On April 17, members of Brazil’s Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) commemorated the 10th anniversary of the day in 1996 when Military Police (PM) agents fired at some 1,500 MST members who were marching on the PA-150 highway in Eldorado dos Carajas, Para state. The PM agents killed 19 campesinos and wounded 69 others, many of whom continue to suffer health effects from bullets lodged in their bodies and must seek frequent medical attention.
To mark the anniversary this year, MST activists blocked traffic along the PA-150 highway for 19 minutes every day, starting on April 1, at the hour the massacre began. On April 17 some 5,000 MST members gathered at the massacre site for a solemn event honoring the victims. In Pernambuco state, MST members blocked four highways, and in Minas Gerais, the MST peacefully occupied two estates. Elsewhere in Brazil, tens of thousands of MST activists marked the anniversary with protest actions.
The main demand of the protests is an end to impunity: the PM commanders who headed up the massacre, Col. Mario Colares Pantoja and Maj. Jose Maria Pereira de Oliveira, remain free despite being sentenced in 2001 to 154 years and 228 years in prison, respectively. Another 142 PM officers who took part in the assacre were acquitted; the MST is demanding they face a new trial. “Today’s protest marches are against the judicial branch, because only poor people go to jail in this country,” explained MST spokesperson Marina dos Santos in Rio de Janeiro.
On April 17, Colares Pantoja told the Globo television network that he “feels like a scapegoat” and blames then-governor of Para state Almir Gabriel and his public security secretary Paulo Sette Camara for the massacre. Gabriel and Sette Camara have never been tried. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 17, 18 from AFP, DPA)
On April 16, some 3,000 MST members invaded an estate belonging to the Suzano Papel y Celulosa company in Teixeira de Freitas, Bahia state. (La Jornada, April 17)
The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) reports that 64 people died in 2005 as a result of land conflicts, up from 31 such deaths in 2004. (Adital, April 19)
Some 12,000 people marched on April 20 in Recife, Pernambuco, to celebrate the start of the Brazilian Social Forum. A clash erupted when PM agents tried to arrest someone in the MST contingent; MST activists resisted, and Jaime Amorim, the MST’s coordinator for Pernambuco, was grazed by a bullet on his left hand. Angered by the aggression, MST activists attacked the PM agent who fired the shot, Capt. Dimerson Mendes, taking away his gun and injuring him and another agent. At least eight other people were hurt in the fray. MST activists returned Capt. Mendes’ gun to the PM in a symbolic ceremony on April 22. (Adital, April 21; Pulsar, April 21 via Resumen Latinoamericano; Ultimo Segundo, Brazil, April 22)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 23
See our last post on land struggles in Brazil.