Pagina Principal

English Report

Groups of hired gunmen (called "private security firms") are currently the most significant threat to peace in the countryside. By protecting large land holdings in Paraná, these militiamen weaken constitutional authority and create a climate of fear and terror.

The pendulum of violence – struggling for land in Paraná in 2003

Jelson Oliveira*

Sixty-two encampments inhabited by about 15,000 families: the numbers of the struggle for land this year in Paraná illustrate the crisis in the State, and serve as an example of what is happening everywhere in Brazil. The number of candidates for settlement grew more than 100% in Paraná after eight years of repression under the government of Jaime Lerner, who was responsible for a wave of violence that left 16 people murdered, 31 victims violently attacked, 47 death threats, 7 victims of torture, 324 wounded, and 488 arrested in 134 violent evicitions that spread terror throughout Paraná. Lerner was the most egregious example of the anti-agrarian reform pact between the government and the large estate owners.

Lerner, a man condemned internationally for severe human rights violations, has thwarted all attempts to bring about an agrarian reform. He upheld a policy of
strong police repression against landless workers. Ideologically trained to fight the landless, the Paraná Military Police have worked to eliminate progressive social movements through violence.

In 2003, with the change of government in Paraná, there was a change in the strategy for dealing with agrarian reform. The new governor, Robert Requião, repeatedly stated his intent to act responsibly regarding agrarian reform. After the election of president Lula, we are seeing a broad growth in workers' hopes for agrarian reform. The demand for land that grew over so many years of repression and violence led to a sharp increase in the number of families ready and willing to struggle for land.

The organizing and political strength of agricultural workers grew when the Landless Movement (MST) allied itself with the Via Campesina, which includes the Movement of People Displaced by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens), the Small Farmers' Movement (Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores) and the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral das Terra). The MST´s demands have gathered momentum, as we saw in the protests against Monsanto's GMO farm in the city of Ponta Grossa. Other joint actions were organized against toll taxes imposed by Lerner when the roads in Paraná were privatized as part of his neoliberal policies.

Besides the MST, other groups and social movements have begun to organize in Paraná. Confirming an increasing demand for land in the state, there are now 20 encampments independent of the MST that were organized by groups such as Land Movement Brazil (Movimento Terra Brazil), the Rural Worker's Movement (Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais, or MTR), Grupo Xambrê and Grupo Zumbi dos Palmares.

The struggle for land was followed by a strong reaction from the big farmers. The workers are constant targets of violence by the police and the local militias hired by big land owners.

In March, a militia group called PCR (Primeiro Comando Rural) was created. This organization, led by Humberto de Sá, a big farmer, is an agency for mercenaries and gunmen willing to act against agricultural workers in the center of the state. Inspired by the PCC (Capital's First Command), a gang that is trying to gain control of prisons in São Paulo and Paraná, the big farmers of the PCR manipulate the press to justify the use of force against landless people. They announced recently that they would "distribute high-caliber weapons to men guarding at least 50 farms in the center-west of the state, to prevent the occupation of land."

From that moment on, that region became the stage of a series of threats and attacks on landless people. This violence reached its height during the occupation of Fazenda Três Marias by about 350 families. The farmers associated with PCR and the National Syndicate of Rural Producers (SINAPRO) threatened to evict them and surrounded the area for five days, but they were interrupted by the Comissão Especial de Mediação das Questões da Terra do Estado (Special Commission for Negotiation of Land Problems).

In March, another conservative group, the UDR, announced the opening of 15 offices in Paraná, and repeated their plan to prevent further land occupations. They demanded that the government "act strongly against the MST to prevent new occupations".

The intention of the Requião government to prevent the use of force and to pledge to work for Agrarian Reform was not enough to prevent recent violence against agricultural workers. In this period there have been two murders, four attempted murders, four people wounded and five imprisoned, including some leaders of the MST who were under "preventive custody".

On September 2 an ambush left two workers dead and three wounded in Foz do Jordão, a region that is building a tradition of hired gunmen. The agricultural workers in this region are threatened by armed militia groups.

Often using smuggled weapons, these groups of hired gunmen (now called "private security firms") are currently the most significant threat to peace in the countryside. By protecting large land holdings in Paraná they weaken constitutional authority and create a climate of fear and terror in the State.

During the Lerner government, the large farmers strengthened their criminal organizations, supported by the bureaucracy of the Secretary of Public Security and the Military Políce. The new government must confront this reality. We hope for decisive actions to restrain the private militias.

The Judiciary continues to demonstrate its servility to the interests of large estate holders. It usually authorizes evictions of landless workers without consulting organizations like INCRA (the Agrarian Reform Institute) or even the Secretary of Security. This blatant disregard demonstrates the conservative face of the Judiciary, which constantly closes its eyes to the suffering of poor people. At the same time, this system has guaranteed impunity in most cases of violence against landless people. Of the 1,282 cases of workers murdered in Brazil since 1985, only 121 have been taken before a judge, and only 14 have been brought to trial. Of those 14, only 7 perpetrators have been sentenced)[1].

This year, the deaths of Paulo Sérgio Brasil and Anarolino Vial have increased the number of murders of landless workers in Paraná. Since 1980, this number reached 46. This sad accounting reveals the power of big farmers, as well as the lack of political will from the government to carry out agrarian reform.

But even in the face of so much difficulty, the landless resist. They occupy land in order to guarantee their survival. We have great hope that in 2004 the promised governmental measures will make Agrarian Reform a reality.

*Jelson Oliveira is the Executive Secretary of the Pastoral Land Comission of Paraná and a member of the Advisory Board of the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.

[1] Data from the Pastoral Land Commission as of 12/2002.