Ivete Bastos, 56 years old, is president of the Union of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of Santarém, in Pará. Her life is dedicated to the Amazon. Which is why, at least for now, she doesn’t see the possibility of retiring. “Our Amazon is very devastated, that’s the truth. So, while we think that, upon reaching a certain age, others will be at the forefront carrying the flag, on the other hand, the only alternative is to join forces”, she says.
Ivete Bastos was born in the Dourado community, in the district of Arapixuna, which today is part of the Agroextractive Settlement Project (PAE) Lago Grande, in Santarém, created in 2005: “We call it a settlement, because that is the name the government gave . We are a traditional community. We are children of the earth, the forest, the water. We belong to this territory.”
His fight through the forest has put a target on his back. And yet she says she won’t hide her face. Ivete has already received death threats for the role she has played leading the union since she was 30 years old, when she first took on the role.
She says that at the time the fight was different: the cutting of wood in the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve. Located in the municipalities of Santarém and Aveiro, the reserve covers around 650 thousand hectares and is one of the most populous in the country, with approximately 5 thousand families distributed in more than 70 indigenous communities and villages.
“Despite everything, at this time there were not as many conflicts as we see today with the arrival of soybeans in Santarém, at the end of the 1990s. Today, there are several communities spread across Santarém experiencing numerous conflicts”, says the activist.
A friend of Dorothy Stang, an activist murdered in Anapu in February 2005, and also of the couple of human rights defenders Maria do Espírito Santo and José Claudio da Silva, murdered in May 2011, in Nova Ipixuna, Ivete finds herself among the anguish at having the same fate as his friends and the need to fight for the Amazon.
“It looks like we’re going together [com a pessoa que morreu]. A day passes and we become sick, bedridden. Psychologically it seems like I’ll be next [a morrer]. Even more so knowing that my name is ‘on the list’ of those who want my silence. He is both a defender of the forest mutilated because he was shot. To those who suffer reprisals like me, who were taken from my home and tried to burn down where I lived”, says the farmer. “It doesn’t matter who died. It could be someone I’ve never seen, I suffer as if I knew. No one deserves to lose their life because they defend such an important cause. The forest is not just for me and those who support our fight. It works for everyone. And there are few who see that it is so important”, she emphasizes.
Ivete says that she was once threatened with being burned alive. They have already offered her a bribe – “with an armed henchman at her side” – to step away from her position in the union, which works to defend the rights of family farmers, indigenous people, quilombolas, riverside communities and extractivists. However, she states: “this is non-negotiable”. Fighting for the rights of those who live in the Amazon cost her the tranquility of a home, as threats forced her to move house numerous times. And he also condemned her to live away from her family for a while.
From 2007 to 2017, Ivete was under police protection. Although the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the return of the escort, the defender chose to give up the program and returned to live in her territory and work in farming and extractivism. “My psychological state was very shaken, and I began to feel like I would never have freedom again. It was a drain on my life having to be away from my children. I didn’t sing happy birthday to my daughter when she turned 15. I already had to get everyone away from me. I made a choice that cost me and still costs me dearly”, she says.
In Santarém, soybean monoculture has spread across the Santareno Plateau, as reported by the Agency Public. The region also consists of two other municipalities: Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos. Since the border was opened for soybean planting in the region, in the late 1990s, there has been a loss of 24 thousand hectares of Amazon forest to monoculture, according to data from MapBiomas for the years 2000 to 2021. The institution maps land cover and use in Brazil and monitors changes in the territory.
“At first, we had no idea what soy was. We saw soy in a can of oil, the kind we consume. That was the understanding we had”, says Ivete. “Then she arrives in our municipality and starts destroying our lives. It’s at this point that we realize what this is all about”, he says.
Traditional and indigenous communities living in the Santareno Plateau are being poisoned by pesticides used on soybeans, in addition to suffering from polluted streams and the loss of plantations, either due to the lack of land or the poison that spreads over the agro-family plantations. And it is this issue that Ivete refers to when she says that people’s lives are being devastated. “Soy destroyed many communities and cut down the forest. It also reduced our agricultural production and silted up our streams. A [monocultura da] Soy, for us, is the crop of death”, says the farmer.
Despite the tears and the loss, the trade unionist and farmer says that the strength for the fight is established in the memory of the efforts of those who have already “fallen” to protect the Amazon. “When I am in a lot of pain, distressed, thinking about my brothers and sisters who are there in areas of conflict, I call sister Dorothy, Dona Maria, Chico Mendes and so many others who have fought for the forest and for those who live in it. They are here. It is not possible that they are not here watching and encouraging us to have faith and hope to continue in the battle.” And he concludes: “Everyone should understand that the forest is a place of peace and balance.”