This blog post is mostly based on Harvard Land Ownership in Brazil Scrutinized in Title Dispute by Michael McDonald and Tatiana Freitas, published in Bloomberg, 24 April 2018.
Caracol, a company working on behalf of Harvard University, purchased a sprawling 140,000-hectare (540 square miles) area of land in Brazil and created a large-scale industrial farm, with the hope that the farm would generate profits for the university for years to come.
When Caracol built its mega-farm, subsistence farmers who had depended on the land were forced out.
But these farmers protested that Caracol had no legal right to drive them off the land because it was in fact public land – land which, since the Portuguese invasion centuries earlier, had never been legally titled to anyone, and which had been managed by local people for generations.
The state of Bahia, Brazil formed a commission that found irregularities with 24 titles that Caracol holds for lands it acquired. The commission recommended in a 2014 report to revoke titles after finding a “festival of irregular and illegal procedures which resulted in usurpation of public lands” that predated Caracol’s involvement. The prosecutor’s office in Bahia says it’s determining whether to sue to reclaim the titles.
Such fights have become more common in Brazil as industrial agriculture spreads to poorer regions of the country.