Updated on 27.03.2015

InstitutionalPosition Papers

Position Paper on Civil Action over Vacant Land
March 7, 2014

A. Context

  • The federal prosecutors in São Mateus (ES) (MPF/ES) proposed in November 2013 a lawsuit against Fibria, the State of Espírito Santo and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to nullify the titles of land it alleges to be unoccupied and granted by the government to Aracruz Celulose. The legal lawsuit refers to 6,238 hectares awarded the title of land in the 1970s to Aracruz Celulose, which was incorporated in 2009 to Votorantim Celulose e Papel, merger that resulted in the creation of Fibria.
  • The MPF/ES claims the return of public land, and requests further, once there is a confirmation that land has been occupied by the traditional quilombolas, a titling process takes place in favor of the communities of São Mateus and Conceição da Barra.
  • Fibria will contest the lawsuit, since it understands that the rights to the land derive from tenure and that they should therefore not be considered vacant.

B. History

  • The acquisitions of the land in question were made more than 40 years ago in the early 1970s, more specifically between 1973 and 1975. This was a time when the federal government implemented an expansion and a local economic development policy, particularly regarding the growth of the basic industries.
  • Among the industries was pulp and paper, whose development policy was gathered under the Cellulose and Paper National Program. Its primary purpose was to develop a national industry capable of guaranteeing the supply needed in Brazil to be self-sufficient. The program sought, among other things, to stimulate the integration between forest and the industry, both in terms of the land and the corporate philosophy, aiming to avoid the waste of forest resources and minimize operating and transportation costs. Among other initiatives to achieve these goals was the expansion of planted forests, which resulted in the emergence of pulp and paper as a global competitive sector, which not only met domestic demand, but also became one of the main exporting sectors of Brazil.
  • In line with the program, Aracruz (as it was then) heavily invested in the state of Espírito Santo, purchasing many rural properties to establish its forest base. The properties acquired comprised areas with the private ownership rights, likely to be subject of acquisition by the company, and did not consist of public lands. The process of officially registering the lands in the name of private entities would have taken a long time (probably years) to complete and would certainly have made the intended investments unfeasible. In order to meet the government’s objectives, the land acquisition needed to be carried out at a fast pace, which led, in some cases, to the expedient of transferring the possession rights (to private individuals), which at the time was a common practice that was accepted by the government agencies. The lands were initially applied for on behalf of company employees whom would openly declare that the acquisition of these lands was for the purpose of the company’s reforestation projects, thus preserving total transparency regarding the intentions. All the agencies/ organizations involved were fully aware of how the process was being conducted and, when completed, it was approved by the state government. The company had maintained throughout the years a peaceful ownership of these areas which, until the proposition of action, had never been called into question.
  • In terms of the quilombolas communities inhabiting the northern Espírito Santo, who are mentioned as part of the lawsuit filed by MPF/ES, Fibria sought to strengthen its dialogue and contribute to the development of communities with income generating program and employment. In parallel, the company discusses with the communities and other stakeholders long-term solutions to the situation, that not only includes the definition of the areas, but also how to have better resources to support social, economic and environmental development.