A plan by financially troubled Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista to build a port in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the so called Superporto do Açu, or the “Rotterdam of tropics”, is by any measure ambitious.
Slated to be one-and-a-half times the size of Manhattan Island, Açu has required the expropriation of huge tracts of agricultural land from the surrounding families in the municipality of São João da Barra, in Rio de Janeiro state.
Batista’s company says the large volume of land, which will be turned into an industrial park, is necessary to ensure the port does not become crowded in by residential development in the years to come, as has happened at Santos, Brazil’s biggest port in São Paulo state.
An association representing some of the families, Asprim, on the other hand, believes it is just a real estate play by Batista and the state government, which will make large profits from converting the land from agricultural to industrial use. Asprim made its complaints clear to the FT’s Brazil bureau chief Joe Leahy in this story earlier this week.
They complain of violence, coercion and sleight of hand in the expropriation process.
However, the Rio de Janeiro state government’s industrial agency responsible for the expropriations, Codin, in interviews with beyondbrics, disputed the claims by Asprim, saying the port will bring development to the region and most of the families were happy to accept payment for what is essentially “unproductive” land.
“That region is one of the poorest in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it’s a blessing for them to have an industrial complex there,” said Julio Bueno, Rio state secretary of economic development, energy, industry and services.
According to Codin, people whose land is expropriated are being allocated property in another farm in the area with better soil for agricultural production.
“Those who took this opportunity are extremely happy,” said Marisa Souza, coordinator of the expropriation process. In response to the question that police are being abusive, Codin said officers were required to help enforce the law when owners who had their land legally expropriated did not accept due process.
Since 2010, 41 km² or 400 properties have been expropriated, with R$60m was paid to 100 families at compensation of R$100,000 per “alqueire” (each alqueire is 24,200m²), according to Codin. The agency argues the land was only worth R$50,000 per alqueire in 2008, so the prices being paid now represent a “200 per cent” increase for owners of a once neglected area.
Bueno argues the opposition is political in nature, with extreme left, anti-development groups taking part. The opposition “has a flavour of electoral politics along with participation from groups that are against capitalism, groups that think that there’s no need to have industry, only agriculture”, he said.
For the response of Asprim and its supporters see the blog (in Portuguese) of Professor Marcos Pedlowski.
Beyondbrics, for its part, does not want to engage in “he said, she said”. Our only comment is that it would be a miracle in any country if an expropriation of this size for a project launched by a private sector billionaire did not lead to some intense land-related conflict.