“Portucel unveils the largest plant nursery in Africa”

This was the title of one of the numerous news reports portraying the inauguration of the largest plant nursery in Africa … Truth be told, the biggest nursery of eucalyptus trees which will be used for monoculture plantations and will have many negative impacts. But, hey, let’s celebrate; after all we now have in Mozambique the largest something in Africa! A huge nursery of eucalyptus! Yuuupiii!!!

Interestingly, none of the articles that I was able to get my hands on made reference to our government’s commitment to exotic species plantations, nor to the huge and confessed pride that our current government feels for these new conquests, to the point that it’s the president himself who inaugurates it.

Parts of the President’s opening speech was broadcast on television (STV nightly news on September 8th). I confess that it surprised me quite a lot to hear what the President thinks of the issues that have been raised regarding employment positions in Portucel, alleged cases of land grabbing and also about the motivations of the NGOs working with some communities in the area… Mr. President, I prefer to believe that the news piece was poorly edited, because certainty you could never speak of these issues as it was presented, surely, because a President of all Mozambicans as you are, Sir, would obviously never refer to these NGOs and people in such manner without ever having heard what they really think and why they think like that. The President asked Portucel workers if they were happy, or whether they preferred to continue in poverty without jobs, and said that those who work with them (referring to those NGOs) do not want to see the region develop, they want to keep them in poverty while they themselves “live well” … Oh Mr. President, who lives well??? Mr. President knows as well as we do that most people who work and live honestly do not live well, they merely survive, and some not even that! What is living well Mr. President? Is it to live in fear of expressing yourself openly and then be summoned to court and be accused of crimes against the state? And what about all the injustices we witness every day, are we not allowed to talk about them? Is living well being afraid of talking too much and then one day, while you are out for a walk, getting shot by a hitman following some faceless coward’s order? Or is living well, to live in apartments that look more like prisons than anything else, with burglar bars and locks, afraid of everything and everyone, due to the complete inefficiency of our police in protecting us? Or is living well having to wait for hours to be cared for in a hospital and when your turn finally comes the doctor is already so tired that he has no patience left for you? Or is it having to bribe teachers and principals of public schools to get a place for your child to study, and dream of a better life? Is this how we live well Mr. President? Who lives well Mr. President? Many of us live rather better than most, but living well requires a number of conditions that we lack …

You know as well as we do that those who live well are some of the members of your government, with their salaries and numerous subsidies at the expense of the same people who you now want to silence with a handful of precarious jobs. Those who live well are our members of parliament, who vote for more and more benefits for themselves, which the people contest but it goes forward anyway! And why Mr. President? Why do we continue to turn a blind eye to these injustices? Why do we accept that some have so much and others nothing? Why do the people have to settle for a job with low pay, often seasonal, while their representatives are entitled to the absurd benefits we all know about? Why are we perpetuating poverty in a country with so much wealth? One of our greatest assets is our land, where thousands of peasants produce food everyday. Land which we see being so lightly “lent” to the many, many investment projects, often against the will of the people… If Portucel jobs are so good, and life is now so much better thanks to Portucel’s arrival, maybe it would not be a bad idea to send there some of our many members of parliament for an internship there, paid of course, since we do not agree with any form of exploitation… Who knows, maybe then the President would realize that, after all, those jobs are not that good…

Mr. President, we are on the same side, we work for social and environmental justice, because we believe that together we can help build a country that we can all be proud of, where we can all live well and not just a few!

Mr. President, you posed questions to Portucel employees, but did you really expect people to answer honestly and tell you that the job is not safe, or that the salary is too low, or that they thought they were going to get more than 1500 Meticais ($32 according to current exchange rates!) in return for their farms, as they tell us (those pesky NGOs!). I find it hard to believe that someone would have the courage to, given the situation, say things were not good and instead say what they would actually prefer that… And you know why Mr. President? Because your question was not raised to be answered, your question was merely to convince others that all is well… and your considerations regarding the NGOs and the people who work with the communities were incorrect and unjust, and coming from you Mr. President, even more incorrect, because after all you are the President of all Mozambicans, including those that you criticized without ever knowing, those who you say live well and only want to delay the development of the region and maintain the communities in poverty. We are also part of those that you criticized, and I am sorry to tell you Mr. President, but you are misinformed.

A project so wonderful speaks for itself, surely does not need anyone to come defend it, as it has been happening with Portucel. A project so wonderful does not need any effort to discredit anybody because the facts speak for themselves!

If you want to hear the people, approach them humbly, be spontaneous, do not allow everything to be planned to the smallest detail, like who can talk and what can be talked about, complaints which we have heard, whether they are true or not, we cannot say, but we believe you have ways to find out Sir…

Long live democracy!

P1070399

Children from Portucel-affected communities. Photo credit: Justiça Ambiental

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One of Portucel’s monoculture exotic plantations. Photo credit: Justiça Ambiental

 

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