Brazil: landless mark massacre

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.

  1. Brazil: repression against water protesters
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 9:

    On April 2, nearly 1,500 members of Brazil’s Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB) and other organizations linked to Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, demonstrated at the Minas Gerais Energy Company (Cemig) in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais state. Agents of the state-controlled Military Police (PM) attacked the protesters, sending 17 to the hospital and leaving more than 30 others injured and 30 more disappeared. Another seven people were arrested.

    It was the second day of protests around energy and water issues in Belo Horizonte: on April 1, some 3,000 people took part in a march for “Water and Energy for the Sovereignty of the Brazilian People.” As they marched to Freedom Plaza to support seven activists on hunger strike there since March 30, the protesters clashed with police three times. The marchers have been camping in People’s Plaza—across from the Legislative Assembly—where they inaugurated the First Meeting of the Minas Gerais Social Movements. The day before, March 31, some 200 police agents had blocked MAB members on the BR 040 highway for over an hour.

    On April 3, the protests—and the repression—continued: as many as 100 armed PM agents used pepper spray and truncheons against some 2,000 demonstrators as they staged another march against Cemig in the center of Belo Horizonte.

    Minas Gerais has the highest energy prices in Brazil, and the public pays disproportionately higher prices than corporations for electricity, despite using less of it. The protesters object to the privatization policies promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)–a major financer of hydroelectric and other projects–and want a reduction in electricity rates. (Adital, April 4)

    On March 27 in Para state, nearly 280 agents from the PM’s “Shock Troops” forcibly evicted 600 families, members of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), from an encampment on the Rio Vermelho estate in Sapucaia municipality. The estate had been illegally appropriated by the Quagliato group. Police also arrested MST member Tim Maia. Angered by the eviction, some 800 families from an encampment in Lourival Santana blocked the PA 150 highway near Eldorado dos Carajas, and occupied a property known as the Peruvian estate. (Adital, March 29)

    Brazil’s Movement of Small Farmers (MPA) held a national campaign of mobilizations March 27-30, with nearly 10,000 people participating in actions in 14 states against big agribusiness interests and in defense of campesino agriculture. Actions included marches, road blockades, demonstrations and debates. (Adital, March 30)