Grassroots International

Small Farmers in Brazil Need Your Help

Our partners at the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil need your help. Under the Brazilian Constitution, landless families have the right to occupy arable land that is not being used in order to grow food to feed themselves.

The small farmers and their families occupying underutilized land on the Serro Azul farm in Pernambuco have been facing ongoing threats and acts of violence. Since mid-April when the occupation began, small farmers have been shot at and physically beaten by thugs hired by the landowners. And, the local authorities have yet to start any criminal investigations or enforce any laws protecting the human rights of the families in the encampment.

Please take action today to stop this brutality and impunity against landless families in Pernambuco.

[ENGLISH VERSION of the letter appears below the main action letter content]

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SUBJECT LINE: Protect the rights and lives of landless families at Camp Gregory Bezerra

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I write to express my outrage over the case of landless families of the Gregorio Bezerra camp and request that you take urgent action to protect them from the physical violence and threats that they have endured for over a year by the representative of Serro Azul Farm, Mr. Luiz Reis, and police officer José Roberto da Costa Lima.

The Serro Azul Farm, located in the city of Altinho, state of Pernambuco, is about 1,000 acres. According to the landless rural workers, the farmland is idle and doesn’t fulfill its social function, as defined in Article 186 of the Brazilian Constitution. Therefore, the rural workers can legally demand allocation of the land under the National Agrarian Reform Program, as required by Brazilian law.

As a legitimate struggle to demand their constitutional rights, the families occupied the Serro Azul Farm on April 18, 2011. Since then these families have suffered threats, intimidation and physical violence by the farm representative, Mr. Luiz Reis, and thugs hired by him and led by police officer José Roberto da Costa Lima.

Among the many acts of violence committed against the families, we want to highlight: 

1. Shootings towards the camp at night. Two peasants - Maria Josefa of Belquior Edijane and Josefa de Lima Bezerra - and a teenager, Janaílson José da Silva, 15, were hit resulting from these shots. 

2. Incursions of armed men on the camp, pointing guns at rural workers and charging at them with horses. On one such occasion the farmer João Domingos Filho Lins was nearly trampled by a horse when resting in front of his shack 

3. Intimidation acts by armed men towards rural workers on the roads leading to the camp, including being threatened with firearms. On May 29, 2012, teenager Edvanilson Pedro da Silva had a gun pointed at his head by Mr. Luiz Reis, when he was leaving his church located in the town of Altinho. 

4. Physical attacks against workers, as in the case of Maria Josefa of Belquior, who was beaten by Mr. Luis Reis and in the case of the farmer Eraldo Alves da Silva, who was beaten and suffered two broken ribs as a result of blows by Mr. Luis Reis while the policeman José Roberto da Costa Lima pointed a gun at his head.

The landless families know that all these cases have been widely reported to Brazilian authorities, but so far the authorities have not taken the steps necessary to safeguard the lives of workers and punish those responsible for the crimes. We received information from the landless families concerning the complicity of government officials with the violence against the landless families, both within the local judicial system and the police department. Similarly, the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INCRA) has not taken the measures required by law to investigate the complaint by rural workers stating that the farmland is idle and should be transferred to the landless families.

The prolonged disregard of the Brazilian government makes it harder for the landless families to overcome their socio-economic vulnerability, since they have no real prospect of gaining access to land. Meanwhile the situation of impunity for those acting against rural workers is already resulting in very serious death threats and physical violence.

Therefore, I ask that immediate steps be taken to: 

A) End the situation of physical violence against rural workers struggling for their human rights; 

B) Investigate and punish private security forces and government officials responsible for committing serious crimes against rural workers; 

C) Enable rural workers access to land and the guarantees for a decent life, which are the only effective means of avoiding definitively this social conflict.

I hope that you take the necessary measures and protect the rights and lives of landless families.