Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
from Green Left Weekly #230 5/8/96
At least 19 rural workers were massacred, and more than 50 injured, by police in the Brazilian state of Para in the eastern Amazon region on April 17. At least 80 workers are missing.
More than 250 military police ambushed 4000 peasant farmers and rural workers who were marching toward Para state capital, Belem, 650 kilometres away. They had earlier occupied the highway, asking for food and transportation to Belem, where they were to hold a peaceful demonstration to demand agrarian reform.
According to a coordinator of the Para branch of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), Gustavo Filho, the workers were attacked after they had agreed to a police order to end the blockade. Police promised buses to transport the protesters.
When the buses arrived, heavily armed police alighted. Together with military police from the nearby city of Maraba, they surrounded the rural workers. The police threw tear gas bombs, and when the landless fought back with hoes and scythes, they were fired upon by police, who took aim at the heads and chests of the demonstrators.
Police then chased workers and their families and executed them inside houses or in the forest. Eight central leaders of the protest were hunted down and killed. Peasant leader Oziel Alves Pereira was shot and killed inside a vehicle after police had arrested and handcuffed him. Witnesses said women and children were killed, but their bodies were not found among the 19 taken to hospital, Filho added.
During the attack police confiscated equipment and film from a local television crew which had filmed part of the police operation. The TV journalist was detained. Survivors are being held in hospitals in Belem under heavy guard, with unions being denied access to them. There are grave fears that the survivors' lives may be at risk because they are the only witnesses to the murders.
Paulo Rocha of the opposition Workers Party (PT) called for a parliamentary mission to be sent to determine exactly what occurred and who was responsible. Para has an appalling record of state violence. Rocha had warned the government of an impending massacre.
Rocha accused the state governor, Almir Gabriel of the Social Democratic Party - the party to which President Fernando Henrique Cardoso also belongs - of failing to take measures to avoid the massacre.
On April 19, a funeral procession extending six kilometres accompanied the bodies of 19 rural workers killed through the streets of Curionopolis. A day earlier, the MST mobilised more than 10,000 people for an occupation of a farm in Rio Bonito de Iguazu, in southern Brazil.
Brazil is experiencing an upsurge in activity by landless and rural workers. Three thousand rural workers, organised by the MST, occupied an estate in the region in February. On April 10, thousands of rural workers marched in 18 state capitals. They were joined by the unemployed, trade unionists, and the urban poor to demand land reform and jobs.
There are 4.8 million landless rural worker families in Brazil; 44% of the land, much of it unused, is owned by just 1% of the population. The MST says police have killed 700 of its members in the past decade. On August 9, at least 11 people were killed in a police massacre of squatters in Rondonia state.
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