BRAZIL: Land reform activist murdered

Issue 

BRAZIL: Land reform activist murdered

Sandoval Alves de Lima, a land reform activist and one of the leaders of a group of landless families occupying an estate in northeastern Brazil, has been shot dead by a gunman closely linked to the owner of the estate. Five other activists have received repeated death threats and are believed to be on a death list.

Some 78 families are occupying the Fazenda Antas estate, in the municipality of Sobrado, Paraiba state. Alves de Lima was shot dead in the street on September 9 in the neighbouring municipality of Sape. The gunman, while escaping on horseback, shouted to bystanders that he was not finished, and that he had a death list with five more names on it. Witnesses reportedly recognised the killer as a gunman known to work for a powerful local businessmen with close links to the owner of the Fazenda Antas.

The Catholic Church human rights organisation Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT — Pastoral Land Commission) has repeatedly urged the state authorities to open a proper investigation into the murder. Despite the CPT providing the authorities with a list of eyewitnesses, so far no action has been taken.

The killer has reportedly been seen in public in local towns with his employer, the businessman. The businessman has reportedly told people, “This case is going nowhere ... it's just a little problem”.

The five other activists received numerous death threats before de Lima was killed, reportedly from gunmen working for the businessman and the landowner. Representatives of the CPT repeatedly denounced these threats to the state authorities. No action was taken to bring those responsible to justice or prevent the killing of de Lima.

The murder of de Lima occurred in the context of conflicts between landless peasants and large landowners throughout rural Brazil. Landless leaders are often threatened and attacked by gunmen in the pay of landowners. State authorities often fail to take action to stop these crimes or bring those responsible to justice. Military police evicting landless peasants have often used excessive force, including extrajudicial executions and torture.

In August 1995 military police and hired gunmen killed 10 landless peasants in Corumbiara, Rondonia state. In April 1996 they killed 19 members of the Movimento Sem Terra (MST — Landless Rural Workers Movement) in Eldorado de Carajas, Para state. This year a number of land activists have been killed by hired gunmen in Mato Grosso do Sul and Ceara. Those responsible are almost never brought to justice.

Amnesty International, while taking no position on the question of land tenure or agrarian reform per se, has appealed for telegrams, telexes, faxes or express/airmail letters in Portuguese or English to be sent expressing grave concern at the killing of Sandoval Alves de Lima on September 9 and at the death threats against the five other land reform activists.

These should be sent to: Dr Jose Targino Maranhao, Governador do Estado da Paraiba, Palacio da Redencao, Praca Joao Pessoa, Centro 58000, Brazil. Fax: 55 83 222 3857.

BY ELLEN STOKLAND