Business as Usual

Business as Usual

By Brazzil Magazine

The Global Justice Center (Centro de Justiça Global), the Pastoral Land Commission
(Comissão Pastoral da Terra) and the Movement of Landless Rural Laborers (Movimento dos
Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST) have prepared this report for submission to Her
Excellency the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, on the occasion of
her landmark visit to Brazil in May 2000. This report seeks to summarize the most recent
trends in the struggle to achieve land reform in Brazil. It begins with an overview of the
historic inequality of land distribution in Brazil and the current status of increasing
concentration of ownership of productive lands.

The report analyzes the failure of the administration of President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso to implement meaningful land reform policies and analyzes the measures implemented
in recent weeks. Among these measures are ones limiting lands which may be used for land
reform and others restricting access to land and credit for those involved in the
organized struggle for change. Even more worrisome in the context of civil and political
rights are the repressive police measures implemented by the Administration to attack the
landless movement, including revival of methods and legislation from the military

The report includes a summary of instances of extreme violence, in many cases
orchestrated by the state, against landless rural poor, including torture, death threats,
killings, beatings and arrest. It highlights abuses in the state of Paraná in Brazil’s
more developed south (frequently believed less susceptible to severe rights abuse) where
the state government has led a campaign of repression against the landless movement.
Finally, the report summarizes the latest developments in the 1996 massacre in which
police killed 19 landless workers. The death toll from that incident now stands at 21 (two
of those injured have now died); the report analyzes the failure and bias of the state
justice system, which has yet to prosecute those responsible.

In sum, the report seeks to set the record straight regarding agrarian reform—or
better stated, the lack thereof—and the campaign of violence and repression that the
Brazilian government has unleashed on the landless, appealing to both domestic public
opinion and the international community.

Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Curitiba, Brazil, May 2000


The concentration of land tenure in Brazil is among the highest in the world. Fewer
than 50,000 rural landowners possess estates greater than one thousand hectares and thus
control more than 50 percent of registered land. Close to 1 percent of rural landowners
hold roughly 46 percent of all land. Of the 400 million hectares registered as private
property, only sixty million hectares are used for planting crops. The remaining 340
million hectares are used for pecuária (cattle raising). According to figures from
the Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto de Colonização e Reforma
Agrária, INCRA), there are nearly one hundred million hectares of unused land in Brazil.

According to the 1995 Census, there are nearly 4.8 million rural “landless”
families, in other words, persons who live as renters, sharecroppers, or squatters or who
hold rural properties smaller than five hectares. The Brazilian Constitution requires that
lands that do not fulfill a social function must be expropriated for use in agrarian
reform. Social function of land is determined according to the level of productivity, in
addition to criteria that include respect for labor rights and the environmental

Brazil produces just seventy-five million tons of grain per year. This number is one
fourth the average level of other countries with similar, or inferior, climates and soil
quality. According to the Agricultural and Cattle Raising Census, between 1985 and 1996,
the number of acres with permanent crop growth fell by two million hectares while the
number of acres with temporary crop growth fell by 8.3 million hectares. From 1980 to
1996, the area of lands cultivated fell by 2 percent while the population increased by 34
percent. In the 1980s, the Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil) invested roughly 19 billion
dollars in agriculture. Between 1994 and 1998, the average income of farmers fell by 49

The best lands in Brazil are employed in the cultivation of single crops for
exportation: sugar cane, coffee, cotton, soy and oranges. At the same time, 32 million
people experience hunger regularly in the country and 65 million are malnourished. Of
these 32 million, one half live in rural areas. According to official statistics, close to
30 million people migrated from the countryside to urban areas in the period 1970-1990.
The overall contingent of rural laborers fell by 23 percent from 1985 to 1996. Today, more
than 77 percent of the Brazilian population live in cities.

According to the 1995 Census, there are 23 million workers in rural Brazil, yet only
five million are classified as rural salaried workers (either permanent or temporary).
Close to 65 percent of salaried rural workers do not have formal labor contracts (carteira
assinada in Brazilian terminology) and only 40 percent of these workers have
year-round jobs. Many of these laborers toil as much as 14 hours per day. In this context,
women and children are the most vulnerable. The greater part of rural women work double
shifts, in agricultural and house work. Many women and children that labor in rural areas
do not receive any compensation. A study based on a 1995 report demonstrated that nearly
four million rural children between the ages of five and fourteen work in the countryside
in the southern, southeast and northeastern regions of Brazil, representing some 11
percent of the population group. Only 29 percent of working children receive any monetary
compensation. Among children between the ages of five and nine years, only 7 percent
receive compensation. A very large number of rural children have no access to school and,
among adults, the level of illiteracy in some regions reaches 70 percent.

