Occupations and Looting Mark 10th Anniversary of Brazil’s Landless Massacre

Brazil’s Landless Movement, MST, marked this week the tenth anniversary of the deaths of a score of its members at police hands by occupying ranches, blocking roads and looting cargo trucks in protests that extended across the country.

MST leaders said they were protesting authorities’ failure to punish those responsible for the 1996 incident in the Amazon state of Pará when 19 of MST militants were killed in what the movement calls the Massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás.

Ten rural estates in São Paulo state were occupied and roadblocks were set up in eight highways in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. On one of those blocked routes MST protestors seized crates of food from two freight trucks.

The decade-old massacre was also commemorated in a solemn session of the lower house of Congress in Brazilian capital Brasilia and remembered in relatively peaceful demonstrations in 23 of Brazil’s 27 states.

The main events took place near the scene of the slayings in Pará, where a crowd of some 3,000 people, including national human rights secretary Paulo Vannuchi, took part in a Mass and other activities.

On April 17, 1996, 19 people were killed and another 70 injured when police opened fire to disperse protesters who were blocking a highway to press demands for the seizure of a large estate in order to provide farming plots for landless peasants.

After a protracted and complicated legal process, Brazilian courts convicted only two senior police officers for the massacre, absolving the more than 155 subordinates who did the actual shooting.

And while Colonel Mario Pantoja and Major José Maria de Oliveira were each given triple-digit prison terms, both remain free pending a Supreme Court review of the case.

"With all our marches we want to denounce impunity. After a decade, the 155 police who participated in the operation remain free. Of the 144 who were charged, the only two to be convicted are free", said the MST in a statement.

"Those politically responsible, the then-governor of Pará state and his public safety secretary were never even charged".

MST points out that while 4.6 million rural families in Brazil have no land of their own 26,000 wealthy land owners, 1% of rural population, hold 46% of the country’s land.

Mercopress – www.mercopress.com

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