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Brazil — upsurge in rural violence

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Bloody July in the land of the gun

The 'quilombola' leader Paulo Sérgio Santos, 42, was killed on the afternoon of Sunday, July 6, at Quilombola Camp Nelson Mandela, near New Viçosa, Bahia. The 'quilombola' communities in the region are in conflict with the wood pulp mills.The last few weeks have been marked by the systematic murder of rural leaders and  other deaths linked to landownership conflicts, mainly in the Amazon and the northeast. There have also been various other assassination attempts which nearly succeeded. Rural workers, quilombola leaders, and Indians — all the “damned of the earth”, those forgotten by the authorities in charge of land demarcation and agrarian reform —  are paying with their lives for the current government’s failure to demarcate indigenous territory, to regulate quilombola lands and to provide land for peasant families. The harmful effects of the government’s failure to demarcate indigenous lands was demonstrated in a report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) on  the violence committed against indigenous populations in 2013.  Launched on 17 July, the report  stated that, “instead of demarcating lands, settling small farmers on plots of land and paying for essential infrastructure, the government has decided not to overrule its rural allies.” The results have been bloody.

 Information on the rural violence has been published on the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) webpage. Below is a short summary of this bloody month. The deaths occurred in the northeast and the Amazon. 

Maranhão: Zé Enedina was an important leader in the landownership conflict in Araioses. He was living in Santa Rosa, an area of 1,100 hectares where there has been conflict for two decades. The area, which belongs to the federal government and should be handed over to the 30 families living in the area, has remained instead  in the hands of Incra, still occupied by the alleged landowner, the ranch owner Ester Furtado. Zé Enedina was found dead on Monday night, 21 July. His body, which was in a state of decomposition, displayed bruising from blows and stab wounds.  According to the CPT lawyer, Diego Cabral, this is the fourth death in this state this year. 

Rondônia: In an area affected by the hydroelectric plants of Jirau and Santo Antônio, there were two murders and a third person was shot. Farmers and leaders from the São Cristóvão camp located in Gleba Garça, near Porto Velho  reported to the National Commission of Agrarian Conflicts the deaths of  two camp members and  the injuring of a third person, who is still in intensive care in the João Paulo II Hospital in Porto Velho. According to the farmers, 150 families occupy the Fazenda Alexandria area, with many of the men left unemployed after being sacked from the construction work on the Madeira, Santo Antonio and Jirau dams. The occupation began in January 2013. 

Pará: A leader was murdered in São Felix do Xingu, one of the most violent municipalities within Brazil which has already acquired the nickname of “bang-bang” because of the hgh number of violent land  disputes. Félix Leite dos Santos, vice-president of the association of families occupying an area of public land, known as Divino Pai Eterno, situated within the municipality of São Félix do Xingu (PA),  was shot dead on Friday 18 July on his way home from his plot of land. Félix was married and the father of five children. According to information from the president of the association, he had been receiving death threats and had registered the fact with the São Félix do Xingu police. Félix’s body was buried in Marabá. 

Pará 2: The quilombola leader Artêmio Gusmão, known by the nickname Alaor, was murdered on Friday 4 June around 7pm. The crime occurred when Alaor was returning to the community, after watching the World Cup match between Brazil and Colombia in Vila Camarial, Pará. He was the coordinator of the Mancaraduba community. Two of the his brothers were murdered the year before last, also due to land conflicts. 

Bahia: The quilombola leader Paulo Sérgio Santos, 42 years old, was murdered towards the end of the afternoon on Sunday 6 July in the quilombola camp of Nelson Mandela; close to the quilombola community of Helvécia, in Nova Viçosa, Bahia. He was surprised by two armed men, who arrived in a silver coloured Golf and got out of their car firing,  The following day Paulo was to have participated in a meeting with a wood pulp company. According to members of the quilombola movement Uninegro, many of these communities suffer oppression and armed violence from security agencies contracted by the wood pulp companies which occupy more than 70% of quilombola lands in the Nova Visçosa region. They are also affected by violence from agribusiness.

Beyond the deaths 

Members of the country’s justice system have been cumplicit with this violence. In Marabá, four MST leaders were imprisoned, amongst whom was Moisés Jorge. In Alagaos, military police arrested an Indigenous health agent and leader of the Xukuru- Kariri population, José Carlos Araújo Ferreira, known as Carlinhos, on Friday 11 July. 

While the justice system is quick to arrest leaders of  social movements, as in the case of two activists imprisoned in Rio de Janeiro, it is slow when it comes to moving against  landowners. The delay in the judicial system was very clear during the Corumbiara conflicts, Rondônia, when at least 11 rural workers were killed in 1995.  

In Maranhão, the judge Jaqueline Rodrigues da Cunha, from the São João Batista district, released the gunman Josuel Sabóia who participated in the killing of the quilombola leader Flaviano Pinto on the 30 October 2010 in the São Vicente Ferrer (MA) municipality. 


This article was first published in Portuguese on July 24, 2014 at Carta Capital’s Felipe Milanez blog and translated for LAB by Charlotte Mackenzie.