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Law students and recent graduates who spent the Spring 2010 semester studying the land rights of Afro-Brazilian communities have submitted their final report to community leaders and Brazilian government officials, institutions, and non-government organizations engaged in the issue.

Written under the supervision of Laurence R. Helfer, the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law, the report contains insights gleaned from the students’ intense study and research, both at Duke Law and on the ground in Brazil. Along with Helfer, the students spent their 2010 Spring break in Brazil as part of the seminar. They met with members of quilombos -- Afro-Brazilians communities descended from slaves -- who are seeking to secure legal title to lands they have long occupied. The students also interviewed government officials, civil society groups, anthropologists, and legal scholars who work on land rights issues in Brazil.

The report outlines the difficulties Afro-Latino communities have had in obtaining land rights in Central and South America, where six countries recognize some form of collective rights. The problems are especially stark in Brazil. “Nowhere are the connections between Afro-Latinos, access to land, and socioeconomic development more apparent than in Brazil,” the report states. “Afro-Brazilians comprise 45 percent of the Brazilian population, yet constitute 69 percent of those living in extreme poverty. Land ownership remains sharply concentrated, with 3.5 percent of landowners controlling over half of the arable land.”

Brazil’s 1988 constitution included a provision allowing quilombos to apply for collective title to lands where they have long resided. But implementation has been problematic. Applications filed by many quilombos are enmeshed in a bureaucratic quagmire, the report found.

quilombola_landrights_prtg.pdf (588 kB)