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  • Mobile Tower of the Launch Center at Alcantara Base, Maranhao State, Brazil, Sep. 14, 2018.

    Mobile Tower of the Launch Center at Alcantara Base, Maranhao State, Brazil, Sep. 14, 2018. | Photo: EFE

Published 12 July 2019

An expansion of the satellite launching facility could mean the relocation of those who live in its surroundings.

Afro-Brazilian communities fear being relocated as a result of a Brazil-United States agreement signed by the Jair Bolsonaro administation in March that will allow the U.S. to launch rockets and satellites from Brazil's Alcantara military base located in the rural, northerneastern state of Maranhao.

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During a Thursday Congressional hearing by the Science and Technology Commission, defense ministry representative Carlos de Almeida said the bilateal agreement does not violate Brazil's national sovereignty. The transparency of the new deal, however, was questioned by others on hand.

Social rights leader, Celia Cristina, said the new agreement could represent a threat to the "quilomboas," descendents of escaped slaves who now live on remotes settlements along Brazil's northerneastern coast that is historically the nation's poorest region largely abandoned by the state and majority Black. She and others are demand the state to issue property titles to the quilomboas​​​​​​​ who may be negatively affected by the March deal.​​​​​

Attorney for the organization, Citizens' Rights, Deborah Duprat, said there are no guarantee the quilomboas of Alcantara will not be affected by the future U.S. launches.

"After the experience of the last 40 years, we cannot expect [quilomboa communities] to believe that they will not be relocated to expand the base. In order to have serious and responsible dialogue, we need all parties to have equal part" in these decisions, Dupra said.

De Almeida said the doubts and questions raised should not affect the viability of the new agreement.

"We cannot condition the processing and approval of this agreement to titling problems or any other issue because we will lose this new opportunity," warned the defense representative.

"Bolsonaro says that several NGOs working in the Amazon, which are reforesting with a one-billion European loan, are a threat to Brazil's sovereignty of Brazil. Nevertheless, he signed an agreement with the U.S. to give them a military base in Alcantara. Are they interested in sovereignty​​​​​​​ or something else?

Quilomboas have long-been relegated to the lower rungs of Brazilian society, having been denied their civil rights by the state. In 1983, the dictator administration expropriated some 53,000 hectares from a quilomboa community in Alcantara to build the very base the U.S. now wants to use for its rocket launches. The families were relocated to so-called farms that aren't fertile enough to produce on, and too that ocean fishing isn't feasible. 

"To survive in an "agrovila" farm, I need a job and to generate income so as to be able to buy in the city what I cannot produce, because (the farms) do not provide the conditions to produce," she said.

The Brazilian Congress is studying the "Technology Safeguards Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Federative Republic of Brazil" which some say will advance Brazil's space program.​​​​​​​

Currently, three parliamentary committees have analyzed the proposal. If approved by the commission, the agreement will be evaluated by the Senate.

According to Rodrigo Mendes, head of the Sea, Antarctica and Space Division of Brazil's Foreign Affairs Ministry, such an agreement seeks only to establish rules to use U.S. technology in the Alcantara space center and to protect sensitive information.

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