According to the 1996 Agricultural and Cattle Raising Census performed by the Brazilian
Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística,
IBGE), there has been an increase in the concentration of land tenure in the past two
decades. In 1970, estates of less than one hundred hectares represented 90.8 percent of
rural properties and constituted 23 percent of the total area. In 1996, this figure fell
to 89.3 percent of estates and 20 percent of total area. In contrast, in 1970, estates
with areas greater than 1,000 hectares represented 0.7 percent of the total number of
properties and accounted for 39.5 percent of the total area. In 1996, these estates
accounted for 1 percent of the number of properties and 45 percent of the total area.
Between 1985 and 1996, the number of rural properties fell from 5,801,809 to 4,859,865, a
reduction of 941,944. This decrease is equal to 61 percent of the total area of lands
producing grain in the 1997-1998 harvest. Between 1994 and 1998, 400,000 small farmers
lost their lands and 800,000 rural laborers lost their jobs.

At present, agricultural properties with declarations as to their extent may be divided
in the following manner:

4.3 million with areas less than 100 hectares
470,000 with areas from 100 to 1,000 hectares
47,000 with areas from 1,000 to 10,000 hectares
2,200 with areas greater than 10,000 hectares

According to the 1996 Census, production level may be divided in the following

properties with areas smaller than 100 hectares account for 47 percent of the total
value of agricultural and cattle raising production;

properties with areas between 100 and 1,000 hectares account for 32 percent of
agricultural and cattle raising production

properties with areas between 1,000 and 10,000 hectares account for 17 percent of this

estates with areas greater than 10,000 hectares account for 4 percent of this total

With regard to the distribution of laborers, one finds:

properties with areas smaller than 100 hectares account for 40.7 percent of laborers

properties with areas between 100 and 1,000 hectares account for 39.9 percent of

properties with areas greater than 1,000 hectares account for 4.2 percent of laborers

The figures above demonstrate that a process of agrarian reform is of fundamental
importance to address serious economic and social problems facing Brazil.


The Brazilian Government has failed to implement Article 11 (2) (a) of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires

To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full
use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of
nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way to achieve the
most efficient development and utilization of natural resources.

In response to recent political pressure created by rural laborers and subsistence
farmers throughout the country, the federal government announced, on May 4, 2000, a
package of measures related to agrarian reform. To demonstrate the importance attached to
these measures, the presidential palace itself (Palácio do Planalto) released the package
in a press conference attended by the Secretary General of the Presidency and the
Ministers of Justice and Agrarian Development.

On May 5, 2000, organizations of rural laborers, gathered principally by the Landless
Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), the Unitary Workers’
Central (Central Única dos Trabalhadores), Contag (the Movement of Small Farmers, MPA),
the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, CPT), the Movement of Persons
Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos pelas Barragens, MAB), the Southern Front for
Family Agriculture (Frente Sul da Agricultura Familiar) and the Movement for the
Liberation of the Landless (Movimento de Libertação dos Sem Terra) released a note
regarding the governmental measures.

That note criticized the manipulative nature of the Government’s agrarian reform. These
groups demanded an effective policy of agrarian reform in Brazil, in combination with a
new agricultural policy directed towards the nation’s interests and the democratization of
such policies. Missing among these measures was any increase in funding for agrarian
reform. Below, we report the annual budgetary allocations for the National Institute for
Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária,
INCRA) during the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso:

1995: 1.3 billion Brazilian reais
1996: 1.4 billion Brazilian reais
1997: 2.0 billion Brazilian reais
1998: 2.2 billion Brazilian reais
1999: 1.3 billion Brazilian reais
2000: 1.3 billion Brazilian reais

The announced measures include the criminalization of laborers who engage in
occupations of rural properties and public buildings with threats to their possible
receipt of land title, as well as the criminalization of the leaders of the landless
movement by the use of the National Security Law (Lei de Segurança Nacional), a remnant
from the military dictatorship.

The leadership of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) in the Chamber of
Deputies (the federal lower house) released its analysis of these measures:

I . Through the 38th edition of the Provisional Measure No. 2.027 of May 4, the
Administration has added to existing agrarian legislation the following measures:

By means of the first article of the Provisional Measure which alters Decree-Law No.
3.365/41, the Administration decided that there will be no compensatory interest when a
property subject to expropriation possess a measure of land use and efficiency of use
equal to zero.

The incidence of compensatory interest on expropriated properties for agrarian reform
constitutes an extreme immorality. To eliminate this possibility only in the case of
properties deemed totally unproductive represents an artifice designed to support the
Administration’s deceptive public opinion campaign. Paragraph (1) of Article (1) of the
previous versions of the Provisional Measure, even when they manipulated the basis of
compensatory interest, associated with the counterpart ceasing profit, required that these
monies be designed to compensate the loss of income produced by the property. Thus, the
novelty of the announcement was already contemplated in the prior versions of the
Provisional Measures due to the fact that when there would be no income from properties
with no production.

In practice, the Provisional Measure will have no effect since a given landowner will
need only cultivate a handful of lettuce plants to justify compensatory interest payments.
The uselessness of this measure is explained by the ongoing process of substitution of
expropriation with land purchase and sale mechanisms in the context of so-called market
agrarian reform undertaken by the Administration. In its second article, the Provisional
Measure adds article 95-A to the Land Statute (Estatuto da Terra), instituting the rural
leasing program, in the context of agrarian reform.

In fact, this article institutes yet another instrument of the “new agrarian
reform” under the control of large landowners. Leasing is not a novelty. Since the
Land Statute, leasing has been practiced in such a fashion have led to the exploitation
and misery of rural workers.

The novelty introduced by the Administration comes in a paragraph included in the
article that prohibits expropriation of properties involved in the leasing program as long
as the properties are leased. Until this change, article 30 of Decree Law 59.566 of
November 14, 1966 provided only that in the case of partial expropriation of a leased
property, the lessee would be guaranteed the right to a proportional reduction in rent or
to rescind the lease. Thus, the generals of the military dictatorship were not as daring
as our current civilian President.

The Provisional Measure, in addition to clearly violating the Constitution, by
increasing by means of a provisional measure cases of “insusceptibility” to
expropriation established by Article 185 of the Constitution (small, medium and
unproductive properties), expresses the anti-agrarian reform nature of the package of
measures and reinforces the pro-landowner bias of agrarian legislation. Now, a landowner
needs only register his property with the rural leasing program to guarantee that his
lands will never be expropriated.

Article 4 of the Provisional Measure inserted text (paragraphs 6, 7, 8 and 9) to the
Agrarian Law (Law No. 8.629/93). Through the first two paragraphs the Administration
determined that “the rural property subject to occupation or unmotivated invasion due
to agrarian or land conflict will not be inspected [for agrarian reform purposes] for two
years following the termination of the invasion.” In the case of reoccupation of such
a property, this period is doubled.

This is a recycled measure in that Article 4 of Decree No. 2.250/97 establishes that a
“property that is the subject of occupation will not be inspected [for agrarian
reform purposes] until the occupation has terminated.” As in the previous example, in
addition to an attempt to intimidate the struggle for agrarian reform, this article
clearly violates the Constitution, given that without inspection, there may be no
expropriation. As we saw above, the Constitution does not permit this possibility of
immunity to expropriation of rural properties.

Paragraphs 8 and 9 establish that the entity, organization, corporate body, social
movement or society (a significant juridical effort to include the MST) that directly or
indirectly assists, collaborates, creates incentives for, incites, induces or participates
in invasions of rural properties or public properties either in rural or land conflicts,
in a collective nature, shall not receive, by any means, public funds. Should such funds
already have been disbursed, authorities shall have the prerogative of retaining such
moneys or rescinding the relevant contract, agreement or similar instrument.

One sees an effort to include in these repressive measures the struggles of rural
laborers, whose means of pressure, such as the occupations of unproductive properties,
have been recognized to be legitimate by the federal Superior Court of Justice (Superior
Tribunal de Justiça, STJ). One sees as well that the Administration has extended a
measure of exception (the Provisional Measure) to the entire public sector, in other
words, including public, state and municipal powers.

The restrictions on access to public funding for workers’ organizations have the clear
and “heinous” goal of suffocating economically these groups as a strategy to
impose on them control by the government. Indeed, more than these organizations, the
victims of these policies are the families of rural laborers settled in agrarian reform

Included in Article 2-A in the Agrarian Law, disposition that, in the case of fraud or
simulation of occupation or invasion by the landowner or legitimate occupant of a
property, an administrative sanction of 50,000 UFIRs (approximately US$ 30,000) and the
cancellation of the rural property in the National System de Rural Registry.

The fact of this addition is that it is just now that the Administration has decided to
take steps to create disincentives to the widespread and notorious fraudulent practices by
large landowners.

As part of the process of “decentralization” (euphemism for the effort to
de-federalize agrarian reform) the Administration has promised to send to Congress a bill
to provide states with authority to execute agrarian reform, parallel to federal measures
in this regard. The text of the bill has not been made available to us. Among the promised
measures is redistribution of Agrarian Reform Titles (Títulos da Dívida Agrária, TDA)
to the states. The LandsStatute (1964) provided legal instruments for states and
municipalities to complement federal efforts through agreements to implement agrarian

In fact, the Administration seeks to implement its strategy of rendering agrarian
reform non-obligatory, transferring financial and political costs to states and
municipalities. The Administration announced that, through a Provisional Measure, it will
extend the period of receipt of TDAs for up to 50 years. Mere window dressing. Only by
means of constitutional amendment may the actual limit of up to 20 years be modified in
compliance with Article 184 of the Constitution.

The Administration will send to Congress a bill transferring services (read
administrative costs) and the collection of the Rural Territorial Tax (Imposto Territorial
Rural, ITR) to the states that must create funds to finance agrarian reform.

With this measure, the Administration tends toward the creation of rural anarchy in the
country. Symptomatically, the Administration disregards the environmental and land-related
dimensions of the ITR and seeks to value the financial dimension of the tax. This
financial element, however, is unlikely to have even a remote effect in practice given the
greater power exercised by the large land estates and their owners in the power structure
of the states.

II. Measures in “Defense of Public Order”

The Ministry of Justice will take strong measures to prevent, through the deployment of
the Federal Police, disorder and eviction actions in all properties of the federal
government, without prejudice to actions that may be taken by the States.

The Administration announced the creation of the Division of Agrarian and Land
Conflicts within the Federal Police in Brasília and within the states; police inquiries
already in course and new inquiries will be thoroughly investigated.

The police have reinstituted the use of the Law of National Security (Lei de Segurança
Nacional, LSN), a remnant from the military dictatorship. On May 16, 2000, for example,
police authorities in Paraná state charged nine landless laborers under the LSN, whose
provisions include a sentence of up to three years for the vague offense of
“threatening the established order” These measures constitute, in our opinion,
the thrust of the treatment dispensed by the Administration to grass-roots movements,
based on intimidation.

These steps modify the Administration’s intervention in the agrarian context. The
Cardoso Administration seeks to free itself by transferring responsibilities to states and
municipalities as the measures commented above demonstrate. However, the Administration
decided to maintain within the federal sphere, repression of those who fight for agrarian
reform. In this regard, the Administration is motivated as much by its need to demonstrate
to conservative sectors its continued authority as by its failure to obtain the uniform
support of the state governments for its repressive and authoritarian convictions.

Strictly speaking, when the government authorizes anticipatory action of the Federal
Police to prevent threatened and actual occupations of public buildings, it announces the
intervention of the federal government in the public security systems of the states.
Specifically, with the creation of the Division of Agrarian Conflicts within the Federal
Police, the Administration appears to be signaling the creation of a new Department of
Social and Political Order (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social, DOPS,) a political
police division created during the dictatorship (1964- 1985). In addition, the resumption
and intensification of police inquiries of actions by rural laborers seek to intimidate by
criminalizing the leaders of social movements in the country.


In Brazil, social inequality may be traced back to the development and maintenance of
semi-feudal agrarian structures created in the period of colonization. The contemporary
consequences of this legacy are serious social conflicts and violations of human rights.
In the past 12 years, 1,167 rural laborers have been killed. Of these homicides, only 86
have resulted in trials and in only seven were those who ordered the crimes convicted.

