What Keeps Me Fighting

Maria do Livramento Santos fights to protect the mangroves, the habitat for the shrimp she relies on for income, and the heritage that was passed down to her from her parents.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the book Food Voices: Stories From the People Who Feed Us . In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. WhyHunger is featuring highlights of these stories, gathered from 70 interviews on a journey that spanned from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond.

Maria (Mentinha) do Livramento Santos is a fisher woman from Curral Velho, Ceara, Brazil. She was born and raised in a fishing family. Maria is a community leader and an active member of the Associaçao Communitaria de Marisqueiros e Pescadores (Community Association of Shellfish Harvesters and Fisherfolk) of Curral Velho. Below are Maria’s statements.

“Since 1997, there has been a huge struggle to protect the mangroves. These empty areas are the salt plains. The shrimp farmers wanted to take this entire area. They wanted to take all the people who were living here out, but they could not. We are traditional fisherfolk and we know that this type of development is not good for us.

“We organized the community to fight and defend our land. It was very dangerous. We united, we fought and we were strong. When we began the fight, we did not have a formal association. After we started fighting, we started the association. The main purpose of the association is to defend the fishing area and the mangroves, because then we defend our port, our beach, our community. If they invade our beach, our community is over because the livelihood of our community is based in the mangroves. I believe in the fight. We need our freedom. We need our food security.

“The men, women and children all organized to defend what is ours. If they take our territory we cannot have access to the sea, we cannot fish and we cannot feed ourselves. The main problem is that they cut the trees. If they take the mangrove trees, the crabs, oysters, shells, and fish will all be gone. If we have no mangroves, none of the resources will be there. By cutting the trees, the environment heats up and all the fish die. We lose our seafood. Besides that, there is the problem with the chemicals they put in the shrimp farms. When they harvest the shrimp from the farms, they let the dirty water go into the estuaries. If we think about the danger, we can’t fight. I like to say it is from fear that courage is born.

“We had a major conflict on September 7 in 2004 and 30 fishermen went to the shrimp farm company, called Jolé Aquicultura. We said to them, ‘do not invade our community anymore.’ There was a group of between 20 and 30 fishermen, including teenagers. The shrimp farm hired hit men. We couldn’t have any dialogue with these people, only bullets. During a protest, they shot seven people from this community. Nobody died. They caught some teenagers and threatened to pull out their teeth with knives to try to make them tell them where the other protesters were and what the plans were. For me, it was not the first time I was threatened with death. In 2003 and 2004, they tried to kill me and my husband because we always fought to defend the mangroves and protect our community. We keep fighting these big projects, but we never think of dying.

“What keeps me fighting is the heritage our parents left us, our main source of income – the mangroves. What keeps me fighting is the belief that we can win.”

Updated 6/16/2011