Earlier this week, while Saulo Araujo and I were visiting our partners at Polo Sindical in the interior of Bahia and Pernambuco, Brazil, hearing about the long history of violent struggles there to re-settle families displaced by a series of large hydro-electric dam projects (including some families that still have not been resettled 20 years later) we received news that two leaders of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) were assassinated at an encampment in greater Recife, Pernambuco.
The encampment was on land that a local gas company wanted to use for a gas pipeline, and it appears that the company hired thugs to infiltrate the encampment, hoping to encourage the people in the encampment to accept a cash settlement to leave the land.
« We don’t want money, we want land, » said Cassia Bechara, the communications officer of the MST’s human rights office in Pernambuco, « so the encamped people refused the offer. Josias Barros, a state leader of the MST who was working in the encampment said, ‘The flag of the MST will only leave this land over my dead body,’ and one of the infiltrators shot him dead. » Samuel Matias Barboça, another leader of the movement in Pernambuco, was also killed.
Since then, the state police in Pernambuco have not managed to arrest the gunmen who committed these murders, but they have arrested several leaders of the MST, including local leaders of an encampment in Sertânia and Jaime Amorim, one of the national coordinator of the movement.
Aton Fon, one of the co-directors of Grassroots’ partner REDE-SOCIAL, a national network of human rights lawyers who defend the rights of activists and members of social movements throughout the country, has arrived in Recife to assist in the legal work underway to demand the release of Jaime Amorim. Jaime is being held because of his participation in a protest against Prsident Bush’s visit to Brazil last November. His arrest is based in part on a law to protect the public order that was created during the military dictatorship to repress dissent.
Grassroots joins the MST and REDE in demanding the release of Jaime Amorim and the prosecution of the assassination of Josias Barros Ferreira and Samuel Matias Barboça.
Saulo and I are going now to try to visit Jaime in jail.
I will write more as soon as I have a chance.