In the state of Pará, in the
last 33 years there have been 772 murders of rural workers and
of people who supported them.
Only in three of these cases the people who ordered the
killings were sentenced.
Smoke Screen: measures announced by the government
to prevent violence against rural workers
year 2005, like those preceding it, was marked by violence in
the countryside. From
January to August, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) recorded
28 murders of rural workers. During the same period in 2004,
27 murders were recorded.
of these cases, in the beginning of the year, had an unusual
February 12th, in the distant and unknown town of
Anapu in the state of Pará, Sister Dorothy Stang, a North
American missionary and naturalized Brazilian, was brutally
murdered at the age of 74. Since 1974, she had worked with peasants in Pará. She
supported them in their struggle for land and for
environmental protection. They created PDS –Projects of
fact that the missionary was American, female, and elderly,
and the circumstances surrounding her death, after having read
gospel verses to her murderer, provoked general commotion. Her
case was presented in the annual publication of the CPT,
“Conflicts in the Brazilian Countryside –2004”:
murder provoked a gigantic wave of indignation, both
nationally and internationally.
Like a “tsunami,” this tragedy provoked reactions
from the center of power in Brasilia, the National Congress,
and the Federal Supreme Court. It received wide coverage by
the media all over the world. Sister Dorothy’s death caused
so much debate that we felt her presence again. Her work,
humble and unknown, in an isolated Amazon region, multiplied
itself all over Brazil, conquering hearts and minds, also
gaining international attention and recognition.”
government’s reaction was swift. Some Ministers came all the
way to Anapu. Authorities
from all levels gathered to condemn the violence. The
Brazilian Army sent detachments to the region.
Promises of unforgiving punishment for the guilty were
to regulate land rights were announced, and environmental
protection zones were created.
was little delay before the two gunmen were detained.
Afterward the intermediary who contracted their work
was arrested, and, after that, two plantation owners were
identified as the crime’s organizers. The Federal Police’s
investigations pointed, however, to a larger plan involving a
consortium of plantation owners and loggers interested in the
The legal system in Brazil
represents a serious difficulty in punishing these crimes.
In the state of Pará, over the last 33 years there
have been 772 murders of rural workers and of people who
supported them. Only
in three of these cases there was a trial against the people
who ordered the crimes – in the cases of Expedito Ribeiro,
of João Canuto and of Eldorado do Carajás. These trials
happened after a lot of mobilization, with several
denunciations sent to national and international human rights
bodies. And even
so, in all of these cases, the people accused did not stayed
In Expedito Ribeiro’s
case, the man who ordered the killing, Jerônimo Alves de
Amorim, completed his sentence in home confinement at his
luxurious residence in Goiânia.
The organizers of João Canuto’s murder, though
guilty, have waited for two years in freedom for their appeal,
and the legal process still is tied up in the courts. In the
case of Eldorado do Carajás, in which only two leaders of the
police operation were charged, Colonel Pantoja and Major
Oliveira, the first obtained habeas corpus through the Supreme
Court in order to await appeal in liberty.
Major Oliveira’s attorneys are going to request the
same treatment for their client.
judicial actions to review crimes of great consequence
continue to be held up. These
cases include the murder of lawyer Gabriel Pimenta, in Marabá
– held up for 24 years; the slaughter of eight workers in
the Ubá Plantation, in São João do Araguaia -- 20 years
ago; the slaughter of five workers in Princess Plantation, in
Marabá – 19 years ago; the murder of union member Braz, in
Rio Maria – 15 years ago; the murder of union member Arnaldo
Delcídio, in Eldorado – 12 years ago; and the murder of
Onalício Barros and Valentim Serra, in Parauapebas – 7
from this situation, how can a serious and just judgment of
those involved in the murder of Sister Dorothy be guaranteed?
The approach of human rights organizations to prevent impunity
in this case was to ask that the legal process be carried out
at the federal level. We
received support from members of the federal government, such
as the Special Secretary of Human Rights, and the Agricultural
Development Ministry. Unfortunately,
an agreement was made between the state government and sectors
of the federal government to guarantee that the trial would
take place in Pará. Even
so, Attorney General of the Republic, Cláudio Fontelles, sent
a request for the federalization of the legal process to the
Superior Court of Justice (STJ), with solid documentation,
based on Constitutional Amendment no 45.
The Federal Supreme Court, however, in evaluating the
request on May 8th, decided against it, without justification.
decision was criticized by the CPT in a note dated June 10th:
is a historical tragedy. At the same time the session of the
Supreme Court proceeded, Antônio Matos da Silva, father of a
premature baby who was still with his mother at the hospital,
was murdered in Paraopebas, Pará.
The large part of the magistrates’ argument was the
speed at which the judicial process in the murder of Sister
Dorothy proceeded. What
won, then, was the expertise of the Pará Judiciary in freeing
itself, in a way, from the embarrassment of federalization.
Aside from this scene, three days after Sister
Dorothy’s death, two rural workers were murdered, and these
cases continue to be ignored by Justice.
decision has serious consequences.
