National Geographic : 2012 Apr
• found throughout the Amazon River Basin. Yet careful stewardship of the environment has not always worked in Quilombolas' favor. O en environmental organizations assume that all human actions inevitably degrade the for- est. Two hundred miles west of Mazagão Velho, Quilombolas on the Trombetas River managed forests so beautifully that in 1979 Brazil estab- lished a 1,500-square-mile biological reserve on the east side of the river. e legislation creat- ing the reserve prohibited "any alteration of the environment, including hunting and shing in the area," infuriating the people whose families had been living there for a century and a half. Ten years later, a half dozen quilombos were en- gulfed by a new national forest of almost equal size on the west side of the river. e national forest opened itself to a gigantic bauxite mine while forbidding its long-term inhabitants to cut down trees. " ese people are the reason the forest still exists," says Leslye Ursini, an anthropologist at the Brazilian land-management agency INCRA. "Now they are being attacked by both environ- mentalists and bauxite miners." Given that many quilombo inhabitants helped to generate the very Amazonian landscapes conservationists seek to preserve, pushing them o their territory will only worsen the plight of the forest, says Ursini. is view is expressed over and over by policy- makers and quilombo residents across Brazil. A year a er buying her property, Costa Ca- bral had an unpleasant surprise: Her title, like so many in Amazonia, was a mess. "We went into the INCRA o ce to see if the title had gone through," she says. e family discovered that "the property was o cially owned by somebody else, and the title was tied up with back taxes." Because the state had a lien on the property, she would have to pay the back taxes to own it. It was like paying for the land all over again. For more than a decade she continued selling açaí, shrimp, and medicinal plants in Macapá, Amapá's capi- tal, slowly accumulating enough cash to pay o the taxes. She obtained her ownership papers in 2002. One day Costa Cabral stumbled across a survey party on her farm, planting stakes and tying ribbons around trees. " ey were saying, 'What a great açaí place---let's divide it up and sell it,' " she recalls. e buyers would then use the courts to boot out the current occupants---a common practice in rural Brazil. "I had a t," she says. "I said, 'I planted this Pushing quilombo residents o their land would only worsen the plight of the forest.