On August 20, two leaders of the Landless Movement (MST) were assassinated (shot in the back) in the Brazilian northeastern state of Pernambuco. Josias de Barros Ferreira, 28 years old, and Samuel Matias Barbosa, 33 years old were killed at the Balança encampment in the city of Moreno.
The three suspected criminals (Cícero Soares de Melo da Conceição, Luiz Nanai and a 16-year-old boy) who have allegedly assassinated Barbosa and Ferreira lived at the encampment and were viewed as infiltrators of local politicians by the inhabitants of the area. They tried to convince the families to leave the land.
Fifty-nine landless families have lived in Balança since 2000. In January of this year, Copergás business initiated negotiations for the families to leave so that they could build a gas pipeline. The landless movement said that the families would leave if they were settled in another encampment.
"We understand that Copergás wants to build this pipeline and we are willing to leave the land, but we cannot accept money. It is against the principles of our movement," explained Joba Alves, the Pernambuco state coordinator of the Landless Movement.
Ferreira and Barbosa were directing an assembly at the encampment. Melo was pressuring people to receive the indemnity money without a guarantee of a place to live or agrarian reform. A majority of the inhabitants voted to remain on the land and not accept the money.
On August 20, according to witnesses, Melo and Nanai ordered that the Landless Movement flag be removed from the encampment. Ferreira was then shot in the back and when Barbosa came to his aid, he, too, was assassinated. Even after shooting the victims, Melo and Nanai kicked, chopped, and mutilated the body of Barbosa before he died.
While the assassins who killed Barbosa and Ferreira are free, the police arrested Jaime Amorim, one of the national coordinators of the Landless Movement, when he was returning from the funeral of Barbosa in Itaquitanga, Pernambuco.
He was arrested for "bad behavior" at an anti-war march that took place in 2005. The mandate for his imprisonment was expedited by Judge Pereira Lafayette Neto with the allegation that Amorim does not have a fixed residence and his liberty represents a threat to public order.
Amorim does have a fixed residence in the city of Caruaru where he has lived for years with his family. (He was subsequently freed from prison on August 29).
According to Bishop Thomas Balduíno, these sad episodes illustrate the criminalization of social movements by the Judicial System. The unequal distribution of land and wealth in the country is the principal cause of these conflicts.