It was undoubtedly a bolster to the Judiciary’s and
Public Ministry’s “corporativism”, which has come to
place great pressure against federalization. It showed that
constitutional amendment no. 45 will not be respected. This
decision demonstrated support for the Pará Judiciary, which
is now free to continue making alliances with squatters,
loggers, cattle raisers, and large agribusinesses, continually
denounced for their crimes. It can affect the credibility of
the Supreme Court, which did not recognize the symbolic drama
surrounding the death of Sister Dorothy Stang.”
process against the five people involved in the killing of
Sister Dorothy advances at a pace that is fast even for
Pará's parameters, in an attempt to respond to public opinion.
But it does not happen in similar cases in the region.
and animosity of the courts, above all when it treats crimes
committed against workers, are not limited to Pará.
2004, two massacres in Minas Gerais made the headlines in
major media outlets: the massacre at Unaí, with the murder of three of the
Ministry of Labor’s inspectors to denounce slave labor and
their driver, and the massacre at Felizburgo, with the death
of five landless workers connected to the MST.
the case of Unaí, seven people ended up being arrested for
their involvement in the deaths, not including those accused
of being the ringleaders, the two brothers Antério and
Norberto Mânica, who were also arrested.
Antério Mânica, though being arrested on September
16th, was elected mayor of the city of Unaí.
Soon after the beginning of October, he was granted
habeas corpus. On
December 10th he returned to jail under judicial mandate
expedited by the 9th Court of Federal Justice in
Belo Horizonte. But,
on December 16th, the 1st Regional
Federal Tribunal of Brasília, granted him a new habeas
brother Norberto, after a little more than a year in prison,
obtained a habeas corpus through the Supreme Court on August
16th, 2005. The
deliverer of the order, Sepúlveda Pertence, in a vote in
favor of the authorization of the habeas corpus, said that
preventative imprisonment could not apply anticipatory
punishment to cases not yet judged. Nine other people accused of the massacre were identified in
December of 2004 and, should arrive before a popular jury.
Antério Manica, for being a mayor, shall be judged by
the Regional Federal Court.
the case of the massacre at Felizburgo, of the 16 implicated,
six people were arrested. Three of those were released days
after for lack of evidence of their involvement.
Plantation owner Adriano Chafik Luedy, who participated
in the massacre, and was arrested in December, obtained habeas
corpus from the Supreme Court on April 8th.
On May 20th, a new preventative imprisonment
was decreed against him. He remained a fugitive from justice
until August 28th, when he was captured and arrested.
case in which the justice acted favorably toward those who
committed crimes against workers occurred on September 23rd.
Minister Cezar Peluso of the Supreme Court granted
habeas corpus to colonel Mário Colares Pantoja, who was
condemned to 228 years of prison for leading a troop of
Military Police in the massacre of Eldorado do Carajás, which
resulted in the death of 19 landless workers.
is for the poor
from what is shown above, workers who are accused of a crime,
many times without proof or motive, have difficultly obtaining
the benefit of a habeas corpus.
A group of eight workers from Paraíba remained
imprisoned for 18 months, under accusation of homicide. Without
evidence against them, many of their requests for habeas
corpus were rejected. Jailed
in May of 2002, it was only at the end of 2004 that they were
permitted access to this benefit.
landless workers from Itararema, Ceará, were jailed for a
year and eight months, accused of a gunman’s death, and the
trial still was not set. The landless workers’ lawyer requested a habeas corpus at
the end of September to the Supreme Court, so that the same
benefit granted to colonel Mário Pantoja could be applied to
many other cases can be shown in which the workers are
systematically denied habeas corpus, under many different
becomes clear that in the Brazilian Justice System not all
people are equal under the law.
a death of Sister Dorothy, the government promised to
implement several measures. One was the creation of five
Amazonian forest reserves, comprised of an area of about eight
million km². The
creation of these reserves did not include effective measures
to prevent invasion and environmental destruction. At the same
time, the development of an effective plan for agrarian reform
did not happen.
reality, until the end of September, a series of announced
measures had not produced practical effects, and cases of
violence continued. The situation in the region is still
extremely tense. Squatters
and loggers act with total lack of restraint and with police
support. At the end of August, the civil police of Anapu, allied with
the plantation owner and logger Luiz Ungaratti, who came to be
named as one of those involved in the death of Sister Dorothy,
and using a car of the same plantation owner, apprehended two
agricultural workers, brothers Miguel and Francisco Valentino
dos Santos, in Plot 53, inside the area of the Project of
Sustainable Development (PDS) Esperança.
The police affirmed that the workers were being
arrested because they were “very violent” and because they
had weapons in their possession.
Afterward, the police want back to PDS Esperança,
advising that people should abandon the camps in 15 days, and
that their houses will be burnt down.
the murder of the Ministry of Labor’s auditors in Unaí, the
government promised to implement a Constitutional Amendment establishing that
land may be seized when there is evidence of slave labor. The project, which had already been approved in the Senate,
generated debates and was approved in the Federal Chamber.
Almost two years after the crime, this law has not been
the expropriation of land for the settlement of workers,
promised after the massacre at Felizburgo, moves ahead very
we see is only a smoke screen to hide the lack of
courage from the part of the government to take effective
actions to prevent the slaughter of rural communities.