In its 1998 annual report, the Pastoral Land Commission registered an increase in the
number of conflicts in rural areas and of the use of violence against rural laborers. The
number of conflicts rose to 1,100 from 736 in 1997. These conflicts involved some
1,125,116 people throughout the country as opposed to 506,053 in 1997. The northeast
region presented the greatest number of conflicts (542) and persons involved in conflicts
(678,593). Next comes the southeast region with 195 conflicts, followed by the center-west
region, with 133 conflicts, the southern region with 130 and the north region with 100.
The north region ranks second in the number of persons involved with 146,953 followed by
the center-west with 122,297, the southern region 109,048 and the southeast region with

In 1998, 47 rural laborers were killed during rural land conflicts. The north region
presents the greatest number of such cases, 17 (11 of these in the state of Pará alone).
Next, one finds the northeast region with 11 cases, the south region with nine and the
southeast region with six and the center-west region with four. The number of laborers
killed increased by 56.67 percent—in 1997, 30 laborers were killed. In this same
year, 46 rural laborers survived homicide attempts. Eighty-eight received death threats,
35 were tortured, 164 were physically assaulted and battered, 466 were arrested and 207
suffered injuries.

Agrarian reform continues to be an important subject for millions of Brazilians. In
1998 alone, there were 125 demonstrations on land issues, agricultural and drought policy,
involving 90,580 people in 23 states. The table below demonstrates the number of rural
workers killed in recent years.

Year Number of killings
1995 41
1996 54
1997 30
1998 47
1999 42

In 1998, 252 rural laborers were subjected to arbitrary detentions. In 1999, this
number rose to 450.


Paraná has been one of the Brazilian states with the greatest incidence of violations
committed against rural laborers. On May 2, 2000, close to 1,500 rural landless laborers
on their way to the state capital, Curitiba, suffered violent repression at the hands of
the police. The landless were on 50 buses at a distance of five kilometers (three miles)
from the city when military police prevented their passage on highway BR-277. The police
forced the landless to leave the buses and lie on the side of road, aiming their weapons
at them. At this point, many of the landless were beaten by police officers. Those that
tried to flee or to defend themselves were hit by tear gas from canisters thrown by police
and by rubber and lead bullets. Police fired tear gas canisters into buses, targeting the
women and children that remained inside. Police chased after one group of thirty landless
for two kilometers (more than one mile). The landless believed that the police used lead
bullets during the chase at the same time that they fired gas canisters and followed the
fleeing men with helicopters.

During the incident, one young man was shot in the head and another in the abdomen.
Both these men are still disappeared. Close to 180 landless were injured during the police
operation. Some of those injured received death threats from the military police while at
the hospital.

During the operation, rural laborer Antônio Tavares Pereira was shot in the abdomen
and killed. The government of Paraná state responded immediately to the death of Tavares
Pereira, concentrating its efforts to convince public opinion that, first, Tavares Pereira
was not a member of the MST.

The official version, defended by the Secretary of Public Security of Paraná, asserted
that Tavares Pereira had been found on highway BR-116 and not BR-277 where the conflict
had occurred. The Secretary assured the media that conflict began at 10:40 a.m. and that
Tavares Pereira had arrived at the hospital at 9:09 a.m. This version was contested by the
police district chief (delegado) Fauze Hussain of the Homicides Division in
Curitiba who confirmed the MST version that the conflict had begun at 8:15 a.m.. Even
after it became clear that he had been wrong about the time of the incident, the Secretary
insisted that Tavares Pereira was not related to the MST. Shortly afterwards, the district
chief who had contested the official version was removed from the investigation into the

This episode is part of a repressive policy towards landless rural laborers, which has
become more intense in the past year. In May 1999, the Secretariat of Public Security in
Paraná initiated a series of forced eviction of landless settlements. On these occasions,
the state government has employed elite elements of the Military Police, such as the
Anti-Kidnapping Squad, the Eagle Group, and special operations divisions (Grupo de
Operações Especiais, GOE and the COPE) that occupied and cut off access to areas where
there were occupations by landless families.

These elements of the Military Police equip themselves with helicopters, squad cars,
and trained dogs to attack crowds, undercover police officers, persons with hoods and/or
without any identification, ambulances, rifles, shotguns, semi- automatic weapons,
tear-gas launchers, and still and video cameras.

