Eliete Paraguassu – Activist fisherwoman

Eliete Paraguassu is one of the leaders of the local Fisherman’s Union on the Brazilian island of Maré. She dedicates her life to the preservation of the traditional quilombola fishermen’s culture in the Bay of All Saints in the State of Bahia. This black culture is threatened by reckless petrochemical industrial activities. ‘They have no idea how painful the life of a fisherwoman in the mangrove is. Nobody knows how much pain the destruction of the sandbanks causes our communities.’

‘Since about twelve years we feel threatened,’ Eliete Paraguassu says about the regular accidents at the various petrochemical industry sites on the borders of the bay. ‘Every morning we wake up wondering what kind of surprise will await us today. What explosion will occur, what decree will be issued?’

The main objective of the Fisherman’s Union is the protection of the traditional fishing grounds of quilombola communities against the unbridled and destructive economic policy of ‘desenvolvimento’ (development) by the Brazilian government and industry. ‘The petrochemical companies will attempt to disturb us with their installations. They will reduce our quilombos and destroy our indigenous community. We know the mangrove is full of blood, so to speak, and we will not sit still with our arms crossed! We are killed in the name of profit, in the name of money, in the name of that particular model of development.’

The presence of big petrochemical industries not only poses a threat to the environment and to physical health. ‘We fisherwomen constantly feel very insecure to go fishing in the mangroves. Women are raped there by workers of these companies. In our culture it was traditionally normal for a woman to go fishing on her own in the mangroves. The authorities don’t know how powerless we feel when there is no help whatsoever for women being attacked in the mangroves.’

The fishermen’s associations are trying to prove misconduct by the petrochemical companies and the disastrous effects of their activities on the traditional way of life of the quilombola communities. It is not financial compensation Eliete is after. ‘Even if they come with thousands of boats loaded with money, it will never cure our pain and that of our relatives. This is all I have on Maré: the mangrove, my parents, my children and my friends. I don’t need money to be happy.’

By Nop Duys