Brazil: How to Kill a Landless

Brazil: How to Kill a Landless

    There have been frequent episodes when Brazilian estate owners
    used terrorist methods against
    the Landless Movement (MST).
    In 1998, they sprayed poison on an MST encampment.
    Two years later,
    the land owners poisoned the water,
    putting at risk the lives of hundreds of people.


    Large land owners (latifundium) in São Gabriel,
    state of Rio Grande do Sul, distributed an unsigned pamphlet in which
    they recommend three ways of assassinating members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST): burning, poisoning,
    and shooting. The document states, "These rats need to be exterminated. It will be painful, but strong remedies are necessary
    for big illnesses. People of São Gabriel, do not permit our city to be defiled and stained by the deformed and dirty feet of
    this human scum. It is necessary that blood pours to show our courage."

    Approximately 800 landless families occupied the property of 13.2 thousand hectares owned by Alfred Sothhall.
    The land had been declared unproductive according to INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform).
    According to Brazilian law, idle property can be seized for agrarian reform. The property is valued at $8,000,000 and the
    process of expropriation is taking place in the Federal Supreme Court.

    Rossano Dotto Gonçalves, the mayor of São Gabriel, requested a thorough investigation by the police to uncover the
    authors of the pamphlet and to verify the truth of the threats. City-council representatives, the mayor, and the president of the
    Rural Workers Union of São Gabriel sent an official letter requesting an investigation to members of the Public Security and
    Justice Councils of the city and state.

    In the official letter, the mayor also suggests the possibility of the landless members having invented the threats:
    "We ask for a rigorous punishment for those responsible for writing the pamphlets, those who are threats to public
    tranquility, and principally, those who, perhaps, say that they are threatened, trying to get easy publicity in a political game that is
    dishonest and demagogical".

    History of Terror

    The hypothesis that the pamphlet and threats are an invention to secure publicity does not stand up to an analysis of
    the history of the local large land owners in regards to the MST. On the contrary, there have been frequent episodes when
    the estate owners used terrorist methods and intimidation against the MST.

    In 1998, land owners sprayed poison on an MST encampment in Rincão do Ivaí, killing four children. The case was
    taken to the Human Rights Commission of the State Legislative Assembly. In 2000, in Hulha Negra, land owners poisoned the
    water, putting at risk the lives of hundreds of people. At another encampment close by, also in 2000, estate owners tried to run
    over families with their trucks.

    Recently, the mayor of São Gabriel, opened ditches close to the Sandhall farm to impede free movement of the landless.
    The holes caused problems for the population who need the road and provoked an accident of a school bus. At the end
    of June, Sandra Xarão, a city-council member of São Gabriel, had her life threatened for supporting agrarian reform.

    With Lula

    In the midst of increasing land struggles and violence, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and ministers of
    Agrarian Development and INCRA (Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agrária—National Agrarian Reform Institute) met with 29
    MST leaders on July 2, 2003. Lula repeated promises to settle 60,000 families by the end of the year with priority given to
    those living in encampments. The government also agreed to improve conditions in the encampments and to develop a map
    of nonproductive lands to be used for agrarian reform.

    The MST provided a list of 16 requests, among them the encampment of 120,000 families at this time and one
    million families by the year 2006. Other demands included the expropriation of large farms without a social function and
    more infrastructure in the encampments. Denouncements of slave labor connected with crime were also listed. The MST
    requests will be analyzed by work groups that the government is currently creating.

    At the beginning of the meeting, Lula put on an MST hat inscribed with the words "Agrarian Reform—Brazil
    without latifundium". Lula stated that "Agrarian reform is a historical commitment of the PT and a personal commitment of his".
    He indicated that it must be done in peaceful form within the law.

    Gilmar Mauro, a member of the MST directory, stated that "We have control over the masses of the MST, but on the
    farms there are other social movements". Mauro considers the increase in land occupations a natural phenomenon: "Among
    the people there is hope in Lula—an expectation that he will effectively implement agrarian reform".

    In summing up the meeting, João Pedro Stedile, coordinator of the MST, stated that "Agrarian reform is like soccer.
    The team of the large landowners versus the landless. The struggle will continue; however, the government is playing on our side".

    Focus of Tension

    Dom Tomás Balduíno, bishop and the president of the Pastoral Land Commission, classified the formation of
    militias by large landowners as "the seeds of social upheaval". For Dom Tomás, the increased occupations of land is a way of
    "calling attention" to Brazil’s agrarian reform problem. "We should have social commotion on the part of those who are
    excluded from society. Land occupations don’t lead to social convulsion, but rather help to provide access to those who struggle
    to survive".

    Speaking of the armed militias of the landowners, Dom Tomás stated that they are sowing the seeds of upheaval.
    The large landowners do not dirty their hands but hire mercenaries to execute their orders.

    Regarding the eviction of 1,500 landless by the military police on July 3 in Tracunhaém, Pernambuco, Dom Tomás
    said, "This is an area with a legal decree for expropriation since 1997, yet the justice system suspended the decree to
    reintegrate the area four days ago".

    This material was distributed by News from Brazil, a service from Sejup (Serviço Brasileiro de Justiça e
    Paz—Brazilian Service of Justice and Peace). To get in touch with them, send a message to


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