Brazil: Pará campesinos demand land, end to violence

More than 5,000 agricultural workers blocked the Trans-Amazonian highway in the northern Brazilian state of Pará on June 15 and 16 to push demands for land, government aid and an end to violence against activists. They continued the action after one protester was run over and killed on June 15, but they agreed to open up the highway on June 16 as the result of an agreement for Presidency Minister Gilberto Carvalho and representatives of the Mining and Energy Ministry and the Agrarian Development Ministry to meet with them on June 20.

The campesinos said that until the meeting had taken place they would continue the encampment they have maintained for the past month in front of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra) office in the Pará city of Marabá.

According to a June 17 statement from the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the Agriculture Workers Federation (Fetagri) and the Federation of Family Agriculture Workers of Brazil (Fetraf), the protesters are demanding land for the 8,000 families that are still living in encampments in the state; conditions that will make it possible for the families that have land to grow crops; roads to take the produce to market; credits for agricultural projects; technical advice; and electricity. “There’s money to build hydroelectric facilities, railroads, waterways, steel plants, etc., but they say there aren’t resources for agrarian reform and family agriculture,” the groups wrote, claiming that investment in small-scale agriculture is more beneficial to the economy than many large-scale projects.

Family farming accounts for more than 50% of the food consumed in large Brazilian cities, the groups say, based on numbers from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), but it uses far less resources than large-scale agriculture. “Almost 50% of rural properties in Brazil consist of less than 10 hectares and take up just 2.36% of the cultivable land,” the statement reads, “while less than 1% of Brazil’s rural properties have an area of more than 1,000 hectares but take up 44% of the cultivable land. That’s a lot of land in the hands of a few big landowners who raise crops only for export.”

The protesters are also demanding action on recent murders of campesino leaders, including environmental activists José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, a married couple who were killed on May 24 near their home in the village of Nova Ipixuna, Pará. According to the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission, 1,580 people were murdered in the Brazilian countryside from 1985 to 2010, and currently 1,855 people have received threats. (Adital, Brazil, June 17)

Some 300 families in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais are also using an encampment to call attention to a land dispute. The families of the Drummond community in the city of Itabira are threatened with eviction from land they have lived on for 11 years; they say it was abandoned when they moved on to it. A local court has ruled against them and ordered their removal by July 31. According to Junio Cesar dos Anjos, a member of the group Popular Brigades, Itabira mayor João Izael has offered to provide land and construction materials so that the families can resettle elsewhere but he hasn’t given them guarantees. As of June 14 the families were continuing to camp out in shifts in front of Mayor Izael’s office to demand a formal agreement on a new place to live. On June 10 a Catholic priest, José Geraldo de Melo, started an open-ended hunger strike to support the families. (Adital, June 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 19.

See our last posts on Brazil and the struggle for the Amazon.