Catholic Church Denounces Brazil’s Agribusiness and Slavery

A Brazilian landless peasant Brazil's Pastoral Land Commission, linked to the Brazilian Catholic Church, has just released its 2006 report on violence in the Brazilian countryside. The document blames the concentration of land in the hands of a few and the truculence of these owner for the oppression. There were 1212 conflicts related to possession as well as 72 homicide attempts and 39 people murdered. Below, the report in its entirety:

The data about conflict and violence in 2006 reaffirm that their basic causes remain untouchable: land ownership concentration, its defense as an almost absolute value, the truculence of those that appropriate land, and above all, impunity.

Rural workers continue to be oppressed and suffer violence. In 2006 there was a 176.92% increase in homicide attempts with respect to 2005. In 2006 there were 72, while the year before there were 26. The number of workers imprisoned also increased, from 261 workers in 2005 to 917 in 2006; an increase of 251.34%.

There was an increase of 2.63% in the number of murders. In 2006, 39 people were murdered. There were 38 in 2005. There were 10.54% fewer deaths in consequence of conflicts: 64 in 2005 and 57 in 2006. The number of persons who received death threats also fell: from 266 in 2005 to 207 in 2006, 22.18% fewer, and there were fewer victims of torture: 33 in 2005 versus 30 in 2006, a reduction of 2.09%.


One thousand two hundred and twelve conflicts related to possession, use, resistance and struggle for land were registered. These conflicts include struggles for land, occupations and encampments. A total of 140,650 families were involved.

It is important to note that almost 20% of these conflicts involved traditional communities and peoples, principally indigenous and descendents of communities of escaped slaves (quilombolas), in addition to other communities.

In these disputes over land, judicial evictions accounted for the removal of 19,449 families and an additional 1,809 were expelled by private means. These numbers represent a 24.08% reduction in the number of families evicted judicially in 2005 (25,618 families) and a reduction in non-judicial expulsions of 58.57% (4,366 families).

The judicial evictions did not involve just recent occupations, but areas that had been occupied for many years. In 2006 there was an eviction of an entire community of descendents of escaped slaves of the town of São Malaquias, municipality of Vargem Grande, Maranhão.

The families had lived in the area for more than a hundred years. The body of one, who had died the day of the eviction, had to be taken to another town for the wake, while his house was being destroyed. Among the cases of non-judicial expulsion, we note what happened in Murici, Alagoas, where 29 families were expelled by the well-known political family by the name of Calheiros.

Reading the numbers, relating them to the rural population of each state or region, gives another perspective. Where there is the greatest number of mobilized people in occupations and encampments, in the Center-South of the country, there the number of government created settlements is smaller.

On the other hand, the indices of violence suffered by the workers are considerably greater in the region where the movements are less active, as in the Amazon. With this, it is obvious that the rural violence cannot be attributed to the increased pressures of the rural mobilizations, but are directly linked to the historic truculence of the large landowners, today called "agribusiness."

Labor Conflicts

The violence that accompanies slave labor and other labor conflicts was significant in 2006. Three enslaved workers were assassinated, while there were no such cases in 2005. The number of enslaved workers liberated in 2006 was 20.67% smaller than the year before (3,633 as opposed to 4,585, all freed under the Labor Ministry's oversight), while the formal accusations of slave labor were 5.07% fewer.

Two hundred and sixty-two were received in 2006 versus 276 in 2005. The numbers of worker victims in these cases also fell, from 7,707 in 2005 to 6,930 in 2006, a reduction of 10.08%.


For many years the Pastoral Land Commission has repeated that rural violence continues because of impunity. From 1985 to 2006, 1,104 conflicts were registered that resulted in one or more murders. One thousand four hundred and sixty four workers died. These deaths resulted in only 85 being brought to trial. Seventy-one of the murderers were convicted but only 19 of those who ordered the crimes were convicted.

It is necessary that Brazilian society demand more rigorous action on the part of its judiciary. An example of impunity is the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, where 16 landless people were killed, on April 17, 1996. Though convicted, colonel Mário Colares Pantoja (sentenced to 228 years in prison) and captain José Maria Pereira (158 years), obtained the benefit of habeas corpus and today are out of jail while their cases are on appeal. To memorialize the workers' action, in 2002 a law was passed declaring that April 17 as the National Day of Struggle for Agrarian Reform.

Water Conflicts

Concerned about the situation in which thousands of Brazilian families live, the Pastoral Land Commission began in 2002 to register water conflicts. The registry is still timid and does not succeed in grasping the reality.

But behind each number there is an experience that needs visibility in society and public opinion, like the case of the little girl Géssia Rodrigues de Sousa, age 12. She died in February of this year when she fell 15 meters as she tried to "rob" water from the Senator Nilo Coelho Irrigation Canal, in Petrolina, Pernambuco. Géssia lived with her family in a settlement that ironically is called "Living Waters."

More than 189 families like Géssia live in that settlement and have no access to water suitable for human consumption for drinking, cooking and washing. The only source of this precious liquid is the irrigation canal that is three kilometers from the settlement and 15 meters high. It conducts water of the São Francisco River to the great irrigated projects that raise fruit for export (basically grape and mango).

Thirty-six per cent of the conflicts in 2006 were related to dams and hydroelectric production and 49% to pollution or destruction of bodies of water. Of the 45 water conflicts registered in 2006, 16 related to dams, 20 to use and preservation and nine to individual appropriation.

As to the problems, the most frequent were: destruction and or pollution, involving 22, barriers or access restriction in nine and threat of dispossession in five. As to their geographic distribution, they occurred in 20 states. Those of greatest occurrence were: Paraná with six, Minas Gerais with five and Mato Grosso do Sul and Tocantins with four each.

There are also signs that water conflicts will increase in the coming years with the implementation of infrastructure water projects included in the National Plan for Accelerated Growth (PAC). The projects are planned in areas where there are riverbank populations, indigenous peoples, historic communities of escaped slaves and other traditional communities.

One example is the hydroelectric power station of Belo Monte, in the middle of the Amazon. In the past the project was abandoned because of the predicted enormous environmental and social impacts, especially with respect to the numerous indigenous communities. Now it is included in the list of priorities of PAC. It will have the generating capacity of 5,881 megawatts, a bit more than one third of all new electric generation predicted for the years 2010 to 2015.

Another huge project that will affect various communities is the transfer of the waters of the São Francisco River. In PAC, this project will use more than half the proposed budget that pertains to water infrastructure (approximately $3.3 billion of a total of $6.3 billion, in USD).

The project, however, gives no priority to human consumption needs, contrary to what the federal government proclaims almost daily in the media. The truth is that it is destined for irrigation, shrimp production, and industrial use, like metal production. The high costs of the project will be charged to the entire population of the Northeast, whether or not a person receives benefits from the project.



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