Denouncements and Information on the Exterminations and Expropriation of land

The Pau d´Arco Ecumenical Mission made inroads into the southeast of the State of Pará between 8th and 11th November, in solidarity with the massacres and expropriation of land, which has been gaining strength in the region, due to conflicts over land. The activity was undertaken by the Brazil Ecumenical Forum (FeBrasil), International Process of Connection and Dialogue (PAD); organized by the Biblical Studies Centre (CEBI), National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC), the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), Brazilian Committee of Defenders of Human Rights, Diocese of Marabá, Conceição do Araguaia and Xinguara and with support from the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (CESE) and the international agencies, Misereor, Brot für die Welt, Christian Aid, Heks Eper and the Ford Foundation.

Brazil is the leading country for the murder of environmental activists and defenders in the world, according to the NGO Global Witness. Pursuant to CPT data, 210 deaths and 300 attempted murders took place, due to land conflict, between 2010 and 2015. Twenty-five murder cases were registered in 2016 alone and 59 defenders of human rights, who were taking action in the struggle for land, were killed up until August 2017. A high percentage (18 murders) has been recorded in the State of Pará.

Bearing this reality in mind, the Ecumenical Mission’s goals are to offer solidarity to the families and communities affected by violence in the field; to commit churches to taking a position against violence in the field; to appeal to the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary powers and increase the visibility of local events around the world.

Visit to Pau d´Arco

On 24th May, 2017, ten rural workers (one woman and nine men) were brutally murdered on the Santa Lúcia farm in the municipality of Pau d´Arco (southeast of the State of Pará). Pau d´Arco is considered the worst extermination due to agrarian conflict since the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre in 1996.

One of the survivors, who witnessed his companions’ murder by the police force at close range, remembers the moments of an early morning of terror on the 24th. “We saw the police arriving at about 6.00 pm [on the 23rd]. But the standard police always come and see if everything is OK.  They never do what these did. So we were not worried that they had come to kill us. Nobody imagined that. So, we went to sleep. When it was about 5.00 am or 6:00 am, we heard another car arrive and the door closing. The boys went there and, when they looked, they were already coming down the path towards the dam and some were wearing hoods. So we were scared by the way they were arriving; everything was sprayed with bullets; breaking everything; the pans. Some of our group were scared and ran off in fear”, he reports in detail.

And it was at this moment, according to the source (whose identity will not be revealed for reasons of safety), that the police saw exactly where the group was. “So, then it started raining; raining a lot and there was lightning. You could hear them arriving. I heard: “don’t run, otherwise you’re going to die, you gang of thugs. They were talking and shooting; they didn’t give us a chance. They could have arrested everyone as we were, not killing or hitting anyone. It was such a big shock that the people were getting tangled up on the tarpaulin; one falling on top of the other. When I was able to get up and run, I was shot in the back and fell to the ground. I looked around; there were some bushes, a thicket, and I headed towards there. That was when I heard the police say: “don’t run, otherwise you will die. But it was with one of them, and I thought it was me, so I stopped and stood still”.

Hidden behind the babassu palms, about 15 metres from where the murders took place, the source heard the beatings and violent deaths of each of the group of ten people. “If I had looked behind me, I could have seen, but I was in shock, just listening to their footsteps, exterminating, hitting the boys; a lot of beatings and shots and humiliating them. And Jane [Jane Júlia de Oliveira, the only woman among those murdered] cried out, ‘no, don’t do that to the boys, no’. And they replied, “it was you that we really wanted’ [she was the camp leader]. They shot Jane numerous times [and her leg was also broken]. I heard the boys crying, saying ‘please, we aren’t going to run; we are keeping still sir’. And then they started shooting. They fired a lot of shots. But there were a lot of shots and I was suffocated by that smell of gunpowder. When I realized that the ‘don’t run’ wasn’t aimed at me, I crawled into a thicket. I hid in the grass, waiting; the police were closing in and shooting. They were laughing and laughing”, he emphasizes, desolate.

According to the interviewee, the police arrived at the location where the massacre took place at about 5.00 am and only left the region six hours later, at 11.00 am on 24th May.

Giodete Oliveira Santos, a relative of seven of the murdered workers, was Jane’s close friend. “They didn’t kill just one woman. They killed a mother, a daughter, a friend. God, she was everything to me. They [there were two survivors] say that they kept asking them not to do it. Because they handed themselves in, you know? And even so, they killed them. I am still alive because I am in this struggle for them. But I am not talking of life because we have stopped.  We are not living”.

