Alexandre Anderson de Souza is 44. When he was 19, Alexandre told his parents that he wanted to be a fisherman. This seemed strange, because no one in their family was not a fisherman, but his parents did not oppose his choice.
Almost immediately, Alexandre could apply for one of the Russian fishing trailers where he instantly became everyone's favorite, and became known as Sasha. With his sunny, positive disposition, hard work, and terrific sense of humor, Sasha gradually formed such a reputation that crews passed him from one ship to another, offering more and more new contracts. But one day the whole system of the Soviet fishing fleet collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Alexandre worked for some time on the ships of Dubai, and then returned home – to Rio de Janeiro.
Settling in a fishing village on the Bay of Guanabara, Alexandre got involved in traditional fishing, to which he had gravitated in childhood. In fact, it was impossible to do the other kind of fishing here, because of Guanabara Bay's unique bottom topography and fauna. The most important rules as made by the fishermen, were that one could not conduct fishing below a certain depth, and that they could only usetraditional gear, to avoid harming the bay. The bay area suitable for fishing was about 300 square kilometers.
Everything changed when the gas company Petrobras came to the bay. It brought huge ships, which began to replace the fishermen, narrowing their opportunities for fishing. The number of fishermen plummeted. If in 2000 there were about 23 thousand of them in the region, there are now only 9000.
The number of fishing communities fell dramatically after 2010. By early 2011 28 communities operated in seven fishing villages. Today there are only 23 communities left. Within three years, five communities disappeared off the fishing map of Guanabara. The reason was simple – Petrobras' had put gas pipes straight through the territories of these five fishing communities. For the development of infrastructure Petrobras needed land for the construction of the property, so the company began actively squeezing out fishermen from their ancestral territories. Sometimes the activities of the gas company services- which were actively cooperating with the legal authorities of Rio - were incredibly cynical: the fishermen were arrested on trumped-up excuses, their villages demolished and the fishermen then released.
One of the most monstrous stories was of the demolition of the fishing village Caicara, where the fishing tradition was preserved from before white people arrived in Brazil. Part of the village consisted of the archaeological site 'Sambaquis', which was protected by the state. But it was demolished alongside the village.
In 2000, there was an ecological disaster in Guanabara – a pipeline was damaged, and 1.3 million liters of hot oil settled on the bay's sea bottom destroying a huge segment of the unique fauna of the Gulf. The level of fishing fell by 80 % , but company Petrobras has not paid any compensation to fishermen.
Fishermen rightly expected a the company's activities in the Gulf to slow down, but in vain: the gas company has begun to rapidly increase its existence in this strategically important region. As a result, it was found that more pipes have been laid across the bay in the last five years than were laid in the 30 year period between 1970 and 2000.
Fishermen suspected that ecological disaster in 2000 was not an acciden. Today, over time, they are convinced that the pipeline was intentionally broken to clear the field for the gas company in the region, and eliminating of fighting fishermen about whom they could not do anything for many years.
In 2003, fishermen realized that they could only resist by combining their efforts. 11 leaders from different villages united, creating a fishing association «People of the Sea» - AHMOR. In this alliance Alexandre represented the village Mage.
The association immediately launched into action, starting with a large information campaign; six buses drove across Brazil, leading the campaign for people to openly speak about economic problems.
Having started as a small group of activists, gradually AHOMAR turned into an influential public organization, with 4,300 members, becoming the only such organization in Brazil.
Confrontation with Petrobras has continued throughout the years – collisions between the gas corporation and fishermen came and went. They flashed and then subsided into a phase of quiet mutual rejection. Petrobras sometimes acted defiantly: not in a manner befitting the largest gas company in Brazil, where 60% of the shares are owned by the state. The company, for example, built an office just meters away from AHMOR's office, making it impossible for them to stay there, and forcing fishermen to leave. This happened in 2008, just as Alexandre became a president of the association.
Every year AHOMAR prepares a report on what damage the gas company has caused the gulf. Once the Minister for Public Affairs decided to check out a fisherman's report, and sent an inspection to check up on the information provided by AHMOR. The inspection returned with the conclusion that everything stated in the report – was the truth. The Fishermen seriously hoped that the officials would be able to stop Petrobras, but everything started to happen exactly the other way around.
During Alexandre's management of the association from 2008 to 2014 eight attempts were made on his life.
The most severe of them was in July 2012, when Alexandre was returning home accompanied by two police officers guarding him. Turning to the house, one of the officers noticed a black minivan in the crossroads. Just in case, he took off his bullet proof vest and threw it to Alexandre. Braking sharply in the yard, they ran into the house. They barely had time to close the door, and the shooting started. Heavy fire on the house lasted for ten minutes. As a result, one of the policemen was wounded in the nose, and Alexandre – in his leg. Soon ammunition ran out and there was nothing to shoot.
One of the officers remained in the house, and the second pushed out Alexandre into the yard, hiding him in the bushes. The attackers broke the siege, but it was impossible to know whether there was another group of killers. All attempts to establish contact with the local police stations were unsuccessful - radios and mobile phones had been disconnected. They were only able to get in touch with law enforcement authorities twelve hours later.
