Criminalization of Rural Workers and Militants of the MST increases after the Coup d’État

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A great number of sentences were issued by the Judicial Power in the last year in the São Paulo regions in Brazil.

Photo Credit: Brasil de Fato

Source: Brasil de Fato / The Dawn News / December 1, 2017

Translation from Portuguese to Spanish by Pilar Troya

“As poor men and women, we are used to be beaten our whole life, but being condemned without owing anything is only to finish us off”. This is how the rural worker João*, militant of the Landless Rural Worker’s Movement (MST) of Pontal do Paranapanema, West São Paulo, defines the harsh reality they have been living in. The farmer, 50 years old, whose identity is reserved in this interview by Brasil de Fato, was condemned to fulfill 4 years of prison in a judicial process that was treated in courts for over 17 years.

The process is the fruit of a denouncement made by the State Public Prosecutor’s Office of Sao Paulo in 2000, in which he was accused, alongside other militants, of environmental crime after the occupation of the Guana Mirim Farm, located in the Euclides da Cunha Paulista Inn. Since his condemnation, the rural worker has been resisting imprisonment, which is considered by him and by the MST as another arbitrarily action of political persecution.

“They wouldn’t receive any information, they just accused us of stealing wood in the property without any other proof. In the last months, I had to sell cattle and couldn’t work in the plantation, but my kids are hungry and hunger is only solved through food. The selective Judicial Power and the coup government are just finishing off the strangling of the poorest”, he adds.

Just like him, other rural workers and militants of the MST have faced similar situations because uncountable sentences are being issued, most of them after the coup d’etat installed on the country on last year. Only in Ponral do Paranapanema, 12 militants and rural workers have been condemned in second instance and had their imprisonment decreed. Of them, one is in jail while the others are awaiting the outcome of the appeals presented in higher instances of the Judicial Power.

This is the situation of José*, 52 years old and militant of the MST, who was sentenced to prison in the current year due to an old process, opened in 2006, after participating in occupations of unproductive farms of the region. He was in prison resisting for over a year. Only after a favorable decision of the Superior Court he can now respond to the process in freedom.

“We are still in a uncomfortable situation, waiting the final decision. We remain deprived from everything. We have no contact with our comrades, we don’t have a Sunday to be with our families, we can’t work with peace. Occupying is not a crime, it is fighting for a right that is guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to land”, he states.

Similarly to José, Sebastião*, 61 years old and also a militant of the MST, was sentenced to prison in the last year as a result of a process initiated in the mid 2000s. For him, that is the reality lived by militants of diverse social movements after the coup. “We are talking about old processes which are being re-activated in this particular moment. Their idea is to take us out of the circuit and of the struggles. They want to install fear so that we can’t dedicate ourselves to the struggles”, he explains.

In the evaluation of Carlos Alberto Feliciano, professor of agrarian geography in the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), persecution towards militants of the Pontal region was intensified in the last years. For him, the discussion that should have been political passed to be a police matter. “The government won’t dialogue anymore with the social movements. They don’t understand that the fight for agrarian reform is a political and social matter, that is why they leave the resolutions in the hands of the Judicial Power, which considers it a crime”, he stated.

The majority of the open processes against rural workers and militants of the MST that participate in the occupation of unproductive farms, are accusations of guerrilla formation, theft, environmental crimes and invasion of private property. According to Hugo*, a militant of the MST, the processes start with the random identification of leaders’ names through interviews that are published in newspapers.

“Judges don’t know the reality of the occupations and assume arbitrary decisions. Today we see processes that are being re-opened with total determination. Temer’s group wants to leave the militancy out of the picture so that people won’t hear about them. We are losing great fighters before the Judicial Power”, he added.

Around 368 judicial processes were opened against 341 people in the context of the fight for the land in the 11 courts of the Pontal do Paranapanema region.

Besides old processes that are being closed with sentences by the the Judicial Power in the last months, an aggravating factor that boosts the violence towards sentenced workers and militants is the decision of the Supreme Court to authorize the immediate incarceration after the second instance judgement. In October of 2016, the Supreme Court decided that incarceration was possible even before the complete exhaustion of all the resources foreseen in the Constitution. The decision was justified as being essential for the advancement in the investigations of the Lava Jato Operation.

In the evaluation of Marcio Barreto, from the Human Rights sector of the MST, this shows the worsening of the Judicial Power after the coup. “Justice has gotten worse and wants to do things that are not contemplated by the law. The Constitution states that innocence is presumed until the last resource, but for the Supreme Court this right is worth nothing. With apologies to the Lava Jato Operation, selective justice ends up being more severe with workers and militants. It is important to say that we are resisting to these improvements because we believe that the workers are innocents and that they have the right to defend themselves”, he explained.

Another point which is added to the context of increased criminalization of the social movements, is the so called Law 12.850/13, which defines what is a criminal organization, new procedures to a criminal investigation and the ways to obtain evidence in this category. Passed over three years ago, it allows the generalization of the concept of criminal organization to any association of 4 or more people that have an structuralized action characterized by division of tasks, even informally. So, the text opens precedents to limit social movements and criminalize its members as if they belonged to an gang of organized crime and not as workers who organize themselves in a collective way to vindicate social rights that the Constitution grants.

One of the examples of the use of this law of criminal organizations against militants of the MST happened in the last months in Sao Paulo’s Western-Center region. A police investigation was opened after that occupations of the farms of Santo Henrique, the companies of Cutrale, in Borebu, and Esmeralda, in Duartina, pointed out by the MST as property of Michel Temer. In this investigation, it was determined that the militants that participated in the actions would be accused of crimes like invasion of private property, theft, damages and criminal association. One of them was sentenced with prison in August and is currently resisting behind bars.

“All the decisions made are illegitimate because these people were fighting for their rights, for the conquest of something legal, but even like that they were considered criminals. Fighting for the Agrarian reform is not a crime. These people are not marginalised people, they are victims of political persecution”, concluded Marcio Barreto

*The names of the interviewed people were changed by fictional names in respect to keep the anonymity of the sources.

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