Upsurge in Violence against Landless Workers

Upsurge in Violence against Landless
by Marcelo Netto Rodrigues
[11/3/05-11/9/05] Brasil De Fato - Edition #140

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s indifference toward agrarian reform has contributed to an increase in rural violence and to the criminalization of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). In under a week, three leaders of the struggle for land have been killed in Pernambuco; one landless person died after a conflict in Minas Gerais; four MST activists were sentenced to 10 years in prison in São Paulo; and in Rio Grande do Sul, a 12-year old girl was hit and killed by a passing vehicle in front of the MST encampment where she lived. In Brasília, in an attempt to associate the MST with corruption, Senator ÿlvaro Dias (PSDB-PR) received wide media attention by repeating his accusations that the Movement used public funds to finance the occupation of unused lands.

The official statistics on agrarian reform need to be considered when analyzing the aforementioned facts. With roughly one year remaining in the current government’s first term, only 117,000 families have been settled out of the 400,000 promised. And, of the 140,000 currently living in encampments, only 15,000 associated with the MST are being promised any land by the end of the term. The result is clear: a fertile ground for land conflicts and the death of landless rural workers.

In the four days following October 27th, Pernambuco has seen three rural workers (tied to three different land reform movements) murdered. Anilton Martins da Silva, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Landless (MLST), was shot 18 times in the face in the town of Itaíba. Antônio José dos Santos, encamped with the MST in Tacaimbó, was tortured and stabbed 14 times after he left a party where people were celebrating the expropriation of land they had occupied since the year 2000. Luís Manoel de Menezes, president of the Rural Workers’ Union of Taquaritinga do Norte, tied to the Federation of Rural Workers of Pernambuco (Fetrape), was shot twice and died. Also, on the 28th of October, an estimated 10 hired gunmen ambushed a number of encamped MST families in Altinho.

In Buritis, Minas Gerais, Miguel José Caetano of the MST died on November 1st after being wounded in a land conflict with families tied to the Federation of Workers on Family Farms (Fetraf). A lot in the MST settlement, Mãe de Conquistas, was being argued over by families from Fetraf. According to the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), the conflict occurred when a number of families tied to Fetraf tried to force the MST families out of the settlement.

Also on the 28th of October, in the Pontal de Paranapanema region of São Paulo, judge Teodoro Sampaio sentenced MST leaders Clédson Mendes, Sérgio Pantaleão, José Rainha Jr. and Manuel Messiais Duda, to 10 years imprisonment. They are accused of burning crops and theft, during an occupation of unused land in 2000. As of November 1st, only Clédson has been arrested. The lawyers of the MST plan to enter a plea for Habeas Corpus because in these cases, defendants must remain free until the appeals process has been exhausted.

In Nova Santa Rita, metropolitan region of Porto Alegre, 12-year old Marisa Cardoso Lourenço died on October 30th after being run over by a speeding vehicle on Interstate 386 (BR-386), in front of the MST encampment where she lived. Marisa had been involved in the struggle for land for over five years, together with another 2,500 landless workers living along the interstates of Rio Grande do Sul – where a little over 100 families have been settled since 2003. The MST reports that they have made numerous requests to the Federal Highway Police to supply the appropriate traffic signs in the area, but they have yet to receive a response.


The article was written by Marcelo Netto Rodrigues and published in the Brazilian weekly, BrasilDeFato:

The original text of this article (in Portuguese) can be found by visiting: