Part 1 – Petroleum Brutality

O petroleo e nosso

In 1938, President Getúlio Vargas created the National Petroleum Council (O Conselho Nacional do Petróleo – CNP) in order to increase state control of Brazilian oil reserves using the slogan O petróleo é nosso (“The petroleum is ours”). In 1953, he advanced this end by signing Law 2,004 creating Petrobras, a state-owned enterprise overseen by the CNP, which granted Petrobras a legal monopoly in hydrocarbon exploration and production.

After more than 40 years of the nationalized oil monopoly, the Petroleum Law (Law 9,478) was passed in 1997, prompting a broad restructuring of the industry including:

  • Demonopolized hydrocarbon exploration and production
  • Allowed private purchase of minority participation in Petrobras
  • Allowed private companies to participate in exploration and production through concessions
  • Created both the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP) to administer the industry and the National Council for Energy Policy (CNPE) to supervise policy and implementation

As a result of the dramatic market liberalization at the end of the 1990s, Petrobras cut its workforce by just under a third and doubled its production. By creating the CNPE and the ANP, the natural gas production became a key focus. In addition, the Brazilian government was keen to secure higher investments for power generation. Monopoly control was retained in the major energy complexes and the government continued to administer the price of key energy products. As a result, more than 50 multinational oil companies began operating in Brazil.

By 2006, Brazil had produced 11.2 billion barrels of oil (1.78×109 m3), being the second-largest oil reserves in South America after Venezuela. Since November 2007, Petrobras announced that the offshore ‘Tupi’ oil field in the Santos basin may hold between 5-8 billion barrels of recoverable light oil and neighboring fields may contain even more. In 2008, Brazil announced the discovery of the ‘Jupiter’ oil field, a massive natural gas and condensate field just 23 miles from the ‘Tupi’ field. In 2010, the ‘Tupi field was renamed ‘Lula’. Block BM-S-11, which contains the ‘Lula’ and ‘Jupiter’ fields, is operated by Petrobras with a 65% controlling stake while the UK BG Group holds 25% and the Portuguese Galp Energia has the remaining 10% interest. In addition, Petrobras has concessions in over 25 countries, including Turkey, India, Nigeria and Angola.

The Brazilian government and petroleum regulators were reeling after the large pre-salt discoveries of 2006. After months of controversial negotiations, on August 31, 2009, President Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva sent four draft bills to Congress proposing a radical overhaul of the existing regulatory and operational structure of the petroleum industry. The reforms would guarantee a percentage of the new petroleum money to be used for social and education programs and the Brazilian government to retain a majority share to create a semi-public industry. Then, Lula announced in a famous speech in 2008 the declaration that “The Petroleum is ours, it belongs to the people, not Petrobras or Shell” mirroring the former decree from the Vargas administration that the “Petroleum is ours” 69 years earlier.

Brazil has been a net exporter of oil since 2011 and still imports some light oil from the Middle East because several of the refineries are not equipped to process heavy crude oil. As a result, massive networks of crude oil pipelines have been set up by Transpetro, fully owned by Petrobras, to move oil to coastal terminals and inland storage facilities. Talks have been underway to build a refinery with Venezuela and/or possibly in Africa. This would require shipping crude oil over long distances, through pipelines and overseas, to refineries abroad.

The Petroleum is Whose?

In September 2010, Petrobras conducted the largest share sale in history, when US$72.8 billion worth of shares of the company were sold onto international investors. Petrobras immediately became the fourth-largest company in the world and the largest company in the Southern Hemisphere measured by market capitalization. While the Brazilian government currently holds onto the majority share (between 57 – 64%) Petrobras remains the largest multinational company in Latin America measured by 2011 revenue producing 2 million barrels of oil equivalent every day.

However this frenzy into deep offshore pre-salt petroleum and new found oil money has not been heralded by all as a success. In addition to the increased pollution as well as the serious environmental and social impacts for continuous exploration, extraction and transport of petroleum and gas, many claim the funds promised for social and education programs have not materialized.

Initially, pledged Petrobras funding had silenced opposition and divided social movements and local communities with occasional small funding streams for leaders and elites. In addition, a massive governmental ‘greenwashing’ project is underway claiming that Petrobras’ operations can be offset or compensated for by funding projects in other areas. Discontent due to historical and current corruption erupted in June 2013 highlighting the injustices of the new Brazilian oil-boom era.

Fishing villages and oil

Mauá-Magé and PAC_web

The Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program), known as PAC, is an umbrella term for thousands of major infrastructural projects commissioned by the Lula government in 2007.

Economic growth in Brazil since 2005 is thought to be largely a result of the food and oil commodity sectors, however hesitant investors have pointed to the global food crisis and gross over-speculation of the oil reserves as reasons for the economic boom. Lula followed previous policies laid out in the Cardoso administration including cutting interest rates and renewing Brazil’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to decrease the national debt and stabilize inflation rates resulting in benefits for the elite.

Although it is clear that Brazil has experienced increasing levels of macroeconomic growth, this has certainly not guaranteed resource equality throughout the population. This mirrors a pattern of inequality in wealth accumulation throughout Brazilian history. Programs like PAC claim to benefit the millions living in poverty however, end up reinforcing a paradigm of inequality already institutionalized in Brazilian society.

On the western shore of the Guanabara Bay of Rio de Janeiro lies the small fishing village of Mauá-Magé, where the water that laps at the shore is dark green with severe algal blooms reflecting the toxic imbalance of the water. The picturesque village lies just a few kilometers from the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), one of the largest investments in the history of Petrobras (Brazilian semi-public multinational energy corporation) and part of the Brazilian government’s PAC.

Alexandre Anderson de Souza

Alexandro Anderson de Souza_web

Alexandre Anderson de Souza is the Director of the Association of Men and Women of the Sea (Associação Homens e Mulheres do Mar – AHOMAR), a fishers union in struggle against the social and environmental impacts created by PAC investments rendering fishing nearly impossible in the Guanabara Bay. AHOMAR represents artisan fishers from seven municipalities in the Guanabara Bay and has 1,720 founding partners. Since 2007, they have systematically denounced the crimes and rights violations which occurred during the construction of the petrochemical complex, COMPERJ.

In 2009, the men and women of AHOMAR occupied the construction sites on land and sub-sea gas pipelines for transport of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), built by a consortium between two contractors: GDK and Oceânica, both hired by Petrobras. The fishers anchored their boats close to the pipelines and resisted for 38 days. Since then, fishers from AHOMAR have suffered constant death threats. That same year, in May, Paulo Santos Souza, formerly in charge of the association’s accounting, was brutally beaten in front of his family and killed with five shots to the head. In 2010, another AHOMAR founder, Márcio Amaro, was also murdered at his home in front of his mother and wife. Both crimes have never been brought to trial.

Alexandre Anderson de Souza with bodyguards

Alexandro Anderson de Souza with bodyguards_web
After years of struggle, Alexandre and his wife, Daise, also began receiving death threats for their work to protect the environment and the rights of the local fishers. Since 2009, Alexandre and his family have been under 24h police protection issued by the Human Rights Defenders Program.

Tragically, Almir Nogueira de Amorim and João Luiz Telles Penetra, leaders of AHOMAR, were brutally murdered one month before this photo was taken. They were found on the 24th of June 2012, in the bay tied to their boat, weighted down and drown. The day before this photo was taken one of Alexandre’s guards was shot and murdered steps away from where they stand in the photo.

“This is a moment of a lot of suffering, a lot of sadness because of the violent eviction of the local fishers from where they have always lived and have been a permanent part of the local culture, where people have lived in harmony with nature…. Today in Guanabara Bay we are totally worried about the petrochemical industry, including the submarine oil pipelines, oil terminals, platforms and new oil refineries that are being constructed. All of this is affecting the local fishers because it is difficult to find a good place to fish.

The oil expansion in Rio is a new moment of petroleum in Brazil. We have seen this process develop so quickly and how it is causing the expulsion of the local fishers because the oil leaks into the water and causes a huge impact. We see this pollution as an invasion and it has much more profound impacts on the fisheries in this region because it kills a lot of fish stocks which brings about the end of the fishing commerce and local tourism in the region.

And for the people who eat the fish well, they are eating something polluted and they know that it is contaminated… we have never seen a process happen so quickly.”

Support AHOMAR



Since the Petroleum boom began seven years ago work on offshore drilling rigs has become more abundant and increasingly precarious. Mafaldi worked for three years under difficult conditions for Diamond Offshore, a sub-contracted company for deep-water drilling based out of Houston, Texas. He worked on both drilling rigs and drilling ships off the Brazilian coast and as a probe operative in shifts lasting up to 12 hours both night and day. Mafaldi witnessed many synthetic fluids spilled into the sea, awful accidents with diesel supplies in support boats and horrible accounts of labor accidents. Today he dedicates his time to working on a sustainable social center and with the “Forum dos Afetados pelo Petroleo”, (Forum of those affected by Petroleum) a network of groups working together to resist petroleum expansion in Brazil.

