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Social Movement Faces Violent Repression in Brazil

August 2006

This morning I accompanied Fernando Prioste, an attorney for the Brazilian human rights organization Terra de Direitos (Land of Rights), to visit Jaime Amorim at the Centro de Triagem pre-trial detention center in Abreu e Lima on the outskirts of Recife, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

Jaime is the state coordinator for Grassroots’ partner, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Pernambuco, and a member of the national leadership of the movement. He was arrested August 21 while he was traveling between the funerals of two leaders of the MST, Josias de Barros Ferreira and Samuel Matias Barbosa, who were assassinated the previous day in what is reported to have been a dispute over the land of the encampment with a company that wanted to install a gas pipeline.

Jaime’s arrest appears to be politically motivated and arbitrary. Some believe it was carried out in order to distract attention from the assassination of two MST leaders. Jaime was charged with failing to appear at a hearing to investigate his participation in a protest against U.S. President George Bush’s visit to Brazil in November, 2005.

Jaime never received notification of the hearing, and the judge in the case claims that this was because Jaime has no fixed address. This claim is clearly untrue, and easily disproved. As a registered voter in Pernambuco, Jaime’s address is on file with the state. It appears the judge never sent a request to the electoral authorities to obtain the address. There is also the fact that Jaime is a visible public figure and as such is usually easy to find.

The movement’s legal advisors, including Fernando Prioste and Atom Fon (co-director of Grassroots’ partner, Rede Social de Diretors Humanos [The Social Network for Human Rights], an organization that provides legal support for members of Brazilian social movements) have petitioned for a writ of Habeas Corpus and are appealing to the federal courts to declare the arrest illegal, based on the fact that the judge never tried to get Jaime’s address. The judge suggested in an interview that he will release Jaime on Monday, but as the judge has taken this week off for vacation, it is unlikely that anything will happen before then.

When we saw Jaime today he said that going to jail was just another part of building the movement. He ate an apple that Fernando brought him voraciously, but he appeared to be in good spirits and made light of the fact that some of his wealthy fellow inmates have air-conditioners and big-screen televisions.

I asked Jaime what the significance of his arrest was for the movement.

“The arrest occurred at a moment of great sadness for the movement, when we were mourning the loss of two companheiros,” he said. “Josias was a great leader in the movement who was very active in developing the culture and values of the MST, and Samuel was a great young leader and long-time member whose parents were members and activists. He grew up in the movement. To execute the warrant at that moment was a provocation. In the struggle for agrarian reform, we try our best to operate within the laws of the land and the spirit of justice, but the state wants to brand us as criminals. They want to make it illegal for us to demand our rights.”

A coalition of social movements and civil-society groups has mobilized to demand Jaime’s release and to demand justice for the killers of Josias Ferreira and Samuel Barbosa. These events, along with the arrest of a two other local leaders of the MST in the town of Sertania, here in Pernambuco, and a series of illegal evictions of encamped families, reinforce the idea that it is essential to combine protection of human rights with movement building and community-led development.

Grassroots is proud to support the MST and Rede Social and to join them in calling for the release of Jaime Amorim and for justice for the assassins of Josias de Barros Ferreira and Samuel Matias Barbosa.

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