On May 5, 1999, the Paraná state government began a large-scale police operation to
forcibly evict landless families in the Querência do Norte region in the northwest part
of the state. In this region alone, the police carried out 14 evictions in which cases of
physical and psychological torture, and serious bodily injuries to adults and children
were registered. During these evictions, 41 laborers were arrested; many were beaten and
some were tortured. After the evictions, the police burned the belongings, makeshift
shelters and food belonging to the landless and destroyed their crops.

Many others were threatened, have had warrants issued for their arrest, and have been
hunted like criminals. The Military Police continued in the city of Querência and in
other municipalities, stopping people on the streets, threatening them, seizing caps and
T-shirts with references to agrarian reform. By use of a list of names, persons considered
“suspicious” were interrogated and frequently taken into custody for further

In this same region, MST settlements have achieved high levels of agricultural
production. The 1998-1999 harvest registered the following: 155,000 sacks of corn; 70,000
tons of manioc root (mandioca) , 150,000 sacks of rice, and 4.2 million liters of
milk, generating 1.5 million Brazilian reais (or roughly US$ 800,000). These numbers
repeat themselves throughout the state of Paraná and reveal the viability of agrarian

Despite this, the totals for the year 1999 as calculated by the Pastoral Land
Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, CPT) indicate high levels of violence against
rural laborers in the state:

Thirty-five forced evictions of rural properties, some of which were carried out
without judicial order, others during the night in operations by special police forces or
private militia. (NOTE: Brazilian law only permits evictions to be effectuated during
daylight hours). At least eight areas involved rural properties in which expropriation
procedures were already in course. These operations were filmed by the Military Police’s
secret service. The police officer who released the tapes of these films is under
protection of the Federal Witness Protection Program.

One-hundred-and-seventy-three laborers arrested, most without arrest warrants.

Two laborers were murdered; two others survived attempts on their lives. In none of
these cases has the police inquiry identified those responsible although in the regions in
which these crimes were committed, the names of those ordering these killings and attempts
is public knowledge.

Twenty cases of death threats.

Six rural laborers arrested and tortured by police officers. Although the law requires
that torture is a crime for which bail may not be posted, until the date of this report,
no one has been arrested.

More than 50 laborers injured in eviction operations. The offices of the MST and of
rural laborers’ cooperatives have been subjected to wire-tapping. The Police Internal
Affairs Division recognized that this wire-tapping was illegal and publicly condemned it.

The Military Police’s Secret Service continues to target the MST in violation of the
Constitution, which prohibits the use of this institution against social movements.
Political persecution and arrest of CPT attorney Darcy Frigo. Frigo has received death
threats and is receiving police protection. Only 880 families, of the government goal of
3,000 families, were settled during the year. There are 80 encampments in the state with
more than 9,000 families.

The following declaration taken by the National Network of Autonomous Grass-Roots
Attorneys (Rede Nacional Autônoma de Advogados Populares, RENAAP) illustrates the abuses
described above:

“I, Geraldo José dos Santos, Brazilian, married, born on July 20, 1914, today 84
years of age, subsistence farmer since the age of seven. I do not know how to read or
write. My wife, Maria Rosa Muniz, 77 years of age. We have nine adult children. Some of
them were camped with us in the Cobrinco property in Monte Castelo, an area that belongs
to the Bradesco Group and which already has an official determination of non-productivity
issued by INCRA. We do not have enough money even to buy the medication that we need and
we have a debt at the pharmacy. My wife suffers from nerve problems, heart problems and

“We were forcibly evicted—my family and 40 others in the pre-dawn hours on
Friday at about 1:30 a.m. We were sleeping when we woke up with all those police officers,
hooded, at the entrance. There were about ten men that were not wearing uniforms or hoods.
After participating in the whole operation, they helped to destroy our shelters. They
jumped over the entrance gate firing guns and throwing [tear gas] bombs and attacked us.
Right away I was kicked by a police office in the ribs. Once on the ground, I was kicked
again. They forced the men and boys to remain on the cold ground, face down, handcuffed,
until 7:00 a.m. They demolished our shelters. They stole money from the landless and they
made fun of us.