“The drilling doesn’t stop and there were many giant waves that would hit the platforms making them sway and causing many horrible accidents. We had daily and weekly safety trainings but even with these careful policies I witnessed many serious accidents and suffered some minor ones myself.

Once during the perforation of an oil well in 2011 while working on an oil rig of OGX Petroleo & Gas Participacoes SA (the oil company controlled by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista), a fellow who I worked with had his leg mangled until the knee by a roller conveyor that was gravel drilling.

From the helicopter transport to the platforms I saw a lot of contamination, synthetic drilling fluid and garbage dumped into the open sea. There were permanently, repeatedly, huge tracks of crude oil floating and following the ocean current.

These times are sad to even remember and to realize that so few people know of this daily tragedy. The Petroleum industry is destroying the environment. These companies exist to destroy the environment and they do it very well.”

Forum dos Afetados pelo Petroleo

Threats from Land and Sea

Conceição da Barra is located on the northeast shore of Espírito Santo just below the border of Bahia. The region’s history is connected to colonial large-scale monocultures that continue to destroy the Atlantic Forest. Colonial plantations have endangered local peoples’ livelihoods for centuries while more recently the petroleum boom has become an added threat.

Jandinha, Geda and Gilmara

Jandinha, Geda and Gilmara_web

A dynamic group of women from the Mariculture Association of  Conceição de Barra (Associação dos Maricultores de Conceição de Barra – AMABARRA), a union dedicated to local shrimp workers located in the north of Espírito Santo, are responsible for the on-land work of cleaning, de-shelling and preparing the shrimp for sale. They handle hundreds of kilos of shrimp every week that is either sold on directly or frozen. While it is a state company which lies behind the further contamination of seas and depletion of sea resources, the shrimp is also bought by the government for elementary school lunch programs to make a traditional soup, Bobó de Camarão, consisting of shrimp and manioc.

“We are suffering more damage as the oil contaminates our seas and rivers as well as the pesticides from the eucalyptus plantations that pollute our rivers. Sometimes we pick up the fish and it’s full of oil with a strong-smelling resin.

In 2009, Petrobras had another oil spill accident offshore between Guriri and Barra Nova and the fish turned up dead on the beach. We are seeking economic compensation which could take 100 years because it is time to compensate fishers. We have even hired good lawyers to do this work but the companies do not pay. They treat us like garbage. We are discriminated against and the government takes the side of the companies. If our rivers and seas are contaminated we will not be able to work and we will have no future.”

Benedito Matias Porto (Seu Bi)

Benedito Matias Porto (Seu Bi)_web

Seu Bi was born into a fishing family and has been a fisherman his entire life. He is the President of the Mariculture Association of  Conceição de Barra (Associação dos Maricultores de Conceição de Barra – AMABARRA) and Director of the Shrimpers Association of Conceição de Barra (Associação dos Camaroneiros de Conceição da Barra – ACCB). Over the last five years Seu Bi has received death threats for his continued work in protecting the rights of local fishers. His entire family left the region to seek safety but Seu Bi is committed to staying in the region.

“In Conceicao da Barra 75% of the municipality is covered by eucalyptus and sugarcane. These companies deforested and destroyed the water springs and still put their poisons in the rivers. The sea, rivers and mangroves continue to suffer a widespread exploitation by Petrobras. As a kid I fished with my father by canoe and watched Petrobras blasting dynamite across the sea for oil exploration, thus the decline of fishstocks. Our production has fallen over the past 20 years and has reduced our fishstocks by 60%.

What will be our future with this model of government we have?

Our families are at the mercy of economic and social development. They are helpless. The culture of fishers is ending. In Brazil we have false environmental agencies funded by corporate polluters. We see, for example, no penalties or punishment for the businesses that cause oil spills, destruction from dynamite, pesticides and other poisons.”

Adelino Machado

Adelino Machado_web

“Previously we had more fish than today. Today there are practically no more fish in the sea due to Petrobras’ much larger vessels, research vessel dropping bombs in the sea, polluting oil, and also the platforms.

Fishers have no more right to fish anymore. Where are you going to go when there are oil platforms on the high seas, they have ships with oil. You can no longer drop your fishing net and easily fish. Today we have a big problem in the fishing sector called Petrobras. It came here to take away our wealth and leaves the fishing community increasingly poor. The fishers today are driven to prostitution, drugs, abandonment, because the only thing we know is how to fish and today we can no longer fish.

70% of the land in Conceição da Barra is eucalyptus and because of this we no longer have forests, they poisoned all of our soil, we do not even see anymore birds. After it rains, the poison they put in eucalyptus goes into the streams, rivers and thence to the sea.

