Brazilian Police Arrest Gunmen Hired to Kill Landless Leader

MST invades a farm in Pernambuco, Brazil The Municipal Police of Aliança of Pernambuco state's Northern Zona da Mata, in Brazil, has arrested gunmen José Edson Leonardo, 38, otherwise known as Lóia and Francisco Assis Silva, 44. They are suspect of being hired to murder a leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra).

The suspicion is that the gunmen were contracted in the city of Goiânia, capital of the midwestern state of Goiás, by a farmer known as Branco, to murder the Landless rural worker João Izí­dio da Silva, 40, coordinator of the Guararapes encampment. The encampment is situated in the Guararapes estate, part of the failed Aliança Mill, an area that has staged many land conflicts.

On the night of February 13 the gunmen went to the encampment to threaten Silva. The following day the Landless People presented a complaint of the threats to the Aliança police station. When the police got there the gunmen had just finished invading the encampment. They were caught red handed with a 12 gauge caliber rifle and a 40 point pistol.

The violence in the area had already been denounced many times to the relevant State organs, but unfortunately, the recent assassination attempts demonstrate, according to the MST, that the problem will only be resolved once all the land has been expropriated.

A History of Violence

The Aliança Mill is an historic battle ground for the MST. The mill went bankrupt in 1996 after running into a debt of more than 250 million reais (statistics from the State and Federal Governments in 1998) including debits with the employees.

The residents of the former mill, having lost their worker's rights, from 1998 onwards, proceeded to claim the expropriation of the 22 estates that add up to 7.300 hectares. Only five of the 22 estates were expropriated, among them the Natal estate.

Industrialists responded to the demands of the Landless People with violence. Leaders of workers movements were killed and families of the residents have been terrorized by gunmen in an effort to move them away from the land.

In December 2006 the Landless rural worker José Gomes, linked to the Pastoral Commission of the Land (CPT), was murdered on the Natal Estate.

In October 2003 another rural worker, Ivanildo Ferreira de Lima, 25, had been killed by three men on motorbikes and in November of the same year Severino José da Silva, 64, was murdered in his own home.

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