Murder of Brazil Land Reform Activists Highlights Impunity

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The assassination of four land activists in two Brazilian states points to the impunity and networks of corruption that allow violence against those agitating for land reform.

A leader in Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) was assassinated on a farm in the northeast state of Pernambuco on Saturday, reports O Globo, while on the same day three members of the Movement for the Liberation of the Landless (MLST) were killed in Minas Gerais state in southeast Brazil.

Antonio Tiningo was ambushed and shot to death by two men on a motorcycle on a farm known as Ramada in Jatauba, Pernambuco. According to a statement released on the MST’s website, landless workers affiliated with the movement have been occupying the Ramada farm for three years. Tiningo was a leader managing the occupation.

The MST’s regional coordinator, Jaime Amorim, has accused the owner of the property of ordering Tiningo’s assassination, saying that the MST had informed state and federal authorities of threats from him.

The same day, three activists from the MLST involved in a land dispute over a sugar mill were killed in Minas Gerais. Police are investigating allegations that local landowners ordered the killings.

InSight Crime Analysis

These incidents serve as a reminder of the violent resistance that often confronts land reform activists in rural Brazil. Despite President Dilma Rousseff’s public statements of support for land reform, 2011 saw the lowest number of landless families settled in 16 years. The issue of land inequality is deeply entrencehd in Brazil, where three percent of the population owns about two thirds of the arable land.

Groups like the MST and MLST, which carry out land occupations to protest against this situation, often face violence. At least four people were murdered in the Amazon state of Para last year in killings that some linked to illegal loggers. As with last week’s killings, these had the marks of being carried out by hired killers, presumably paid by local interest groups.

Corruption plays a part in allowing these murders to take place — the MST’s statement accused local police of ignoring the threats against the workers due to the police’s ties to local business.

Those who carry out killings of activists often enjoy impunity. As the Guardian reports, despite the fact that more than 1,000 activists have been murdered in the past two decades, only 80 hitmen and 15 landowners have been convicted since 1988.

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