During the visit to the Pau d´Arco community, Thiago Valentim, who is a member of the CPT’s executive coordination, advised the rural workers who were present that, as well as offering solidarity and gaining a better knowledge of the region, the Mission will take on the commitment of calling on forces to pressure the Federal Government, specifically Incra [National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform], so that there is a guarantee of land for the community in a timely manner.

Ecumenical act

“Jane Júlia de Oliveira, present!

Oseir Rodrigues da Silva, present!

Hércules Santos de Oliveira, present!

Regivaldo Pereira da Silva, present!

Ronaldo Pereira de Sousa, present!

Bruno Henrique Pereira Gomes, present!

Antônio Pereira Milhomen, present!

Nelson Souza Milhomem, present!

Weldson Pereira Milhomem, present!

Weclebson Pereira Milhomem, present!”

To the cries in tribute to the ten workers massacred in Pau d´Arco, starting with the Mission holding the Ecumenical Act in the municipality of Marabá. The bishop of Conceição do Araguaia, Dom Dominique Marie Jean Denis You, attended the ecumenical celebration.

Relatives of those murdered were also present at the celebration. Régis Marcos lost seven family members – of the ten murdered. “The pain, despair, the feeling of revolt and injustice still remains because it was ten lives, ten human beings, and seven people just from our family. I lost my brother; I lost my two cousins, my two uncles and my aunt. My aunt, who is also here, lost two sons, who looked after her, and these days it is us, those who are closest, who look after her: the nephews, nieces and some of the siblings, who are still alive, because two of her brothers were murdered”, he details, revealing complete disruption of his family.

“They took everything from us. Everything. Not just our relatives’ lives but the family’s dignity. We can’t have the right of a dignified wake; no-one can say goodbye to their relatives; no-one saw them for the last time because the State was cowardly enough to murder them and did not even hand over the bodies to us. And when they arrived to hand over the bodies to us, they were all already in a state of putrefaction. We did not have the right to say our last goodbyes”, he reports.

Régis Marcos emphasizes that they want justice. “We want a cry for freedom; everyone with the right to a piece of land, planting and growing crops. Because who owns the land? The land is for those who want to work. It all boils down to a group of landowners who are taking possession of everything and we are going back to being the slaves from all those years ago. Did slavery end? Where did it end?” he relativizes.

Reverend Luiz Carlos Gabas, a Mission member, suggests the need for the churches to take a firm and sustained position. “It is very easy for the church when we just dedicate ourselves to prayers, worship and going to the temples. Jesus went among the people; we need to be conscious of the people’s needs; concerned about the fate of the poor. It is an evangelical demand. It is very easy for us to think of a church that prepares people for their salvation after death. The church has to be concerned about people’s lives. Heaven must start here. And what is heaven? It is land, food, a home, health and education. Therefore, as a religious leader, we must make the commitment of not remaining silent about any form of injustice. I will repeat a phrase that is very common in the Landless Movement (MST). Faced with death and violence, not one minute of silence”, those present cry out.

In addition to the institutions who undertook and organized the Mission, the following were present throughout the event: representatives from the Independent Presbyterian Church, the United Presbyterian Church, Baptist Alliance of Brazil, Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession, Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, relatives of the murdered workers, the Indigenous Missionary Council and the Landless Workers’ Movement. They provided Mission support to: the Pastoral Care of Young People, lay sisters, basic ecclesial communities, the student movement, the Federation of Regional Agricultural Workers, the Movement for those Affected by Dams, students studying the right to land and teaching staff from the Federal University of the South and Southeast of Pará.

Meeting at the Public Prosecution Service

A meeting was held at the State of Pará Public Prosecution Service, as a form of advocacy, with the local public authorities and to follow-up on the progress of investigations on the Pau d´arco massacre. The 17 policemen involved in the exterminations are currently under arrest.

According to the distinguished criminal prosecutors for the case, Alfredo Martins de Amorim and Leonardo Jorge Lima Caldas, attention must be paid and pressure enforced during the inquiry and trial by jury – the latter has not yet been scheduled. The defence strategy for the policemen will be to disqualify the victims, to justify the policemen’s conduct. “That will be the justification; that what the police did was social cleansing and a boon for society”, explains the prosecutor, Leonardo Caldas.

The prosecutors also confirm that one of the factors which led to the arrest of the executors was because the investigation was carried out by the Federal Police, with a specialized team brought in from outside the region. “With the closure of this stage, the team left. The inquiry continues but our struggle is for the team to return for this second stage. So that it is not the same cliché; the executors have been identified and we did our duty, but we know, from what was established, that there is something more to this. If there is evidence that there was backing, it is the Public Prosecution Service’s duty to follow it up”, assures Caldas.

