Brazil: a bloody week in the countryside

It started with the killing of the American missionary Dorothy Stang on the 12th of February. She was murdered because she fought against the powerful interests that carry out illegal logging in the Amazons.

But the violence against the social movements is also present in the cities. The 16th of February the military police in Goiânia (capital of the state of Goiás) carried through a brutal eviction of 12 000 "roofless" that since May last year were occupying a deserted plot of land. The "Operation Triumph" led to at least two killings, but there are witness claiming that at least ten people were killed.

The social movements, like the landless and roofless, together with the trade unions and left parties, must react to this violence and repression. Demands must be raised for an end to the impunity for those who do the killings, but also for a real land and urban reform, and against the neo liberal policies of the Lula government.

"Agro business is violent. The big producers have their project, where profits and capital are the priority. They are connected to the rulers in the state of Pará. They are the ones that finance the election campaigns for the governor and state MP’s… They have their accomplices within the corrupt police and courts… that collaborate with their passivity", says Dom Tomás Balduíno, chair of the CPT (a church movement that deals with the land issue).

The Lula government is not implementing any real land reform and allies itself with agro business and big landowners. During 2003 and 2004 there were only 117,555 families that were allotted a piece of land, compared with the already low target of 170,000. But there is also the opposite process, a counter reform. According to the CTP 35,292 families were evicted from their plot of land in 2003. Incomplete figures for 2004 suggest that there were 34 850 evictions last year.

The violence in the countryside, against landless, small peasants, trade union activists, lawyers etc, is endemic, especially in the north and the state of Pará. Between 1985 and 2004 there were 1,379 registered killings connected to land conflicts, and according to the CTP 523 (38 per cent) of those occurred in Pará. Only ten cases or1.9 per cent in Pará lead to trials! Only 13 people have been convicted.

During the 23 first months of the Lula government alone 58 rural workers were killed, far more than the 44 killed during the last three years of the last president, Cardoso.

The missionary Dorothy Stang was killed because she fought against illegal logging and the interests of the timber industry. According to the FSC (an NGO that monitors forest management) illegal logging stands for 42 per cent of the total logging in the Amazons and has a turnover of 2.5 billion dollars a year. The struggle against illegal logging is not just a struggle against criminal bosses. It is also a struggle against poverty. A lumberjack’s wage is double of that of a farmer who is paid starvation wages.

After the murder of Dorothy Stang, which attracted a lot of attention, the Lula government announced a package of measures. However, nothing is done to solve the underlying problems. "Without a land reform the violence will continue", is the usual comment from activists from social movements in the countryside. The government has decided to send 2000 soldiers to the area. It will give an impression of power but does not solve the problem.

"The execution of Dorothy Stang, in Anapu (Pará), has already triggered the established ritual to ’administrate’ this type of incident: a ’rigorous’ police inquire has been set in place; a caravan of ministers attended the funeral, and a couple of suspects have been jailed. This was accompanied by energetic statements in the media and the announcement of one or two sham measures to ’solve the flaws that have led to this murder’.

"The ritual usually goes on for two weeks – time enough for the issue to disappear from the front pages. The issue is than forgotten, until the next massacre, and everything returns to ’normal’", writes Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, one of the most known left figures in Brazil, and one of the co-founders of the PT who has now left that party.

There is no doubt that the state police and courts cannot be trusted. Many are putting their hopes on more intervention from federal authorities. But can they be trusted? The people guilty for the murder of Dorothy Stang will probably be sentenced but the economical and political interests behind the violence in the countryside are also present on the federal level. The congress is full of agents for agro business and it accomplices. The recently elected speaker of the lower house, Severino Cavalcanti (from the right wing PP), spoke last year out against campaigners who fight the use of slave labour in the countryside.

"Let’s end this hypocrisy, pretending we are France, USA or Germany. Let’s not pretend that we could imitate their advanced labour laws", he said in the congress.

One of those he defended was the senator João Ribeiro (from the right wing PFL), who was sentenced on the 22 February this year to a record fine of 760 000 reais for employing 38 workers, working as slaves on his estate. The recently elected first secretary of the lower house, Inocêncio Oliveiro (from the right wing PMDB), has also used slave labour. In Mars 2002, 54 workers were freed from his estate. He also has friends that defend him in the congress. One of those was the newly resigned speaker of the lower house, João Paulo Cunha (PT), who defended him when the newspaper, produced by the lower house itself, quoted the charges brought against Oliveiro!