Our city revolves around fishing and so Conceição da Barra has become increasingly poor, because of these large companies. And today they give no assistance in return to the communities.

What I want for my future is what everyone wants: for my children to be able to study and have a decent life.

First they began the oil exploration, then came a ship called chupa cabra (goat sucker) that detonated the entire seabed. There was one tremendous explosion and the fish died but the fish that didn’t die fled the edge of the coast, which is where we work.

The city council thinks it’s all normal.

I wanted to see all the fishermen doing well, how we should be as humans, to be able to raise my children, and for them to go to school. The way things are I do not see a future, unfortunately I only see the worst for my class.”

Olinda Alves dos Santos and Benedito Alves dos Santos (S. Corumba)

from Bela Vista/Conceição da Barra
Olinda Alves dos Santos and Benedito Alves dos Santos _web

Petrobras discovered oil reserves on the family’s land in 1972 and since then have set up oil wells, a small storage facility and kilometers of pipelines. In addition, Olinda and her family live surrounded by eucalyptus plantations that have destroyed the waterways and polluted the land. Benedito is Olinda’s brother. He and his family have been displaced, harassed and continually ignored by Petrobras over the last 40 years. The impacts have been so severe that his family was forced to relocate to the outskirts of Conceição da Barra. One might think that Olinda and Benedito’s families would be very wealthy from the oil on their lands after 40 years but they receive almost no royalties and no compensation. On the contrary, continued harassment and health problems are reoccurring in their families.

Olinda Alves dos Santos


“Today we live in this dry place because of the eucalyptus. Fibria planted [eucalyptus] and the water dried up so people have to live without it; it destroyed the land. There is so much  pollution from Petrobras’ drilling and with the eucalyptus drying the water, we are running out. Within a short period of time we will not even be able to survive. If we wouldn’t have planted coconut we would not survive because the eucalyptus has made the land so weak. The plants will die and people will no longer able to live here anymore.

Before Petrobras came and did the oil exploration here things were better because there wasn’t so much pollution. Today there are so many things wrong. We ask them to fix things and they always say, “in one year from now or two years” and they never come to fix anything. It is all the same. I ask them to fill in the hole where they took the clay to make the base of the oil pit, but they said it was not in their work plans so they would do it later.

Petrobras does not pay me enough, it is just to shut my mouth. R$ 500.00 is what they pay an annual rent.

There used to be more agriculture when I was a girl, but now it is over. Things have changed. There is nothing we can do now because we don’t have anymore land, we don’t have space, it is too small of a space to work. We can not work where Petrobras built the oil drill, because of the pipelines, and the cables so they do not want us to make fire or to cut anything. How are we supposed to farm then? Things are worse than before.

Fibria and Bahia Sul use chemicals to kill the weeds, called Roundup. When it rains all these chemicals go into the streams and we drink this water, which causes many illnesses. There are places where people see oil in the streams, a type of kerosene that looks like cream and stays on top of the water. It has an unpleasant smell that could be oil coming from under the ground and we also drink this mixed water. At first we could not drink the water because it tasted horrible, it was like chlorine and gave us stomach aches.

The company Petrobras, Fibria and Bahia Sul see that we have no way of working and they could help us by making a water well, a chicken breeding farm … but they do not do anything. We are in a waiting line, living like retired people.”

Benedito Alves dos Santos (S. Corumba)

Benedito Alves dos Santos_web[1]

“Petrobras arrived here in ‘72. We were quiet when the company came here to do initial research. We had a big cattle ranch. My father refused to collaborate and said he would sue the company but Petrobras threatened, saying it was a federal project and that he could not resist or we could be evicted from here.

Within my land area Petrobras has now 13 oil wells occupying an area of ​​10 hectares although the contract says that it can only occupy two hectares. In addition, we are surrounded by eucalyptus from the companies, Fibria and Bahia Sul. The contract was made in 1972, but I only received a small royalty in 2000, after production was already declining.

Petrobras has not brought me any benefit, it only brings harm to the land owner.
You can’t eat wood and you can’t drink oil so how am I supposed to live here? I took my wife and children and moved to the city because here, these are not conditions to survive. I cannot even raise animals because Petrobras would not allow it, nor the energy that is 200 meters from my house that the company said they would offer to us. The stream was full of fish, but now destroyed, murdered, killed, it has nothing left. Not even a toad can survive here because there are so many chemicals in our water. And with the noise of the explosions, I had to move because everyone was having headaches.

The petroleum is ours? It is the land owners? No!”