Pagina Principal

English Report

Although for a year there has been no land occupations in that region, from 2002 to September 2003, Judge Atis issued 12 prison sentences against 46 MST activists. All his decisions were declared illegal by higher courts. The Court of Justice of Sao Paulo granted freedom to 20 farmers, the Criminal Appeal Court granted freedom to four landless workers and the Superior Court of Justice annulled the prison sentence of 22 MST members.

From the soil of the land to the floor
of the jail cell

"É verdade que depois de derrubadas as cercas do latifúndio, outras se levantarão: as cercas do judiciário, as cercas da polícia (ou das milícias privadas), as cercas dos meios de comunicação de massa... Mas é verdade também que a cada vez que caem cercas a sociedade é obrigada a olhar-se e discutir o tamanho das desigualdades, o tamanho da opulência e da miséria, o tamanho da fartura e da fome."
("It's true that after the fences of the latifúndio have been knocked down, others will be raised: the fences of the courts, the fences of the police or of private militias, the fences of the mass media…But it is true also that each time that fences fall, society is required to look and discuss the size of the inequality, the size of wealth and of misery, the size of abundance and of hunger.")
(Pedro Tierra, Somos a perigosa memória das lutas, 1995)

Roberto Rainha and Patrick Mariano Gomes*

It is undeniable that agrarian reform is an efficient, urgent, and essential method of guaranteeing the families of landless farmers much more than a simple return to the fields, but above all, to employment, dignity, and nourishment. All studies on the topic agree that this is the solution that will increase employment and production, generate wealth, put a brake on migration from the rural areas to the cities, and ultimately restore the condition of citizen, which for so long did not apply to the rural worker.

It is also undeniable that a campaign is being organized by the elite who want to hinder the implementation of reform on the huge Brazilian latifúndios.

In the struggle for land, the workers use the strength of organization and pressure, and are represented by the social movements, a legitimate remedy and fundamental in all agrarian reforms up to now. Already in the struggle to maintain their monopoly of the land, the strength of the landowners - who take advantage of the land to exert its domain and to apply its power of control-is being exerted by regional influences. This strength of "the colonel" covers armed militias, deals out violence, and directly influences the decisions of the constituted local powers, using the State to protect its private interests. They seek at all costs to create a climate of social instability, influencing public opinion in order that the public accepts and demands that punitive and coercive methods be adopted against the workers. They threaten, assassinate, make use of judges and arbitrary arrests against the representatives of the social movements.

In this way a campaign is carried out that aims to criminalize grassroots movements. In this context, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) is the main target.

The number of landless workers marked for death, or who are in prison, and the number of those already killed goes up on a daily basis. Up to November 2003, we have had more than 42 rural workers sent to prison and 61 assassinated throughout the country. However, there is no news about those who ordered the executions much less those who carried them out.

São Paulo: Pontal do Paranapanema

Here we want to highlight the state of São Paulo, specifically the disputed region of Pontal do Paranapanema, where the greatest human rights violations have occurred against rural workers in that state.

But despite the intention to recount the violations of human rights that occurred in 2003, there is no way to do it without an historic account of the same region and the work of the MST in it-a victim of many years of numerous violent and illegal onslaughts carried out by the landowners as well as by the local judiciary.

Located in the extreme Western part of the state and the second-most underdeveloped region, this area, even on a low scale, was a reference point in the production of coffee and cotton, plants that divided the landscape with an immense piece of the Atlantic forest. In time, the flora and fauna started to lose space to cattle ranchers and timber cutters. Cattle raising became extensive and the concentration of land for speculation came to prevail.

The small farmers, not being able to compete with the large owners, either accepted their lot as employees or moved to urban areas. With the majority of workers not adapting to cattle raising, they went to seek other ways of life in the city.

However, another alternative was possible. Not a miracle, but something concrete. Nothing that would interest the small minority of wealthy but something for the majority, the poor, the landless.

In 1990, the MST started to organize landless workers in the region. The first land occupation, with roughly 700 people, was on the Nova do Pontal ranch, in the municipality of Rosana. The idea took hold throughout the region. Today there are 94 rural settlements with 6,066 families in the region.

In the past 13 years, dozens of pieces of land have been won, at the cost of uncounted physical injuries and bitter days in prison. This was part of a campaign to criminalize the MST. On the other hand, the MST was able to produce respected criminal jurisprudence favorable to landless workers. In a habeas corpus for five MST members, the Minister of the State Justice Tribunal, Luiz Vicente Cernichiaro, stated that the MST "is not a movement to take other people's lands, but a movement based on pressure - that is to say -- an expression of the right of citizens to implement agrarian reform."

Teodoro Sampaio: history repeats itself

Arbitrary and biased imprisonment of the past, annulled, rejected, and repudiated by higher courts, are repeated today in the district of Teodoro Sampaio by Judge Átis de Araújo Oliveira.

Although for over a year there has been no land occupations in that region, from 2002 until September 2003 Judge Atis de Araújo Oliveira issued 12 prison sentences against 46 MST activists. All his decisions were overruled by the superior courts.

The Court of Justice of São Paulo granted freedom to 20 farmers, the Criminal Appeals Court granted freedom to four landless workers and the Superior Court of Justice annulled the prison sentence of 22 MST members.

Recently, Minister Paulo Medina, of the 6th Session of the Superior Court of Justice, granted freedom to Márcio Barreto and Valmir Rodrigues Chaves, members of the MST in the Pontal, saying that "they are rural workers, members of the MST, that struggle and sacrifice for a better way of life, where social dignity can only be restored when true, necessary, and indispensable agrarian reform is carried out in our country." According to the Minister, " while the outcome of their campaign is uncertain, justified revolt will be found along with the growing dissatisfaction of the least favored in the economic, social, and political contexts of Brazil."

The repression against the MST in the Pontal do Paranapanema is essentially political, aimed at repressing workers who struggle against poor distribution of land, the lack of productivity and the abandonment of more than 90% of the total area of Pontal do Paranapanema, as well as against the severe environmental degradation that the latifúndio produces.

* Roberto Rainha is a lawyer with the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.
* Patrick Mariano Gomes is a lawyer with the Landless Workers Movement (MST).