“They beat several of us and others were burned by the bombs. A lot of people are
afraid to speak up because of the police. One of my sons, who is more than 50-years-old
and has a heart problem, was lost in the brush for almost two days from the moment he fled
to avoid being beaten by the police. Another son owns an old tractor and has worked with
it for more than ten years. Everyone knows that. But the police said that it was stolen
and they won’t return it. I borrowed R$162 [about US 135] with interest to plant beans. We
had 120 hectares but a lot of that has been fenced in by the landowner.

“I am in the Monte Castelo Hospital with a broken rib and I am urinating blood. I
feel a lot of pain when I move.”

Statement given to Cristiane de Lima Martins, Bar Member No. 9.755

Another statement describes the violence against rural laborers in the encampment on
the Santa Maria estate in the Ortigueira region:

“On April 26, 1999, we occupied the Santa Maria [estate] with about 30 families.
Three days later, a group of 30 heavily armed police arrived there, accompanied by two
judicial officers. The police forced us to sit on the ground and they threatened our
families to get information about the leaders of the MST. The most sought-after was
Adnilson, but he was not at the occupation at that time. The police took one landless away
and disappeared with him. After 30 minutes, another police officer came back to look for

“An hour later, the commander of the operation, Edmauro Assunção, arrived
looking for me. A soldier from the P2 [undercover police division] took me behind the
estate house while they brought Lourival without my being able to see him. Afterwards I
found out that he had been tortured. Then they took me to the cow pasture area. There they
had big water tanks that the cattle used to drink water.

“They made me kneel so that I would tell them who were the leaders that organized
the MST in the region and where was the silver-colored Volkswagen bug, a car used by the
MST. When I said that I was a day- laborer and that I had just arrived at the property and
that I didn’t know anything, they began to torture me. They tortured me for two and a half
hours, from 11:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. I was handcuffed—my arms are still full of
scars from the handcuffs. The torture was near-drowning, near-hanging, beating, stepping
on my stomach, they took off my clothes and threatened to rape me with a branch [from a
sugar cane plant]. After they made me run so that they could kill me—I didn’t run.

“They made me kneel in front of a pile of cow dung that had just been defecated
and they made me eat about a half-kilo (one pound) of manure. After they took me to the
police vehicle where the others who had been arrested were being held. There were three
who were tortured: me, Lourival and Aristides. Those who tortured us were the Special
Operations Group (Grupo de Operações Especiais, GOE) and the P2 (Military Police Secret
Service). We arrived at the police district in Ortigueira at 3:00 p.m., almost paralyzed.
The district chief (delegada) appeared to support us and reprimanded the Military
Police. After they called the judge so that we could report the torture. She asked us to
identify the police officers but the GOE and the P2 had already left.

“So the judge ordered the police at the district to complete the arrest report
[for us]. But that’s a mistake because the GOE arrested us but the police in the district
wrote the arrest report. Then they reinforced the security at the district until they
transferred us. On the day of the transfer, the same police that had tortured us were
there to take us. That’s when we realized that our lives were in danger. We called the
district chief and explained that we would not leave the jail with the same police that
had tortured us. Even the district chief was apprehensive.

“He got another car, a Santana Quantum. We asked for a judicial officer and a
civil police officer to accompany us. There were eight of us in the car from Ortigueira to
Ponta Grossa. We’re prisoners in the jail in Ponta Grossa, which is overcrowded. It’s
horrible here. This isn’t for human beings. We’re afraid that the GOE will come into the
jail and kill us. There are six of us from the encampment imprisoned here.

Valdecir Bordignon Member of the State Committee of the MST


On April 17, 1996, at about 3:00 p.m., several buses arrived at the encampment of 1,500
rural laborers at the “S- curve” between Eldorado dos Carajás and Marabá in
Pará state. Under the command of Maj. José Pereira de Oliveira, commander of the Tenth
CIPM and the First CIPMOA, two buses and a truck arriving from the city of Paraupebas,
brought 68 men, armed with two shotguns, four machine guns, 50 rifles and revolvers. On
the opposite side of the road, three buses arrived. Under the command of Cel. Mário
Colares Pantoja, commander of the Fourth Battalion of the Military Police, 200 men
equipped with machine guns and revolvers arrived.

