CPT’s partial data
from January to August 2006 point to the continuation of a
tendency toward decline in social movement actions and in the
incidence of violence. The
number of killings until the end of August was 18.3 percent
lower than in the same period of 2005, when 29 people were
number of displaced families fell from 2,339 between January
and August 2005, to 927 during the same period in 2006, 60.37
percent lower. The activity of the judiciary was less intense.
There were 31.41 percent fewer people evicted from
January to August 2006— 11,065 families, compared with
16,131 families in 2005.
The number of jailed workers increased significantly.
From January to August 2006, 749 people were imprisoned,
351.2 percent more than during the same period in 2005, 166
more than the totals during previous years.
This increase is due above all to the imprisonment of
militants of the MLST (Movement for Liberation of the Landless),
as a result of their occupation of the Chamber of Deputies in
and Social Movement Activism in the Countryside
against Brazilian rural workers is an integral part of their
history and of the agrarian structure in Brazil.
It is impossible to separate concentration of land
ownership from violence.
To guarantee the former, the latter must be applied.
relationship is historical.
It began as early as the sixteenth century, when the
Portuguese arrived in Brazil and proclaimed themselves owners
of the land they had just “discovered.”
To ensure their control over a “free land of free men,”
their only means was to violently subject “free men” to
their yoke or physically eliminate them if necessary.
subjugation of the land to their control then required
resorting to slave labor.
As the end of slavery end became imminent, the Land Law
and promulgated in 1850, when the subjection of land to
private ownership was definitively approved and restricted to
those who had the means to buy it.
retention of this legislation, which amounted to the
intransigent defense of private property as an absolute and
untouchable good, was possible only through the use of
physical violence toward those who opposed it in any way.
varied social movements that consolidated their hold on a few
free territories, such as Zumbi’s escaped-slave settlement
of Palmares in Alagoas; Antonio Conselheiro’s Canudos in
Bahia; the Contestado in Santa Catarina and many others, were
repressed and destroyed with violence.
never occurred to any colonizer that the declaration of
discovered land as Portugal’s possession was an act of
it never occurred to the elites who succeeded them to consider
as an act of violence the existence of immense estates that
exceeded all reasonable limits.
Nor did they consider as violence the usurpation of
indigenous lands. They
did not consider violent the expulsion of tens of thousands of
families of settlers who had occupied their land quietly and
peacefully for decades and made their living from it.
Only the action of workers seeking to defend their
right to life and access to a piece of ground to sustain
themselves is considered and treated as violence.
This is true up to the present day.
And it was reaffirmed in the report of the
congressional commission’s investigation of land issues
submitted by Federal Deputy Abelardo Lupion at the end of
2005. The victims
are held responsible for the violence they suffer.
The occupation of land, even if it is unclaimed, stolen
or involved in every sort of irregularity, is considered as an
abusive act and therefore repressed as much by the alleged
“proprietors” as by the public authority.
violence employed by the “proprietors of land” is
considered as a just and necessary reaction to guarantee the
“sacred right to private property.” The modernization of agriculture, and an increase in
productivity, simply disguised the latifúndio
as agribusiness; but it did not change the Brazilian
agrarian structure one bit or decrease violence in the
the contrary, it increased violence.
In states where agribusiness grows more quickly, the
levels of violence increase, especially in relation to the
Agents of Violence
types of agents, private and public, guarantee this “right
to property.” The
former are the landowners themselves or, almost always, their
hired thugs and gunmen. These
carry out “justice” with their own hands, killing workers
or expelling families from the land.
The latter are judges or their agents (police,
judiciary officials). The
judges are usually very agile in issuing seizure orders for
recently occupied areas or those occupied for long periods,
such as escaped-slave settlements still held by their
also issue arrest orders against workers involved in any
action that might be denounced.
The justice officials and the police act in accordance
with judicial orders and the police have intervened on many
occasions on their own initiative; often they are accompanied
by thugs and private gangs.