Massacre in Goiânia

The plot of land in the industrial area Parque Oeste Industrial in Goiânia is a typical case. It contains 891 000 square metres which have not been used for decades. The owners do not pay any taxes and have accumulated tax debts of more than 3 million reais.

On the other side there are 4000 families, 12000 people, without a place to stay. In May last year they occupied the area and started to build Sonho Real ("Real Dream"). During the election campaign last year they were promised both by the state governor Marconi Perillo (PSDB, social democrat – the governor is responsible for the military police) and the soon to be elected mayor Iris Resende (PMDB) that the families would be able to stay.

"The governor received us in his palace and gave us his word that he didn’t have any interest in evicting the families from the area. That gave us strength to continue and before the police went in we didn’t think it would happen", says Américo Novaes from MTL (Movement Land, Work and Liberty) and the coordination of the occupation.

But the right wing politicians have different priorities. A few days after the landless were brutally evicted; one of the local papers carried a list of which companies had given money to the election campaign of the mayor. A majority of the names were estate agents and construction companies.

The government can not pretend, as in the case of Dorothy Stang, that they did not know about the threat. Nilmário Miranda, minister for human rights, was warned of the coming tragedy by a delegation consisted by Elias Vaz (councillor in Goiânia for P-SOL), Luciana Genro (MP for P-SOL), Mauro Rubem (state MP for PT) and representatives of the roofless, just the day before the killing.

The media in Goiânia has conducted a vicious campaign against the roofless. The paper Diáro da Manhã claim they have documents showing that the leadership of the occupation was planning to murder the governor, the mayor, the head of the police and others! Those who were killed were the two roofless, Wagner da Silva Moreira, 21, and Pedro Nascimento da Silva, 24, shot in the breast and stomach, respectively.

The government even less solution for the acute housing problems in the cities. According to Dutra, minister for cities, there are federal programmes the states can use and avoid conflicts. But those programmes lack funding, and there isn’t any political will to deal with the big estate companies.

The Lula government is trying to take advantage of the situation by claiming that the violence in Pará is a reaction of the right wing against the policies of the PT government and that it’s necessary to rally round PT against this offensive (murders in the country side, the election of the right wing Cavalcanti as speaker of the lower house, etc…). But it is the government itself who is responsible for the situation, by implementing neo liberal policies and making agreements with right.

It is not possible to fight for a land reform and urban reform without clashing with the government. The leadership of the MST (Movement of the Landless Rural Workers) is doing everything to avoid a direct confrontation with the government. They claim that the government is an "ally" and that the struggle is against a "section" of the government (the finance minister, the head of the central bank). During the World Social Forum representatives for the MST tried to muffle the opposition against the government in the opening march. This position has lead to splits in the movement. If the MST leadership don’t give a lead in the struggle and react forcefully to the violence on the countryside and the absence of a land reform, MST can come out divided and weekend. That opens up possibilities for new formations.

The murders of landless and homeless people show that the ruling class will not give up its privileges without a struggle. It is necessary to unite the social movements, trade unions, the student movement, and the left parties in a struggle against this system build upon repression and exploitation.

The violence in the countryside and the cities won’t end without the fall of the capitalist system. It is therefore no solution to bring in the army or more police. It is basically a social and political struggle. The forces of the state – police, army and courts – play the role of defending this unjust system and the privileges of the ruling class. That doesn’t mean that they can be forced to act against elements of the ruling class that get out of hand and threaten to ignite huge protests which in turn pose a threat to the established "order". The workers’ movement can only rely on its own forces.

The social movements and trade unions must organize committees for self-defence, in the countryside and for the occupations and settlements. It’s also necessary to set up independent commissions, with representatives from the social movements, the landless and homeless, trade unions, representatives of the families of the victims and other movements, to investigate the murders in Pará and Goiânia.

A national campaign must urgently be launched against the repression of the government, the big landowners and the timber industry. The social movements, the landless and homeless, trade unions, student movements and left parties must put all their weight behind this.

  • Put and end to the impunity! Punish those who ordered and carried out the murders of the missionary Dorothy Stang, rural workers in Pará and roofless in Goiânia!
  • For a real land reform in the countryside and urban reform with massive investment on housing in the cities!
  • Against the neo liberal policies of the Lula government!
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