Planted in the Earth – press release

Book denounces current-day political assassinations in Brazil

Jair Antônio da Costa, Anderson Amaurílio, Iraguiar Ferreira da Silva, Josenilson José dos Santos, Anderson Luís and Dorothy Stang did not know one another, but they remain forever linked by a shared destiny. Their names are part of a long list of victims of a modality of violence considered extinct in Brazil since the end of the last dictatorship: political assassination.

If political assassination was once a form of State-sponsored terrorism, the situation today is rather more complex, involving militants from social movements who clash head-on with private interests (often those of large corporations, landowners or even members of the state apparatus), whose protectors decide to silence the legitimate struggle for social rights with their own hands or with the support of corrupt sectors of the Government, sometimes even the police or Judiciary.

The journalist Natalia Viana selected six cases that, when viewed from this perspective, could indeed be considered political in nature and which serve to illustrate how the Brazilian State has chosen to handle politically-motivated killings. Three of these cases concern different perspectives and struggles related to the agrarian issue, and all came to the same tragic end: Dorothy Stang, a North-American missionary involved with the Pastoral da Terra (Earth Pastoral) in Pará, who was murdered in an ambush contracted by ranch-owners; Miguel José dos Santos, leader of the Landless Movement at the Terra Prometida encampment in Felisburgo, Minas Gerais, who was killed in a massacre that claimed four other lives and left thirteen wounded – a cruel bloodbath ordered by Adriano Chafik, owner of the Nova Alegria property; Josenilson José dos Santos and José Ademislon Barbosa, Indians of the Xukuru tribe in Pernambuco, both assassinated during a struggle for the demarcation of their homeland.

The other three accounts show that it is not only social movements from the fields that have become targets for this sort of violence. Labour unions and the student movement have their own sad tales of political assassination: Anderson Amaurílio da Silva, a militant of the Passe Livre (free transport) movement, killed during a protest at the Urban Bus Terminal in Londrina; Jair Antônio da Costa, a member of the Igrejinha shoemakers union (a CUT [the Major Central of Unions] affiliate), murdered by police after a protest against a wave of lay-offs decimating the shoe industry of Rio Grande do Sul; Anderson Luís, President of the Cold Meats and Dairy Workers’ Union of Rio de Janeiro and Baixada Fluminense (also a CUT affiliate), both mysteriously killed on their way to work.

Bringing those responsible for the crimes related in Planted in the Earth to justice has been an extremely slow process. When the investigations do actually identify the perpetrator(s) (something increasingly rare in Brazil), the characteristic sluggishness of the justice system helps maintain the impunity. The case of Dorothy Stang is an example. The coverage the crime received in the international press spurred the federal government to unprecedented action. The two gunmen charged with carrying out the crime were swiftly convicted, while the first conviction of one of their contractors was only issued as recently as May 15, 2007 – more than two years after Sister Dorothy’s death.

Unionists, indigenous militants, agrarian reform movement leaders, students from the free transport movement – people fighting for social change that became victims of the inefficiency of the State, whether through omission when it came to protecting those under threat or its incapacity to punish those responsible for their deaths, thus paving the way for further crimes. After all, as the journalist Jan Rocha observes in his preface to the book, “the killing of a leader is not just the elimination of an inconvenient individual, but a blow against hope, against the future”.

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