“We take the land from one hand and put it in the hands of a thousand...landowners would only use this land for cattle, and now we produce beans, milk, food, for the entire population.” – Ilda Martines de Souza, a leader of Brazil’s landless farmer movement.
Land reform activists are still being murdered in Brazil and not much is being done about it. The latest killing is that of MST leader Fabio Santos da Silva (see post below).
Rural worker and MST activist Cícero Guedes was assassinated by gunmen on Friday, January 25 near the Cambahyba Mill, in the township of Campos dos Goytacazes. He was shot in the head as he left the settlement on his bicycle. The MST leader was cut down by at least 10 bullets in an ambush in the pre-dawn hours.
MST activists said Guedes, a sugar-cane cutter, had led the occupation of the Usina Cambahyba sugar plant in Campos, 285km (180 miles) north-east of Rio de Janeiro. The sugar plant has been at the centre of a long-running legal battle between the landless and the heirs of its deceased owner. A judge ruled last year that the plant and its surrounding land totalling about 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres) was "unproductive" and should be expropriated. The heirs are appealing against the decision.
A father of five, Guedes ran an agroecological farm and was regularly to be found at organic produce markets, as well as participating in local coordination with the government food purchasing programme, which buys produce from family farms to provide school meals.
“He was a real symbol, and (his murder) sends a powerful message to the MST, which is organising the land claims of rural workers in the area,” one of the MST national directors, Marcelo Durão, told IPS.
“We are in conflict with the forces of oppression in the region,” he said, and he described Guedes as “a staunch activist, consistent and very focused on the struggle for land, as well as an authority on agroecological production.”
The death is the sign that the authorities are incapable of seeing what is so visible, which is impunity. It’s cowardice not to carry out agrarian reform, even more cowardice not to punish the killers and even more to allow the slowness of the bureaucracy not to do its part, leading the workers to death. Each one has a piece of the blame. It’s necessary to react, we are going to oppose the crimes of agrarian reform, one of the ways is to do it.
While the Brazilian State does not carry out agrarian reform, does not take a position in relation to the concentration of land, the Brazilian people and primarily those who struggle in an organized way, continue to die at the hands of power. We have no way to arrive at peace in the countryside without agrarian reform.
Eleven days later Regina dos Santos Pinho was killed. A leader of the MST, Marina dos Santos, stated:
It is a barbaric crime. We want to emphasize the level of brutality of this murder and the motivations that this brutality elucidated. In principle, we see no direct relationship with the land struggle and the murder of Cicero. But we cannot rule anything out nor affirm anything.
Regina was active in the MST for a decade. The police were contacted by neighbors who were surprised at the absence of the militant at the mass of Sétimo Dia de Cícero Guedes, held on Monday (February 4, 2013). Regina and Cicero were very close and both worked on agroecology in the Zumbi of Palmares settlement.
Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) in Portuguese, is a mass social movement, formed by rural workers and by all those who want to fight for land reform and against injustice and social inequality in rural areas. As a grassroots socialist organization, MST promotes land reform as a means of achieving social equality for landless rural farmers. It organises occupations of unproductive land, on the basis of which it negotiates with the state or federal authorities to transfer that land to the peasants. The occupying campesinos work the land productively, providing an escape from poverty and providing them with a dignified, selfsufficient existence. MST then invites the government to take the next step — formalising the settlements and providing education, health and other services.
In Brazil less than 3% of the population owns two-thirds of the land and more than half the farmland lies idle. Four million homeless, landless and jobless peasant farmers are denied a decent living.
The conflict over land, with homeless peasants on one side, and landowners’ armed thugs and the police on the other, has plagued Brazil for decades. The conflict has left over one thousand landless peasants murdered, and landless and rural people face malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, sanitation and basic health or education services, and a lifetime spent in roadside shantytowns of black plastic tents.
Writing about their recent visit to Brazil, delegates from Trident Ploughshares point out:
Some 90 million people, two thirds of the population, are landless peasants or slum dwellers excluded from land by this concentration of ownership. Their conditions of life are among the worst in the world: high infant mortality, millions of destitute street children in the cities and, in the countryside, situations sometimes akin to slavery, where workers are controlled by the landlord’s hired gunmen.
The struggle of the landless in Brazil is a leading component in the fight against global capital and Empire. This self organized and fearless campaign carried out by the landless themselves stands as an example of "how its done."
The following is from Friends of the MST.