Pastoral Land Commission records more killings and fewer occupations in 2010

Thursday, April 28, 2011

funeral of Dorothy Stang

By Maurício Hashizume

An increase in the number of killings, a high incidence of land conflicts in the Northeast region, a fall in the number of occupations, combined with a growth in cases relating to evictions, expulsions, gunmen and property seizures were detailed in the report, Conflitos no Campo 2010 (Conflicts in the Countryside 2010) published by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). It presents a comprehensive overview of what was found in rural areas throughout last year.

34 killings were recorded in 2010, a 30% increase over the previous year (25). Of the 34 cases, 21 were recorded in the North, 12 in the Northeast, and 1 in the Southeast. In the state of Pará, which takes first place for having the highest number of killings, half of the 18 killings were related to conflicts among workers.

“Above all, this shows the perverse character of the system that ends up playing off worker against worker,” commented Antônio Canuto, Secretary of National Coordination of the CPT. One of the examples given describes the increasing tension between the already settled families of the Sustainable Development Project (PDS) and representatives of the Rural Workers Union (STR) in Anapu (Pará). The town was brought to the world's attention in February 2005 when Dorothy Stang, an American nun who lived and worked in the vicinity in support of the PDS, was executed.

For Antonio Thomaz Júnior, researcher on the topic and teacher of geography at Paulista State University (UNESP) in Presidente Prudente (São Paulo), the increase in killings has several explanations. “Each passing day, people kill more unreasonably. Life devalues more and more.”

Although it may seem like an “internal” confrontation between similar and interlinked social groups that are apparently only switching roles, it should be understood, from the point of view of the UNESP researcher, as the “harmful effect of estrangement” derived from the “destructive nature of capital”. According to him, “the co-option system is scandalous in the face of such misery and mismanagement.

The CPT publication also shows that land conflicts in the Northeast region rose from 320 in 2009 to 440 in 2010, a rise of 37.5%. There was a sharp rise in Bahia (from 48 cases to 91, an 89.6% increase) and in Maranhão (from 112 to 199, or 77%). Pernambuco, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba and Ceará also had higher rates in 2010 compared to 2009. In other regions there was a decline.

This escalation, according to the geographer, is linked to agri-hydrobusiness and the mining sector. He drew attention to the offensive launched against the quilombolas communities in Maranhão as well as to the water conflicts linked to mineral prospecting in Bahia.

Fewer occupations

The number of conflicts in rural areas nationwide remained consistent with the previous year: 854 in 2009 and 853 in 2010. Looking at the details more closely however, it is possible to identify a fall in the number of occupations (from 290 in 2009 to 180 in 2010, or 35% fewer). Also recorded was a higher rate of conflicts, of which rural workers were not the protagonists: foreclosures, expulsions, hired gunmen and property seizures which negatively affected the lives of families and disadvantaged communities. There were 638 cases recorded in 2010, 21% more than the 528 recorded in 2009.

According to the CPT, the data helps dispel the myth that social movements provoke violence. The setback in terms of the number of occupations (and the numerical stability of encampments: 35 in 2010 and 36 in 2009) did not result in a fall in the number of other conflicts, affirmed the organization linked to the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB).

For Antônio Canuto, the slow pace of agrarian reform has been discouraging landless rural workers from organizing. He criticized the lack of land expropriations by the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA). With the fading prospect of winning a piece of land through collective actions that test the resistance and conviction of every member, urban jobs have become more and more attractive.

Antonio Thomaz Júnior continues that the the expansion of Bolsa Família (the federal government's main income transfer program) does not necessarily explain the fall in the number of land occupations. In his view, the program has functioned to cushion the greatest miseries and misfortunes. Without Bolsa Família, he explains, “it would be far more difficult to face a meeting made up of members whose aim is to resist and to insist on struggle and occupation.”

Translated by Eric H.