According to Amnesty International data, a survey in Pará showed that thirty of the forty municipalities in the south and southeast of the state have had a 100% impunity rate for the murder of rural workers in the last 43 years.

The Hugo Chávez Camp

Taking advantage of being in the region, the Pau d´Arco Ecumenical Mission took a closer look at the problem of land expropriation in the south and southeast of Pará. A total of 1,200 families will be evicted from their homes in December. At the Hugo Chávez camp, 40 km from the municipality of Marabá, 300 families will be kicked out of their homes.

The Santa Tereza farm [where the Hugo Chavéz camp has been established for three years] is allegedly owned by Rafael Saldanha. Allegedly because there is evidence that the farm is located on public land and was seized by the Saldanha family. “So, we are not in a private area; we are on public land; an area of the State; an area which should be allocated to agrarian reform, for these families who do not have land and are not able to buy it; for them to settle”, clarifies educator, and camp member, Polliane Soares.

Under negotiation between Incra and the Saldanha family, the public authority was willing to buy the area for R$ 8 million but the farmer, Rafael Saldanha, did not accept the offer. The process of negotiating for the area was filed at this time and repossession requested and registered in October last year. Repossession is now scheduled for a month’s time, on 13th December, 2017.

Camp member, Polliane Soares, comments that interaction with the farm owners has never been pacific. “In 2014, when the land was occupied, we had several periods of constant attacks from gunmen from the farm. Our fields were burned down. This year, we had an episode in July, when gunmen set fire to our fields, at the farmer’s order; they went past, shooting in front of the camp and setting fires around it, to burn out the families who live here. We have also had episodes of losing our shacks; gunmen coming into the camp at night and setting fire to the huts, with the families inside, and the people waking up in the middle of the night, with their homes on fire, running for their lives, leaving everything behind, documents and all of their belongings”, she recalls.

Polliane also reports that even the camp members’ right to come and go has been denied.  The gunmen approached the workers on the road, which gives access to the town of Marabá, intimidated settlers in the region and did not give work to workers from the Hugo Chávez camp.

“As a teacher, I feel really sad and distressed. Hugo Chávez is our home, where we earn our livelihood, from our mandala vegetable garden and our fields. While I am camping, I intend to struggle, right until the last moment. As an educator, I believe that it is not because we are camping that we do not have the right to dignity for our children. We do not just work with primary education; we also work with the education of young people and adults (EJA). We have around 70 EJA students in the evenings”, informs the teacher, Maria do Socorro. The school provides education to 150 people, including children, young people and adults.

In a meeting with the Hugo Chávez camp families, Sônia Mota, CESE’s CEO, remembered when CESE was in the region in 1996, at the time of the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre. “We have continued on our Ecumenical Mission since that time, because we believe that the churches should be called into action, to be side by side with the people and the poor because the Christ who we believe in never left the side of the poor and, in fact, were his mission platform”, she confirms.

And she offered solidarity and hope for the land struggle. “The people of the Hugo Chávez camp are not alone. We believe that there is land and there is land for everyone. And the land is for those who plant crops; land is not to be left idle for the large landowners to make money from it. The blood of people, which has been shed on this land, has to feed our hope and our struggle because their struggle is also ours. Because if the countryside does not plant crops, the city does not eat”, cries out Sônia Mota.

Making a biblical reference, CESE’s CEO refers to the moment the people of Egypt needed to escape from slavery and came across the sea. “When they arrived at the sea and the people were afraid, what did they hear? ‘Tell the people to march’. The MST has achieved agrarian reform in this country through marching. And we are going on a march. This Ecumenical Mission is on a march and is willing to keep marching with you and trying to do what we can, amplifying these voices, which struggle for justice”.

The educator and camp member, Polliane, asks people to get in touch with this reality, that they are moved and join forces, so that the eviction does not take place. “The families here do not have anywhere to go; they don’t have homes and they don’t have work in the town. The children who are here will not be able to have access to the 200 school days, which are guaranteed in the Constitution. The families will lose their production. I have a daughter; the suffering that I have is of the other families here. The despair of not knowing where to go. The despair of knowing that you are going to be thrown out”, she despairs.

And she finishes with: “We are going to have a total of 1,200 families evicted from their homes in December. That is 591 children who are not at school. Approximately one hundred tonnes of food will be destroyed. We are counting on a lot of people’s solidarity at this difficult time. When they are warm and cosy in their homes on a rainy evening, with a plate of food for their children, people should think about where others will be? They must not forget that there will be 1,200 families from the south and southeast of Pará, who are not going to have that”.

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