Cândido Matias da Silva, 64, proudly shows everything he has planted over the last 11 years on a 30-hectare plot in Eldorado dos Carajás, in the Brazilian state of Pará. He walks through the vegetable gardens and points to sprouts of cale, lettuce, onions and scallions. In the orchard, he picks a tangerine, peels it and offers segments. Further ahead there are passion fruit, cocoa, cupuaçu, acerola and others, totaling more than two dozen crops.
The sales of that produce – grown without any pesticides – provide the income that supports the small farmer’s family. But that is scheduled to end on September 17*, to give way to the pastures of a livestock giant. The date was set by a judge of the agrarian court of Marabá, Amarildo Mazutti, who upheld the injunction for repossession of land filed by Agropecuária Santa Bárbara Xinguara, known as AgroSB.
The company belongs to the Opportunity group, controlled by banker Daniel Dantas, which in 2017 was on the Bloomberg list of billionaires. AgroSB has 500 thousand hectares (more than three time the size of the city of São Paulo) and 170 thousand heads of cattle in the South and Southeast of Pará.
If the repossession decision is enforced, 212 families (more than 1,000 people) that have lived at the Dalcídio Jurandir camp, on Dantas’s Maria Bonita farm since July 2008, will have to leave their land. The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), which is responsible for the camp, is trying to reverse the court decision by requesting the annulment of the injunction.
Another possibility to reverse the decision would be through political action. The MST has secured the support of the mayor and councilors of Eldorado dos Carajás, who fear a rise in the city’s unemployment rates if families are evicted. With the federal government, however, there is no dialogue, according to the MST.
Three days after the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro, the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) ordered the suspension of any ongoing procedure for land purchase and expropriation. After Repórter Brasil revealed the decision, Incra reconsidered the measure. In late March, however, the agency once again suspended land reform in the country.
Since Bolsonaro took office, there has been no expropriation under the land reform program. No settlement project was created either. Repórter Brasil obtained the data by filing an appeal under the Access to Information Law, since INCRA had refused to provide the information.
INCRA has only acted in the second stage of land reform, when already expropriated land is legalized, and final land titles are issued: 852 final titles and 14,868 concession agreements were issued from January to September. The strategy, in practice, means the end of land reform as it promotes individual titles over the creation of the infrastructure needed for settlements.
The court decision was based on the end of land reform. During the hearing that decided for the eviction, Judge Amarildo Mazutti said he was sensitive to social issues but could not ‘carry out public policies that are the federal government’s and INCRA’s responsibility’.
Mazutti’s ruling left out the area where the houses are concentrated. Thus, according to the MST, about half of the families should not lose their homes but will lose the plots where they plant. The judge declined to grant an interview.
INCRA and AgroSB began negotiations to expropriate the farm and use it for land reform in 2011. However, according to the agency’s superintendency in Marabá, the company could not prove it had the mandatory environmental reserve area at the Maria Bonita farm, which blocked the negotiation.
Negotiations have lost effect with the Bolsonaro government’s determination to suspend land reform, according to a statement sent by INCRA to Repórter Brasil, in which the agency says it wants to avoid ‘the expectation of commitments that cannot be met’. AgroSB said that after seven years of talks, the negotiations were closed, and the court’s decision confirms ‘that the company is the legitimate owner of the properties’. ‘Attempting to present AgroSB as ‘the dream-breaker of landless rural workers” does not match the facts’, the statement said.
Rural workers occupied the Maria Bonita farm when Daniel Dantas was targeted by the Federal Police’s Satiagraha operation in 2008. Dantas was arrested twice in the same week on charges of corruption and money laundering. On both occasions, a ruling by Supreme Court Minister Gilmar Mendes freed the banker.
Federal courts even ordered the seizure of 500,000 hectares of land of the Opportunity group. Operation Satiagraha was annulled in 2011 by the Superior Court of Justice on the understanding that the evidence was obtained from illegal telephone recordings.
Faith is all we have left
‘I have no pension, I’m illiterate and I don’t know how to live in the city. Sometimes I can’t even sleep at night. I keep looking at the skies and asking God to open the hearts of people at Santa Bárbara’, says Silva. Since he left São Domingos do Maranhão in the early 1970s, he has worked as a bricklayer and as an employee on rural properties in southern Pará. After participating in the occupation 11 years ago, he was able to build his house and plant the vegetable garden and orchard that now support his family. ‘This is our daily bread.’