1985 the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) has published an
annual report on rural conflicts and violence.
It is clear that violence against peasants and workers
is far from over. In
recent years, even during Lula’s administration—
considered an ally of rural movements— the violence has
the struggle for land reform mounted by social movements has
not suffered federal repression— as happened under previous
governments— repression by militia groups, as well as the
police, under the authority of state governors, has increased.
Also, the judiciary system has been acting to repress
2003, the first year of the Lula administration, until now,
the number of land conflicts increased by 82.7 percent, from
926 in 2002 to 1,690. This
year the judiciary issued eviction orders against 35,292
families or 175,485 people, an all-time record, and an
increase of 263.2 percent over 2002. The number of arrests was
also 140.5 percent higher than in 2002.
number of killings of landless workers grew 69.8 percent since
workers were killed in land conflicts.
A higher number was registered only in 1990 and during
the 1980s. The
number of families evicted was 151.4 percent higher than in
the same time, during the first year of the Lula
administration, actions increased by workers who believed that
the moment had arrived for a profound change and land reform
finally would take place.
Occupations and encampments reached 676, involving
124,634 families or 623,170 people; in 2002 these actions had
the government’s first year, social movements continued to
exert pressure, even though the much-discussed land reform was
far from being a reality.
In 2004 the number of occupations and encampments
decreased to 646. For
their part, the big ranchers perceived that land reform was
not a priority of the Lula administration, but even so they
did not stop their repressive activities.
The number of expelled families increased from 2,907 in
2003 to 3,063 in 2004. The
number of killings fell to 39.
public authorities continued to protect big landowners.
In 2004, 37,220 families were evicted by the police—the
highest number since the CPT began keeping count.
The number of workers who were jailed also increased,
from 380 in 2003 to 421 in 2004.
of the weariness of social movements, facing insignificant
results of land reform, were apparent in 2005.
The number of occupations and encampments decreased to
527. Even so, the
number of families expelled by the police increased
considerably, from 3,063 to 4,366.
The number of killings fell from 39 to 38. The number
of evicted families held steady at 25,618, and the number of
arrests at 261.
from the CPT from January to August 2006 point to the
continuing tendency of a reduction in social movement activity
and violence. The
number of killings until the end of August was 18.37 percent
lower than during the same period in 2005, when 29 people were
number of expelled families decreased from 2,339 from January
to August 2005 to 927 during the same period in 2006, a
decrease of 60.37 percent.
Judicial activity was less intense.
From January to August 2006, 31.41 percent fewer people
were evicted— 11,065 families, compared with 16,131 families
in 2005. As for
jailed workers, there was a significant increase.
From January to August 2006, 749 people were detained,
351.2 percent higher than during the same period in 2005, 166
more than the total in previous years.
This rise is due above all to the arrest of the MLST
activists as a result of their occupation of the Chamber of
These Numbers Tell Us
superficial look at the numbers, which is common to the
analysis of the mainstream media and all those who try to
claim that the responsibility for violence lays with the
social movements, links the decrease in the level of violence
to the moderation of the social movements’ actions.
In this calculation, the less action by the social
movements, the lower the violence in the countryside.
Carlos Walter Porto Gonçalves and Paulo Roberto Alentejano of
the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, analyzed data
collected by CPT according to geographic region.
According to the CPT’s data from January to August
2006, in the North, the occupations represent 6.69 percent of
all occupations in the country; 30.96 percent of the conflicts,
66.6 percent of the killings, 31.28 percent of evicted
families and 16.14 percent of expelled families occurred there.
In the Southeastern region, where 25.2 percent of the
occupations took place, 14.03 percent of conflicts, none of
the killings, 5.93 of evictions and 7.84 percent of expulsions
same can be seen if we calculate the average for the three
previous years, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Occupations in the Northern and Midwest regions
represented 17.6 percent of the total.
