ABOUT THE CASE: Who is Justice serving?

By ordering the removal of families who live in the Quilombo Campo Grande camp, the Brazilian state hurts long-standing human rights resolutions

In 1998, 450 Landless families occupied an area of the Ariadnópolis mill, in the city of Campo do Meio, southern Minas Gerais, Brazil. Back then, the area was owned by Companhia Agropecuária Irmãos Azevedo (CAPIA), which owes R$300 million (roughly US$80 million), went bankrupt, and faced closure two years before the families occupied the land in 1996.

Time went by and the four thousand hectares (roughly ten thousand acres) where there used to be nothing but monoculture of sugar cane started to come to life and allow two thousand people to work and earn a living.

They called the camp Quilombo Campo Grande, where today one of the largest coffee cooperatives in the state is based: Guaií. The co-op produces 510 metric tons of coffee a year – an average 8,500 coffee sacks –, as well as 55,000 corn sacks and 8,000 bean sacks. Not only that, forty hectares (nearly one hundred acres) in the area are dedicated to a garden where they grow vegetables to feed the families who live in the camp and local communities.

The camp also has 60,000 fruit trees and more than 60,000 native trees.

Over the years, the families have worked hard to build their houses with no support from the government, organizing and working the land for decades, resisting in a territory the State considers bankruptcy estate.

Now all the social change brought about in Campo do Meio is under threat. Last Wednesday, Nov. 7, a court in the judicial district of Campos Gerais ordered the repossession of the land and the removal of all families who live there. Apparently all victories achieved during the years of democratic regime in Brazil have not actually become concrete: the State found on paper is not part of landless workers’ life.

Selective justice

The court decision was based on State Decree No. 365/2015, which established the expropriation of 3,195 hectares (7895 acres) of the debtor, Ariadnópolis Mill, paying R$66 million (approximately US$17.5 million) to the Companhia Agropecuária Irmãos Azevedo (CAPIA). Two months ago, the families who live in Quilombo Campo Grande negotiated an agreement in which the State made a commitment to pay the money in five installments.

However, the company’s shareholders, supported by local big landowners and rural caucus, did not take the deal and took the case to court against the Minas Gerais state government to overturn the decree, even though it had been upheld in two different trials.

In a judicial operation, the stakeholders brought back an injunction to remove occupants from 2012, regarding the mill’s bankruptcy proceedings. The injunction was not granted by the Supreme Court at the time, but was not dismissed.

This week, hearing it as an inconsistently urgent case, the assistant judge working as a substitute in a rural court in Minas Gerais, Walter Zwicker Esbaille Júnior, established that the landless workers have until November 14 to vacate the area and authorized the Minas Gerais State military police to enforce it.

The same decision recognizes the area is being used and farmed by the families, but disregards article 184 of Brazil’s Constitution, which establishes that expropriating, in the public interest, rural estate that is not fulfilling the social function of property for agrarian reform purposes is federal jurisdiction.

A lawyer and coordinator of the human rights organization Terra de Direitos, Darci Frigo argued that, by ordering the eviction, the court is disregarding Resolution No. 10, from October 17, 2018, of the National Human Rights Council, which establishes solutions to guarantee rights and provisional remedies in cases of collective rural and urban conflicts.

“The resolution aims to guide authorities and public institutions that handle cases of collective conflicts regarding possession [of land]. They are measures that must be adopted so that a group is not violated,” Frigo said. The lawyer argued that the judge, who has to abide by this resolution, has to adopt and consider a series of measures to reach agreements that fulfill the social function of the property, as established in the Constitution.

Frigo points out the nation-state developed over the last centuries is unable to enforce the law established in the Constitution, which, in Brazil’s case, is to guarantee fundamental rights like citizenship and human dignity – rights that are being denied to the families in this process.

Brazil is signatory to several international treaties, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights adopted by 21st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 19th, 1966. This covenant establishes that its members must work to grant economic, social, and cultural rights to their citizens, including the right to work, health, education, and decent living.

“The question is: is this right being granted and respected in the case of the Quilombo Campo Grande occupation? The government must lead a peaceful, definitive resolution for the conflicts, giving precedence to maintaining vulnerable groups in the areas where they live and claim. The eviction is not inevitable. Actually the State found a legal solution for the case when it issued the decree for public interest purposes. What happened was that anti-agrarian reform political forces – whether big estate owners or ideological forces – found grounds in the court system to put the right to property before human rights,” the jurist warns.

What Brazil advocates as a State by signing human rights resolutions is that the rights of this group must come before the right to property. The social function of this territory will only be truly fulfilled when the families are settled in the area. The judges responsible for the case must be presented with that so their decision is based on higher interests to fulfill Brazil’s responsibility to human rights.

The MST is appealing the court’s decision and the families reiterate their eagerness to keep struggling and resisting against yet another attack by the project that has been elected in Brazil, which aims to increasingly use all State apparatus to criminalize and further segregate the landless people.

By Maura Silva | * Edited by Rafael Soriano
From the Página do MST
November 8, 2018