Brazil’s Alter do Chao blends rainforest and beaches. But this once-pristine locale has met the perils of popularity. A maneuver called land grabbing now plagues this formerly sleepy village.
For years, visitors have flocked to Alter do Chao. They ate Amazonian river fish and gazed out over the water. They took day trips hoping to meet indigenous (native to a place) people and spot pink dolphins.
Alter was so charming that visitors soon wanted to claim the unspoiled paradise. The area’s poor record-keeping and dodgy law enforcement made it easy to simply seize choice land parcels.
Land grabbing consists of invading public areas and obtaining documents, forged or not, to declare ownership.
By 2018, land grabbing had grown common. One of Brazil’s environmental protection agencies said Alter do Chao needed “urgent interventions against the rise of invaders” to preserve protected areas.
What a sneaky scheme! But God predicts misery for dishonest people—specifically those who “covet fields and seize them.” (Micah 2:2) Land grabbers won’t go unpunished forever.
Today, the village of some 7,000 people attracts about 100,000 tourists during high season. Many newcomers are happy to fence off any unoccupied area and claim it as their own, says Ederson Santos, a motorboat driver.
Santos points out a vast new home near a stream. “The family that lives there never asked permission for any of this. The house, the construction, nothing,” says Santos.
Dozens of projects in Alter do Chao are inside protected areas or without proper permits. Lawbreakers brazenly occupy land and then slash and burn forest to make way for houses and fields.
Restaurateur Rilson Maduro says development is erasing the area’s history. Ceramics and bones from his ancestors, of the Borari indigenous group, have been found there.
“Some land grabbers went there because they like the view, others because it is good for agriculture,” he says. “We want to keep it intact because of our history.”
Last year, local police accused four firefighters of setting a protected forest ablaze. The firefighters were jailed for three days. Actually, local police set the fire. The burned area now features several land grabbers’ houses.
“The Alter I once knew is changed, and I don’t like many of those changes,” says fisherman Alfredo José Branco. His family is among the last of a group that has lived for decades near the beach.
“I will stay, but I wonder if my children and grandchildren will be able to,” he says. “Everywhere I go has invaders.”