The number of conflicts registered there was 41.1
percent. In the
North, where an average of 7.7 percent of occupations took
place from 2003 to 2005, 28.6 percent of conflicts were
the other hand, in the South and Southeast the occupations
represented 34.7 percent of the total.
There the conflicts were 20.7 percent of the total
throughout the country. This
survey shows that the violence is greater in the areas where
there is a lower degree of organized social mobilization. Where the action of organized social movements is more
intense, the level of violence is relatively lower.
The professors observe:
opposition to the conservative claims, the violence is not
associated with the action of rural social movements, but with
the traditional truculence of the big
analysis of land conflicts in the Brazilian countryside as
shown in CPT’s partial data for 2006.
brought up to date by agribusiness associated with the
executive and judicial branches of the government, as can be
observed by comparing the data on occupations with evicted and
fleeing families. It
may be seen that 8.3 percent of the occupations were
concentrated in Amazonia,* in contrast to 19.8 percent of
evicted families (through the action of public authorities in
service of the big landowners) and 38.8 percent of fleeing
families (through direct action by the big landlords).”
the data on social movements with the land settlements by the
federal government, it may be seen that between 2003 and 2005,
the North had an average of 7.7 percent of the total
occupations and 43.3 percent of settlements. The Southeast and South together had 34.7 percent of the
occupations and only 7.4 percent of the settlements. According to the professors’ study, this “shows
geographic slippage between government action and the actions
of the grassroots movements.”
Forms of Violence
form of violence that the workers and the social movements
face is symbolic. The actions of grassroots movements are usually presented by
the mainstream media in a discriminatory way.
The activities of large agribusinesses, on the other
hand, are always presented as promoting “development” and
“progress”, even when large landowners promote violence
against workers or environmental destruction.
the entire North plus the states of Maranhão and Mato Grosso,
for the purposes of this study.
cases in 2006 clearly demonstrate the position of mainstream
March 8, 2006, the women of Via Campesina destroyed eucalyptus
seedlings and the laboratory of Aracruz Cellulose in Barra do
Ribeiro, Rio Grande do Sul state, one of the symbols of
was a protest against the advance of the “green desert”
and the destructive effects of monoculture on the environment.
No person suffered any type of violence.
This action was in the headlines of news media for many
days. The women
were condemned immediately by all the main media outlets and
by public authorities at all levels.
They were accused of being violent, of carrying out an
act of vandalism, and so forth.
The women’s organizations, especially the MMC (Peasant
Women’s Movement) were investigated, had their offices
invaded by the police, and their property seized.
The women identified as participants in the action are
being prosecuted in various jurisdictions.
May 19, 2006, in Vargem Grande township, Maranhão state, the
entire community of São Malaquias, composed of descendants of
escaped-slave settlements that have been in the area for more
than 100 years, was violently expelled in an action replete
with illegalities. The
alleged proprietor, Antonio Rodrigues Dias, presenting various
documents that named him as the owner of the area, each one
with different or contradictory boundaries, managed to obtain
an eviction order from the local judge, Janaína de Araújo de
order was transformed into an order of “reintegration of
possession.” The action referred to 10 families, and the eviction affected
30 families. The
houses, crops and goods of the workers were destroyed.
As a result, families with children, young and elderly
members suffered great privation.
Even one of the residents who had died on May 19th and
was being watched over in his house was evicted.
The deceased’s relatives had to move the farm worker’s
body, which was taken to another community for the wake.
While the transfer of the body was taking place, his
house was razed and burned. The suffering of this community
went unnoticed. The media didn’t cover this violation of
basic rights of escaped-slave settlement members.
we affirmed at the beginning of this chapter, these factors
make clear that the latifúndio
and human rights cannot coexist, since the marriage of the latifúndio
and violence is strong, very stable and increasingly powerful
era of agribusiness.
Canuto is secretary of the national headquarters of the
Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).