The origin of the first family of fishermen settling in Prainha do Canto Verde goes back to the mid 19th century.
The fishermen in the northeast of the Brazilian coast lived then as today from lobster fishing. The fishermen's Jangadas were suitable for commercial lobster fishing since the sea is very shallow along this coast. However, the lobster gained commercial value only about 1930. In the 1950s it generated a large trade surplus for Brazil
The lobster banks are still concentrated around the ports between Fortaleza and Recife and generated in the 1950s a large trade surplus for Brazil.
In the early 1960s, the conflict between France and Brazil over the capture of crustaceans was sometimes ironically called the "Lobster War".
France had lost its status as a colonial power, and with it its African fishing grounds, just as the lobster was gaining worldwide popularity.
The conflict was fuelled in 1961 by the Brazilian decision to ban French and international vessels from its exclusive fishing zone. In 1962/63 some French lobster fishing boats were captured.
In 1963, President de Gaulle sent out warships to the area, in order to protect his French fishermen.
Brazil countered and the press played it up, but after a brief period of tension followed by negotiation, the conflict was finally resolved peacefully. The Brazilian government ordered its ten warships, which had been alerted to the "Lobster War" with France, back to their home ports.
However, to the local Brazilian fishermen the war was of little use, as they were dependent on large bulk buyers and their financial and social situation was desolate.
under the military dictatorship of the 70’s/80’s, their situation deteriorated even more drastically.
At that time the first flatbottom motorboats were subsidized for lobster fishing and lobster piracy was born.
In Prainha, people still lived in straw huts and only social facilities like the school were housed in the only brickbuilding in the village. There was still no community centre where the fishermen could gather.
Although supported at that time by a local priest, the fishermen’s dismal condition changed only slowly for the better when a Swiss environmental activist , René Schärer, first settled in Prainha do Canto Verde, where he later began to organise artesanal fishermen along the entire coast of Ceará. With the help of foundations, he founded a school in Prainha, organised teacher training, medical care and practical courses for the inhabitants in general. This resulted in the first generation of young people with good quality education. Child mortality was reduced from almost 30% to zero. That the fishing village as such still exists today, is credited to him. However, he did not only make friends: he received threats several times and was dragged to court. Today, after a long illness, he still lives in Prainha but in seclusion.
One of his first major actions was the revival of historical traditions. He encouraged the revival of a historic regatta. At that time, in 1941, the fishermen had undertaken a long journey on a local fishing boat - a jangada - from Fortaleza to Rio de Janeiro along the coast. On the way they had stopped often to draw attention to their social problems, and to the problem of overfishing. The trip had received a lot of attention.
Food security has always been a top priority among fishermen; they share the catch. Lobsters are reserved for sale. (see Video)
One of the structural problems - then as now - is bribery in the electorate. A few kilometres of asphalted road, and/or connection to the power grid and street lighting are not normally guaranteed. Prainha only got all this in 1998 - as an election gift. However, there was no extension to the infrastructure until the next election. This is how Brazilian politics still work today.
Unfortunately, at the turn of the millennium, the drug mafia moved into the village. The provincial capital, Fortaleza - only two hours away by car - has become one of the most important drug handling centres in South America. The young fishermen have also become acquainted with crack cocaine and other drugs. This led to some burglaries and robberies, even to murder. Some were imprisoned. That seemed deterrent enough to calm the situation a little, but the drug problem is not solved. In an area without social assistance from the state and access to therapy, parents are helpless.
All this is made more difficult by the disintegration of the village community. Financed by the influential investor, Tales de Sá Cavalcante, a second village association was founded. It tries to abolish the declaration of a protected area, to divide the community and to gain influence over the village school and its educational content (curriculum). In 2018, when the school’s director, "Dedé" Costa Ferreira, together with the parents' association, rejected this notion, a new director was appointed and Dedé was downgraded back to ordinary teacher. In addition, in early 2019, a judge issued an eviction order for Dedé’s private home.
The background is an old land dispute. After the death of the original owner, his heirs had sold the property to a Portuguese. However, at that time, a court embargo prohibited any transactions in this part of Prainha do Canto Verde. The property was abandoned and in 2003 Dedé received permission from the local administrative association to build on it. The original buyer then tried to get the property and the house, but the case was archived after several years. It had now been reinstated again without informing Dedé or giving him a chance to defend himself. The judge, who issued the verdict, is suspected of corruption and has been forcibly put into early retirement. It is not clear, whether this is only a conflict under private law or whether it is intended to weaken RESEX and the village community as a whole. Fortunately, some human rights lawyers have now taken up the case and were able to suspend Dedé's eviction order for the time being.
How does an Englishwoman live in Prainha do Canto Verde?
Claire & Neu
Claire, a Londoner, married to the fisherman Arineu in Prainha, a teacher and local photographer, married to the fisherman Arineu, has lived in Prainha for almost two decades and is actively involved in preserving the village.
Last but not least:
Sandra & Charlotte
Journalist & filmmaker, met for the first time in Prainha do Canto Verde around 2006 and made the distinct topics around Prainha do Canto Verde known in Europe.
Sandra Weiss, Mexico
A former diplomat and political scientist (Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris), who volunteered at the AFP. (should write these out in full as most may not know what it stands for) She worked there for four years as a CvD at the Foreign Desk in Bonn and Berlin, and also reported from Brussels. Since 1999, she has worked as a freelance correspondent in Latin America for Die Zeit, NZZ, Tagesspiegel, Badische Zeitung, Le Monde Diplomatique, Schweizer Rundfunk, Deutsche Welle and others. She specialises in politics and the environment.
Charlotte Eichhorn, Switzerland
Is an independent filmmaker and has been travelling the world for 40 years. First as a camera woman, later as her own producer, she wrote, filmed and edited stories about the environment, about children and women, about contributions to science and especially about her many documentaries from developing countries and war zones. Her contributions were broadcast by German-language TV stations, including the culture channel 3sat and Swiss Television.
2014: Documentary about the complexity of problems in Prainha do Canto Verde; in German only
Older reports about Prainha do Canto Verde; in German only
Videokurs für Jugendliche