The Nutcrackers and the Chainsaw Queen

Brazil’s quebradeiras de coco are fighting back against a plan to hack back new agricultural frontiers in the Amazon.

“There are deaths all the time now in Codó,” Francisca María Perreira said.

Cradled in a huge forest of babaçu palms, the town of Codó is a single stretch of shops, bars, and gas stations along the highway, surrounded by a warren of dirt roads through the trees. An influx of drugs and money has led to a surge in violent crime here in Maranhão, one Brazil’s poorest states.

Perreira, 31, is a child of the country’s landless poor. Her father is a fisherman, her mother is a quebradeira de coco — a traditional harvester of nuts from the babaçu palm tree that grows across northeast Brazil. They were only granted the legal rights to their land in the 1990s, serving for decades under the quasi-feudal rule of wealthy landlords, paying their exorbitant rent in rice.

The scars of the long battles over land are deep in places like Codó, and communities are deeply mistrustful of the huge and politically influential agro-industrial companies that succeeded the old “gauchos.”

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