Brazil’s Catholic Church Blames Government for Environment Activists’ Killing

José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo A Brazilian official from the Catholic social action group, Pastoral da Terra – CPT, Dirceu Fumagalli, says that responsibility for the assassination of the farm workers and environment activists, José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, belongs to the government.

Their names were on a list of people who had received death threats that the CPT regional (state of Pará) and the national CPT delivered to the Ministry of Justice in 2009, revealed Fumagalli.

“All assassinations are abominable, but this one, given the circumstances, is also emblematic,” declared Fumagalli, adding that the case throws light on how the problem of deforestation is treated in Brazil.

“The loggers do the dirty work. They clear the land for the cattle ranchers. These forces have little to do with the rainforest itself or the people who actually live and work in the forest. The forest and the people there are just obstacles – to be removed or destroyed,” he said.

Estimates by the CPT are that between 2001 and 2010, a total of 377 people were killed as a result of land conflicts in Brazil. The Ministry of Agrarian Development says that just in the state of Pará, during the same period, there were 58 confirmed assassinations related to land conflicts, with another 62 cases under investigation.

Fumagalli says the killings continue because the land ownership structure in Brazil remains unchanged. “Nothing has been done to alter it. The concentration of land ownership continues,” said the CPT official.

President Dilma Rousseff has ordered the minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo, to put the Federal Police and the federal government attorney office (Ministério Público Federal) into action in the case. At the local level, the Military Police of Pará are investigating the murders.

Protest

The funerals on May 26 of José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, in Marabá, in the state of Pará, turned into a protest demonstration by some 5,000 people against land ownership conflicts and illegal deforestation.

Members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and other social groups  such as Via Campesina and the local Federation of Farm Workers (Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura – Fetagri), closed a bridge and barricaded railroad tracks by setting fires with tires and timber.

José Claudio and Maria do Espírito Santo, who were married, were well-known environmental activists and farm worker leaders, associated with the National Council of Rubber Tappers (Conselho Nacional dos Seringueiros) who were shot by assassins on Tuesday, May 24, near an agricultural settlement (Projeto de Assentamento Agroextrativista Praialta- Piranheira), that was part of a community known as Maçaranduba 2, located in a remote part of southeastern Pará, in the municipality of Nova Ipixuna. The couple were whistleblowers who denounced illegal logging in the area.

“We are protesting the assassinations. Their names (José Claudio and Maria do Espírito Santo) were on a list of people receiving death threats,” declared Maria Raimunda Cezar, a member of the MST, who attended the funerals.

“We blocked traffic but our protest was not violent. As soon as we finished our march, traffic was freed.”

Speaking of the police, Brasilia is concerned with the spike in land conflict deaths (four of them in less than ten days: three in Pará, and one in the region in the western part of the Amazon near the border with Peru and Bolivia, where the states of Acre, Amazonas and Rondônia converge).

As a result, the Brazilian FBI (Polícia Federal) and federal government attorneys (Ministério Público Federal) have been ordered to accompany the investigation into the assassinations. The government has also set up an interministerial group to examine the problem and authorized 500,000 reais (US$ 316,000) for travel expenses of officials to be sent to the region.

Other Assassinations

Another farmer (“agricultor”), Eremilton Pereira dos Santos, was found dead at a farming/extraction settlement known as Praialta-Piranheira, in the town of Nova Ipixuna, in the state of Pará, on Saturday, May 28. Santos had been shot.

His body was discovered by Environmental Protection Institute (“Ibama”) agents who were inspecting the area. It was found about seven kilometers from where two other people, Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, who were environment activists, were murdered on May 24.

According to Pará Civil Police, Santos had been missing since May 26, and may have witnessed the assassination of José Claudio and Maria do Espírito Santo.

Civil Police officials in the state of Rondônia say they have identified a suspect in the murder of Adelino Ramos, aka Dinho, a land reform/ environment activist. The crime occurred in Vista Alegre do Abunã, an outlying area of the state capital, Porto Velho, on Friday, May 27.

According to the police, a land owner/farmer (“agricultor”), Ozeas Vicente, was the person who shot Dinho. Investigations continue as the police want to know if others were involved.

Dinho was shot six times as he walked down a street. He was the leader of an organization known as the Corumbiara Peasant Movement (“Movimento Camponês Corumbiara”) and was at the head of a campaign against illegal logging in the area in the western Amazon region where the borders of the states of Acre, Amazonas and Rondônia converge. He had received a number of death threats recently.

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