A visit to the camp on a Sunday near lunchtime conveys a sensation of tranquility. The smell of sautéed garlic and onions can be felt from afar. Kids run on dirt streets flying kites.
The Carlito Maia Camp’s school is attended by almost 200 students and it is there that Enivaldo Alves do Nascimento, one of the members of the camp and the MST state board, receives the reporters. ‘We want to sensitize society, to show the difference between the two projects. Agropecuária Santa Bárbara’s project aims at monopoly. Our project is different’, he says.
A study conducted by a team from the Federal University of South and Southeast Pará (UNIFESSPA) shows that the eviction of families may affect the economy of Eldorado dos Carajás. In one year, camp members produce more than one million liters of milk, 120,000 tons of flour, as well as the fruits and vegetables that supply the region’s markets.
The eviction may increase the town’s urban housing deficit by over 22% and decrease Eldorado dos Carajás’s milk production by 10%, besides an increment of up to 30% in its unemployment rate, according to UNIFESSPA Professor Amintas Lopes da Silva Júnior. ‘In 11 years, they have created bonds to the territory and a whole productive infrastructure’, says the professor.
‘The town has no structure to receive these people’, says Councilman Edson Vieira (MDB), who presides over the City Council. ‘We have to reverse the eviction ruling’, he adds.
AgroSB states that, with the occupation, the company’s land ceased to ‘produce, export and hire labor’. The company reports generating 900 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs in nearly two dozen towns in southern and southeastern Pará.
Its statement raised several questions: ‘How many more jobs could AgroSB have created if the farms had continued the production that was interrupted by the invasions? What would be the volume of AgroSB’s animal and vegetable production to be sold in the domestic and foreign markets if production had not been interrupted by land invaders? What would be the economic growth rates of dozens of municipalities in southern/southeastern Pará with the increase in animal and vegetable production that cannot be done because the land was invaded?’. Read the full statement here in Portuguese.
A history of massacres
Eldorado dos Carajás became known nationwide on April 17, 1996, when 19 rural workers from the MST were executed by state police. The site of the massacre is 30 kilometers from the Dalcídio Jurandir camp. ‘It was the first time I heard about MST’, recalls Nascimento, who was 23 at the time of the murders.
A father of four, he has been camped on the farm that belongs to AgroSB for 11 years and always wonders: ‘Why do some people have so much land while others have nothing?’. He says that the camp residents are all poor people. ’Some were starving when they arrived here. They are all disenfranchised and working the land is all they can do.’
During last year’s election campaign, Bolsonaro visited Eldorado dos Carajás and defended the policemen convicted as a result of the massacre. At the scene of the deaths, known as the S-curve on the BR-155 road, the now president said: ‘The people from the MST were the ones who should’ve been arrested, they are scoundrels and bums. The cops reacted not to die’. A group of police officers accompanying the speech applauded, according to newspaper O Estado de São Paulo.
Also speaking that day was Luiz Antônio Nabhan Garcia. During the campaign, he was the president of the Rural Democratic Union (UDR). ‘When you become president, you will see what you’ll do with these people from FUNAI, IBAMA, Public Prosecutors, who do not respect private property’, he said.
Garcia is now the Secretary of Land Affairs of the Ministry of Agriculture, to which INCRA reports. In April, Repórter Brasil showed the connection between a UDR hired gunman and the murder of a MST member in Paraná.
Calling it terrorism
The President’s open hostility towards the MST is a matter of concern to José Carlos Teixeira, who lives in the Dalcídio Jurandir camp. ‘Bolsonaro calls us terrorists, but he speaks without knowing the weight of being a terrorist’, he said. ‘Terrorism is something else. He [Bolsonaro] shouldn’t say that.’ In 2004, when terrorist attacks took place in Madrid, Teixeira lived in Spain, where he worked for six years on dairy farms.
Today he lives at the camp with his wife Mikaelli Aparecida de Lima and their two children. They met when they worked at a meatpacking company in Rio Maria. After losing their jobs and having no place to live, they decided to go to the MST camp. ‘If we have to leave this place we’ll have nowhere to go. We can’t afford to buy a piece of land’, Lima says.
* Editor’s note: Amarildo Mazutti, judge of the agrarian court of Marabá, postponed the injunction for repossession of land to November 5.