Cops Massacre Farmers In Amazon

By Martin Koppel, The Militant Vol.59/No.31, 28 August 1995

Dozens of peasants were killed in northwestern Brazil August 9 when hundreds of cops attacked a farm occupied by some 500 families. The assault has sparked a national outcry against the government of President Fernando Cardoso, which has failed to carry out its promises of land reform.

On July 16, about 200 peasant families occupied the Santa Elina estate near the town of Corumbiara in the state of Rondonia, in Brazil's Amazon region. More farmers joined them in the following weeks. Half the estate is devoted to cattle grazing and the rest is abandoned land covered by bush. The landlord, Helio Pereira Morais, lives in Sao Paulo.

The peasants have been demanding the government recognize their legal right to the land. Under Brazilian law, the government can take over unproductive land for settlement of landless farmers. After a large peasant demonstration in front of the presidential palace, Cardoso told leaders of the Movement of the Landless Rural Workers (MST) his administration would settle 40,000 peasants in 1995. The peasants at Santa Elina are not affiliated to the MST but have its support.

A judge in Rondonia ruled in favor of the absentee landlord and ordered the eviction of the peasants. The police have tried to evict them for several weeks.

Some 200 heavily armed military police, accompanied by the landlord's gunmen, invaded the farm August 9 at 4:00 a.m. They fired tear gas on the residents, creating pandemonium in the farm camp. The cops began to shoot, resulting in one of the worst massacres in recent years.

More than 30 peasants were killed, including a seven- year-old child, and some 200 were wounded. Another 75 were reported disappeared. Two cops died during the raid. Official reports list only 11 people dead. The exact casualties are not known because the police sealed off the area.

The cops detained 300 peasants at a sports gymnasium. They also jailed another 150 men, who were freed after the intervention of a delegation of parliamentary deputies that flew in.

Some 950 landless peasants have been murdered by cops and landlords' goons in the past decade.

In a phone interview from Sao Paulo, MST leader Neuri Rosetto stated, We blame the federal police for this attack, as well as the judge who ordered the eviction. We also hold the government and its land reform agency, INCRA, responsible for their failure to carry out an agrarian reform. The MST gives its full support to these landless rural workers. The Workers Party of Brazil also issued a statement condemning the massacre.