None of the police were identified. They had left their required Velcro tags in the
barracks. The Marabá Battalion, under the command of Cel. Mário Colares Pantoja arrived
firing gas canisters. At the beginning, the laborers resisted the attack, throwing rocks
and sticks. However, when they heard the first shots, they retreated. The massacre lasted
roughly an hour. Nineteen laborers were killed and 69 were injured.

The following laborers were killed:

13. ANTÔNIO ( known as “IRMÀO”)

Since that time, two other laborers have died as a result of injuries sustained during
the massacre, Francisco Divino da Silva and João Batista Penha. Those with more serious
injuries were transferred to the Servidores Hospital in the state capital Belém. These
were: José Carlos Moreira dos Santos, 16, shot in the left side of the head and with
possible brain damage; Rubenita Justiano da Silva, shot in the mouth, fractured left
maxilar. Others include: Elyomar Pereira da Silva, Domingos dos Reis da Conceição,
Marcos Pereira da Silva, José da Natividade, Nilson Pereira de Souza and Michael Jackson
Barbosa, were all operated on due to fractured bones in their legs or feet. The attorneys
and social workers who sought to speak with those injured were prohibited access by order
of the Secretary of Public Security which decreed that only family members could visit
persons injured in the incident. When, finally, access was permitted, it could be seen
that the injured were accompanied by police and were being treated like criminals.

The first phase of the trial of the 150 police charged with involvement in the massacre
took place in August 1999, when three commissioned officers who commanded the operation
were acquitted. Attorneys for the MST filed a writ to remove presiding judge Ronaldo Valle
from the case and another appeal to annul the decision of the trial. In April 2000, Judge
Ronaldo Valle submitted a request to be removed from the case to the Chief Justice
(President) of the State Supreme Court (Tribunal de Justiça). On April 11, 2000 the State
Supreme Court decided to annul the decision acquitting the three officers. On April 24,
2000, the State Supreme Court named a new judge to preside over the case. The new judge is
José Maria Teixeira do Rosário. This judge has already decided several cases involving
rural landless laborers; all of his decisions have been contrary to the MST.

There is a legal error with the naming of this judge to the case. Shortly after
Teixeira do Rosário expressed his interest in presiding over the case, the Supreme Court
assigned him to the case. This method of indication violates the principle of
“natural judge” embodied in the Constitution. This method also violates article
8 (1) of the American Convention on Human Rights which states, “Every person has the
right to a hearing, with due guarantees and within a reasonable time, by a competent,
independent and impartial tribunal, previously established by law…” The judge
here, José Maria Teixeira do Rosário, manifested interest in presiding over the trial
before being assigned by the State Supreme Court. His expression of interest casts doubt
on his impartiality, thus placing at risk the guarantees of a fair trial.

Another matter which must be considered is the fact that all the jurors who will decide
the case are residents of Belém. The Military Police is charged with providing security
for all those who live in the State of Pará including the jurors and the presiding judge.
Any police officer may encounter a given juror on the street, at work or out of work and
may pressure that juror to acquit his fellow officers. Should one of the jurors request
security, he or she may be pressured to acquit the other officers. The 150 officers
charged with involvement in the incident continue active on the police force which allows
them to create undue pressure.

This document known as National Report on the Situation of Human Rights
and Agrarian Reform in Brazil was presented on the occasion of the visit of Her Excellency
Mrs. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to São Paulo,
Brazil, on May 17, 2000.

comments to

  • Show Comments (0)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


You May Also Like

Tropical Forest Institute (IFT) in action at the city Paragominas, Pará state

Brazil’s Former Minister Wants Farmers and Environmentalists United to Save the Amazon

Former Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira has made an impassioned plea for a “new ...

Getting vaccinated against yellow fever

WHO Comes to the Rescue of Brazil with 3.5 Million Doses of Yellow Fever Vaccine

In response to the yellow fever outbreak currently on-going in Brazil some 3.5 million ...

Lula dancing with fans - Ricardo Stuckert/Instituto Lula

Lula Admits Courts Might Prevent Him from Becoming Brazilian President Again

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told Reuters on Wednesday that his ...

Eletrobrás is on the block to be sold

Fire Sale: Dozens of Brazil Firms to Be Privatized Including Crown Jewel Eletrobrás

The government of Brazilian President Michel Temer says 57 public companies and airport terminals ...