The case wasn't registered with the police for twenty days. During this time the policemen who defended Alexandre were sent somewhere, and he was never able to contact them again. On all attempts to find them, he received the answer: «They have been transferred to do other work.» When the case was finally opened, it turned out that there were no witnesses and testimonies of those policemen in the materials were absent.
The last attempt was even more carefully prepared by attackers. One day, Alexandre arrived at the house in a car with policemen, and it became clear that all the equipment was disconnected: radios, and mobile phones. The policemen began to try reloading their weapons when they realized that all machineguns were empty. They rushed to the car, but saw that a minivan was by the house. Alexandre's car sharply took off from the place, rushing away from the house and the minivan followed them. The chase lasted about ten minutes, when one of the officers ordered the others to prepare themselves to jump out of the car. For a few seconds the car with the fugitives was out of sight of their pursuers. They jumped out of the car and rolled down the hill; car was keep driving for a few tens of meters, buried in the slope and stalled. The minivan with pursuers drove to it, after that armed men came out of it and shot the car. As it turned out later, there were six of the pursuers.
The paradox is that Alexandre is located at the crossroads of interests between the two governmental organizations and agencies. One of them, dealing with the development of oil and gas industry wants to get rid of him; another - dedicated to the environmental management, is trying to save his life. As a result, some policemen defend him, while others are trying to kill him. Over the past three years Alexandre has been guarded by 24 police officers and eight of them have participated in the assassination attempts on him.
Such attempts occur immediately after the protests taken by fishermen. Once they are active, shooting begins not only at the most active ones, but ordinary fishermen too - as acts of intimidation, in the hope that they will leave the Gulf.
Throughout the years of active work Alexandre lost friends and colleagues. Seven of the eleven founding AHOMAR members were killed over the years.
On May 22, 2009 a protest was held, after which Alexandre's friend was killed – he was one of the founders of the Association. He was tortured for a long time in front of his wife's eyes, and then killed. He was keeping records of AHOMAR members and accounting of the organization.
On December 18, 2010 a protest was organized before the office of Petrobras in Rio de Janeiro. A colleague of Alexandre spoke then, announcing names and showing photos of corrupt policemen who were pertaining to shelling of fishermen. The next day he was gunned down in front of his mother.
In June 2012, when he started a campaign against the construction of a canal, which Petrobras was engaged in, Alexandre wife's cousin Alan and his friend Pituka gave a speech at an event during the summit of G20, in which they spoke about police involvement in the murders of fishermen. A week later, they went out to a sea to fish. A motorboat approached them and people from it moved into the fishing boat where they chained fishermen to the board. After that, they shot the fishing boat, and it began to sink; fishermen slowly drowned. On board the killers left a note, «You – are the people of the sea, so drink the sea water.»
In 2012, fishermen occupied the Senate to prevent the adoption of a law on the transfer of the islands in the Gulf into use of villages. Through the adoption of this law, the gas company planned to buy the islands as soon as they became private property, to be used later for construction of terminals. A few days later, one of the leaders of AHOMAR, who led the occupation of the Senate, went missing. In the evening, the day before, witnesses had seen a car belonging to the company Petrobras near his house.
This sad martyrology could be continued. The most recent assassination attempt was made last winter, when a water-bailiff was inspecting piers. He was doing an inventory of fishing boats when an unknown rammed his boat trying to kill him. They tried three times to sail over his head, and only the cry of the inspector, «I'm not a fisherman!» stopped the assassination attempt. He later apologized before the fishermen that he screamed this, but only that saved his life.
Attempts to put pressure on fishermen are not limited to direct violence. Over the years of the Association leadership 12 criminal cases against Alexandre were initiated, and in all of them he was acquitted and confirmed innocent. Once, after an opening of a new legal case and arrest, he was taken to a court, Alexandre was met by 14 lawyers there who came to defend him. They were simultaneously sent by public organizations, associations, and several commercial companies - sympathizers of fishermen.
When Alexandre is in prison, he does not eat or drink water, realizing that he simply can not live up to the court hearing.
The ideas of these fishermen are gradually spreading all over Brazil, gaining more and more supporters. AHOMAR recently joined the Board of the Environment Organization «Occupy The Space.» And in 2011 the fishermen managed to achieve seemingly impossible - by placing continuous watches on the boats to stop the gas terminal in the Guanabara Bay, it was recognized as damaging the environment. This led to the detriment of Petrobras in the amount of 230 million reais.
Alexandre was recently contacted by Maori fishermen of New Zealand. They asked him to record a video appeal to support one of their activists, who was in jail for environmental activities. It turned out that for Maori fishermen Alexandre was a positive example, and they were closely watching his actions, actively learning from the experience.
We sit in a safe house, which one of the Brazilian journalists temporarily gave to Alexandre. Meanwhile he can not go home - a constant threat to his life still exists. Here his wife comes regularly; and his children visit him here too. Here his favorite grandson stays with him overnight, listening to the countless bedtime fishing stories that his grandfather tells with excitment.
Alexandre takes a sip of a hot coffee, looks up and says softly: «We want very little: to live in our own homes and to fish.»Subscribe to our mailing list: