[04/17/06] MST Update #113: April 17th - International Day of Peasant Struggle

April 17th: International Day of Peasant Struggle

“The came from both sides and we were caught in the middle. We weren’t in the position to anything against a large group of policemen armed with rifles and machine-guns!‿ Avelino Germiniano, 51, survivor of the Eldorado dos Carajás Massacre.

“When the buses from Marabá arrived with the police, they got off and shot a round of fire into the air. We thought that they only wanted to intimidate us. We started shouting words of order. We had a deaf-mute companheiro who couldn’t understand anything and he went in the direction of the police, the late Amâncio. He was the first to go down,‿ Miguel Pontes da Silva, 42, survivor of the Eldorado dos Carajás Massacre.

“I received a blow in the neck and I felt blood running down my back. At the time, I didn’t know if I had been hit or if I had been shot. When I made it back to the tent, my children were anguished. I put them in my arms and still had room to carry two other children who belonged to someone else. When I remember what happened that day, it feels as though I am reliving it,‿ Dalgisa Dias de Sousa, 50, survivor of the Eldorado dos Carajás Massacre.

Dear Friends of the MST,

Monday, April 17th, will mark the ten-year commemoration of the Eldorado dos Carajás Massacre (PA). On this day, three thousand MST participants occupied the PA-150 highway and were headed in the direction of Marabá to pressure for the expropriation of the Fazenda Macaxeira, a well-known unproductive large landholding in this region.

Two military troops surrounded the Sem Terra and then opened fire on them. The soldiers were obeying the orders of the then-governor of Pará, Almir Gabriel (PSDB), to clear the road by any means. The police left the barracks in Parauapebas and Marabá with no identification on their uniforms or on their weapons and they told the doctors and ambulances to stay on duty!

We all know the story of the Massacre. The extreme violence officially left 19 workers dead. Another three died afterwards as a consequence of reactions to the Massacre. Even today it is not certain if this number corresponds to the reality. “I think that more than 100 people died. I want to know about the children and women who were there. None of them showed up, only the men. Many people say that they saw a truck and a small car, covered with black canvas and blood leaving in the direction of Xinguara,‿ remembers José Carlos Agarito, 27.

Agarito and the other survivors continue to live today in the encampment, 17 de April: Mártires de Carajás (April 17: Martyrs of Carajás). It was necessary to have this human sacrifice for INCRA to recognize the unproductiveness of the Fazenda Macaxiera. Of the Sem Terra participants settled, 70 of these were seriously injured. Even today, they receive precarious medical treatment and they still have not been compensated. Together, the 13 widows wait for the case to be resolved in court.

Only three judicial decisions regarding the Massacre have been made. Not one of the 142 soldiers involved in the Massacre has faced punishment. Even though a popular jury sentenced the two commanders responsible for the operation, Colonel Mário Colares Pantoja and Major José Maria Pereira de Oliveira, to 264 years in prison, they continue to live in freedom as they await a decision of the appeal made to the Superior Court of Justice.

In the meanwhile, some of the police who were involved in the Massacre and large landowners from Parauapebas participated in the assassination of two regional MST leaders, Fusquinha and Doutor. The trial continues to be delayed.

The impunity that has always existed still continues to exist for those who commit crimes against the rural and urban poor. In just this past year, 19 people were assassinated here in Pará, the same area that failed to incarcerate Pantoja, Oliveira and Almir Gabriel. We all know the root causes of this situation. On the one hand, it is the continued reinforcement of an unjust system of land tenure. The 26,000 large landowners – who represent less than one percent of the five million agricultural workers and farmers – own 46 percent of the total land in Brazil. On the other hand, the State, that which is represented by the three powers, is managed by the economic interests of the landowning class and now increasingly more by transnational companies and foreign capital. Along with this is the continuance of the exclusionary neoliberal model that impedes a national developmental project for the people of Brazil that would include a real agrarian reform.

In the past 10 years, the MST has continued its fight. We did two large marches. In 1997, we marched on Brasília to create awareness in Brazilian society, covering 1500 kilometers with three different lines coming from the three regions. This was the first big unified protest, drawing together thousands of Brazilians to protest against the neoliberal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. More recently, in May of 2005, we marched 256 kilometers with 12,700 people, from Goiâna to Brasília. In the capital, we were received with honor and respect by the government that made seven pledges to agrarian reform and to rural social movements. We returned home happy with the agreement, but none of the promises have been kept. More than 150,000 families who participate in different social movements continue to be camped throughout Brazil. The government directive that created the productivity indices – which had not be revised since 1975 – continue to be vastly ignored by the Lula administration.

We expect the federal government to honor their own words and their signatures they confirmed with the agreements made with the peasant movements. They are so zealous in their compliance with agreements made with the landowning elite, with the IMF, and with conservative political parties…

With the strength of the community from the encampment 17 de April that houses 690 families on 18,000 hectares of the ex-Fazenda Macaxiera, we ask civil society to join us in our acts, marches and protests that will take place in 23 states.

“If we keep quiet, the stones will have to shout‿ (Pedro Tierra, poet)

Forte abraço,
Secretaria Nacional do MST

* The 17th of April was pronounced by the conference of the Via Campesina International as the International Day of Peasant Struggle in homage to the martyrs of Eldorado dos Carajás. Protests will take place throughout the world on this day. At the same time, by way of an initiative of ex-senator Marina Silva, the then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed a decree recognizing the 17th of April as the National Day of Struggle for Agrarian Reform.