Exactly ten years after the massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás, when the Brazilian Military Police killed 19 and wounded 69 members of the Landless Rural Worker Movement (MST), nobody has gone to jail.
There have been two convictions, but the policemen remain free pending appeals. And 142 other policemen have been absolved in the case. Social activists see the "Massacre de Eldorado dos Carajás" as a pretty clear example of the problem of impunity in Brazil.
The police commanders, colonel Mário Colares Pantoja and major José Maria Pereira de Oliveira, have been sentenced to 228 years and 158 years in prison, respectively. The other 142 police who participated in the operation to remove the MST protesters from the PA-150 highway were all found innocent.
The then-governor of Pará, Almir Gabriel, and the state secretary of Security, Paulo Sete Câmera, were not indicted although the police said that Gabriel ordered "the highway to be cleared at all costs." The order was transmitted to the police by Câmera.
Spokespersons for the MST say they believe the police commanders, Pantoja and Oliveira, should be punished because they were the authorities on the ground and responsible for what happened.
Pantoja and Oliveira have been tried twice. In the first trial, in 1999, they were found innocent. In the second trial, in 2001, they were found guilty and finally sentenced. But the decision has been appealed by their lawyers so they have not gone to jail.
The prosecution accused the police of excessive violence, killing eleven of the rural workers with gunshots to the head and executing others with point-blank shots (some were shot many times). The defense said the police were acting in the line of duty, just following orders to clear the highway.
Lawyer Laments Impunity
For ten long years, José Batista, a lawyer for the MST and a member of the coordination of the Land Pastoral Commission (CPT) in the municipality of Marabá in the state of Pará, has been working on the Carajás Massacre case.
"Even thought 19 landless workers were killed and another 69 wounded, it has been incredibly difficult to get justice done," says Batista.
"We are aware of the political interests involved in the case. In my opinion, the behavior of the court itself was questionable, not to mention the government prosecutors in this case. All this works in favor of those who gave the famous order to "clear highway PA-150 at all costs."
"Well, there just happened to be 1,500 rural workers on that highway that day in 1996 protesting the delays in land reform. We believe that those who gave the order should be punished," said Batista in a recent interview.
"Of course, no one has gone to jail, but the fact that two of the police commanders were found guilty is an enormous advance in the history of Brazilian impunity. Even so, impunity got the victory, as usual. We feel strongly that many others should have been found guilty, as well, but that did not happen.
"And the historical precedents do not bode well for us. There is the case of two farmers who were found guilty [of killing rural workers]. The farmers lost their case on appeal and then they just disappeared. No one can find them, so they have not gone to jail but remain free. It is very difficult for someone to go to jail for these kinds of crimes," said Batista.
"As for the Carajás Massacre, we know that after the highway was cleared there were only six dead. They died in the initial conflict. Then what happened was that the police executed others who were wounded, hiding in the woods because they could not escape. After that the police disfigured the crime scene so that it was impossible to know exactly what had really happened. That is why so many were absolved," declared Batista.
One of the many questions about what happened on April 17, 1996, is who started the conflict. According to Batista, there is no doubt that the police attacked first.
"It was not a conflict. From the beginning it was a massacre. The police began firing from about 400 meters. A film was made of the incident and some footage shows the MST moving toward the police. But that was later, after there were already at least two dead on the ground," declared Batista.