Monday Apr 15

SPECIAL REPORT: Vale Encantado

Organizing Forum International Dialogue in Salvador & Recife, Brazil

On the outskirts of Salvador, Brazil, we visited a forest that has become the battleground for a multi-generational struggle between the government's development ambitions and a group of activists and organizers known as "Vale Encantado." The government of Salvador has been eyeing this land for development, already building roads that could potentially threaten the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

Vale Encantado, a dedicated group of local residents, has emerged as the staunch defenders of the “enchanted valley.” Their fight goes beyond preserving trees and wildlife; it is a commitment to safeguarding the cultural and historical significance that this land holds for the people of Salvador. As we explored the forest, guided by 16-year-old resident activist Catarina Lorenzo, we learned about the myriad of plant and animal species that call this ecosystem home. Not only does it serve as a haven for biodiversity, but it also plays a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance, ensuring water quality, and mitigating climate change impacts. Vale Encantado understands the intrinsic connection between the health of the land and the well-being of the local community, making their resistance not just an environmental campaign but a vital fight for the survival of Salvador's natural heritage.

Our guide Catarina led us to a spot with particular significance, a 370-year-old jackfruit and mango tree, growing together. For Vale Encantado this tree is almost considered an elder in the community. Not native to Brazil, the tree served as a secret compass for escaped slaves centuries ago. Now as Caterina directed us to place our hands on the bark, the echoes of their struggles and triumphs seemed to linger in the air, connecting the past to the ongoing present struggle to protect this land from development. 

Vale Encantado is standing against the interests of private developers who have set their sights on paving the land. Local governments are standing by, refusing to sign off on declaring the land a protected area. Mounting pressure until they do so is the long-term conflict drawing in locals like Caterina to organize and fight. 

Kyla Szustaczek is head organizer of ACORN Canada in Calgary, Alberta.