[11/17/2005] Two Landless Workers Assassinated in Mato Grosso

Rural Workers Assassinated in Northern Mato Grosso
Police serve as private militia in land conflicts near Gleba Gama, the Nova Guarita region of Mato Grosso (MT)

Information Released by Brazil’s National Network of Popular Lawyers

Around 9:30am on November 16th, landless workers Vanderlei Macena Cruz and Mauro Gomes Duarte, residents of Accampamento Rensacer (The Encampment Rebirth), were assassinated while riding their motorcycle to work. According to information released by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), they were found dead on a road that divides lands falsely claimed by local landowners Silmar Kessler and Sebastião Neves de Almeida, also known as Chapéu Preto.

The victims were found by another rural worker, known only as Moacir, who was roughly 300 meters away when he heard the gunshots fired. Moacir summoned several other encamped residents to see what had occurred, but by the time they arrived the two victims were dead. Only late in the evening did the Military Police arrive to take testimonies, with the two bodies left on the road the entire day.

Gleba Gama is an area of public lands owned by the Federal Government, consisting of roughly 16,000 hectares. According to INCRA/SR-13 Public Document no. 114 of February 2002, this land is to be directed towards agrarian reform settlements for 336 families.

However, over 40 local landowners have created false documents claiming to own these lands. Six of them, Sinvaldo Brito, Sebastião Neves (aka Chapéu Preto), Silmar Kessler, Ladir Jacomelli, Aldo Micheli and Genir Marsango currently claim 12,000 hectares of these lands without legal title. On the 2nd of June, 2003, close to 350 families occupied the land claimed by Chapéu Preto and established the Accampamento Rensacer.

The Situation of the Landless Families is Critical

The rural workers living in this area are constantly harassed with threats of physical violence by the landowners and their private militias, comprised of masked gunmen and local police.

On the 11th and 12th of October 2005, the landowner known as Chapéu Preto and his private militia attacked the Accampamento Rensacer. The landless families were brutally attacked by members of the militia who were using barbed wire as the weapon of choice. On the same day, landowner Ladir Jacomelli forcibly removed families that had occupied lands he claimed. He went on to keep all the personal belongings which these families were forced to leave behind. During this incident, the rural workers were able to take hold of one of the guns being used against them, and found that its registration number indicated ownership by a local police official. The Public Ministry of Labor is still investigating Chapéu Preto for his use of slave labor on his lands.

According to the Mayor of Nova Guarita, Antonio José Zanatta, who has also received a number of serious death threats, there have already been six rural workers and human rights activists murdered in the region. Another victim of these threats is the regional CPT representative, Sister Leonora Brunetto, who was forced to leave the area just days ago in order to save her own life.

The threats against human rights were soo severe and constant that the National Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, of the Secretary of Human Rights of the President of the Republic, decided to visit the region to investigate the accusations. The investigating committee, along with gathering testimony from rural workers in four local encampments, sat with a number of local authorities.

During these meetings, the threats were confirmed. The gravity of the situation was discussed in a meeting held at the Fórum da Camarca de Terra Nova do Norte, on the 27th of October of this year. Present at this Fórum were Judge Dr. Wladus Roberto Freire do Amaral, Public Prosecutor Dr. Hellen Uliam Kuriki, the Mayor of Nova Guarita Antonio José Zanatta, Federal Police representative Dr. Diógenes Curado Filho, OAB-MT representative Dr. Marisa Teresinha Vesz, CPT representative Sister Leonora Brunetto, and two representatives from the National Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of the Secretary of Human Rights of the President of the Republic, Ailson Silveira Machado and Darci Frigo.

Those in attendance concluded that a, “definitive solution to the conflict around Gleba Gama depends on the agile decision on the part of the Federal Judiciary, especially regarding the release of resources by the Federal Regional Tribunal for the First Region, to immediately fund INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) activities in the region, prosecute crimes committed by hired gunmen, address the illegal organization of private militias by local landowners, and the widespread disarmament of the landless, the landowners, and their private militias‿ as the most pertinent issues discussed during the meeting.

The lack of implementation of the proposed solution is the result of a number of factors, including the criminal activities of local landowners and their creation of the Committee in Support of Titling Lands, supported by deputies Pedro Satélite and Sival Barbosa.

According to encamped families in the region, the landowners have collected millions of reals (Brazilian Currency [US$1 = R$2.85]) to prevent INCRA’s use of public lands in the region for purposes of agrarian reform.

These landowners have utilized all available mechanisms to prevent INCRA from moving forward in the region. Along with the violence used against landless workers, landowners have organized truck encirclements around the Fórum da Camarca de Terra Nova do Norte as a threat, and they have block roads into the Gleba Gama to prevent INCRA activities.

The rural workers in the region continue to denounce the slow pace at which the Federal Judiciary addresses cases regarding agrarian reform and INCRA, the agency responsible for the control of public lands to be used for agrarian reform.

In Portuguese -

The Pastoral Land Commission's (CPT) report on the violence can be accessed by visiting:

Also, the CPT has insisted upon an urgent investigation into the killings: