even the fate of his community hangs in the balance.
In August this year, Brazil’s Supreme Court was set to judge on a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADI), known as ADI 3239/04. The decision, postponed in August and delayed for a second time this week, is now due to return to the Supreme Court in November. The measure, Rodrigues argues, has the potential to effectively revoke the quilombo land rights that are protected by Brazil’s Constitution.
“Quilombos are a symbol of resistance to slavery in Brazil,” he says. “It would be a huge step backwards for us; we would be going back more than a hundred years.”