The killing of a child highlights ongoing land disputes in Brazil

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SÃO PAULO – The murder of a 9-year-old boy in a contested area of ​​Brazil’s Pernambuco state has exposed many Brazilians to the gravity of the current situation for rural workers awaiting land reform.

Jonatas Oliveira was shot dead by unidentified men who broke into the family home claiming to be police. Jonatas’ father, Geovane da Silva Santos, is a peasant chef at Engenho Roncadorzinho, a former sugar cane farm and mill located in the town of Barreiros.

According to the Pastoral Lands Commission of the Episcopal Conference (CPT), the area was once a major sugar producer decades ago, but now there are dozens of dormant and bankrupt farms that owe millions of dollars in taxes. to the government and in wages owed to their former workers.

“Engenho Roncadorzinho was a sugar factory that had to close decades ago after becoming insolvent. The property and all the assets it contains are worth less than what the company owes in taxes and labor debts,” explained Plácido Junior, a CPT official in Pernambuco.

About 80 families have lived in the area of ​​the old farmhouse and mill for decades. Not only are they waiting for their due wages, but they also live off the land.

“Instead of simply letting the state take control of the land because of the taxes due, the justice authorized the lease of the land to a company. This society has judicially demanded the eviction of all families from the land,” Junior said.

The eviction was stayed by the court, but the company tried to close the farm last year in order to start raising cattle. Residents interfered in the fence operation, which was the beginning of the conflict.

“After that, Santos’ house was invaded and burglarized. Now they’ve killed Jonatas,” Junior said.

As soon as he learned of the murder, Junior went to Engenho. “The whole community is scared. Jonatas’ parents are traumatized. Geovane couldn’t bear to bury his child,” he said.

Santos told Junior that a group of seven men broke down the back door of his house and shouted that they were police. He left his room and was shot in the shoulder. It was then that he heard them say, “Not the old man. We need to find Geovane. Geovane then ran away from home.

“They probably thought Santos was a younger man and didn’t know it was him. So they kept looking for their target,” Junior said. Node.

Jonatas was hiding behind a bed in a bedroom. After the men failed to find Geovane, one of them decided to pursue the boy.

“Apparently some members of the group told the man not to kill a child, but he didn’t listen to the others and shot Jonatas. His mother was begging them to leave the boy alone, but he told her. still shot it,” Junior said. Jonatas’ three siblings were in the house, but none of them were injured.

Junior described the killing as having an “educational intent”. The criminals – and their employers – wanted to show the community that they had to end their struggle to stay on the land.

“Today, the children in the community can no longer sleep at night. If someone hears something, everyone thinks a new group of murderers has arrived to kill them,” he said.

The CPT and the Justice and Peace Commission (CJP) of the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife made the murder public and demanded justice from the authorities.

“I think the Church has a fundamental role to play in seeking justice from the State. This crime cannot go unpunished,” said CJP coordinator Malu Aléssio. Node.

Aléssio said CJP attended meetings with the state of Pernambuco and the national government in Brasilia.

“The whole region where Engenho Roncadorzinho is located is contested. The violence is widespread. We have to make sure that justice is done, otherwise we won’t have peace,” she added.

Alessio said Bishop Fernando Barbosa dos Santos of Palmares and Bishop Antônio Fernando Saburido of Olinda and Recife are following the case closely.

Junior said he feared violence was growing in the area, noting that there were ten communities in conflict and around 1,500 families involved. Death threats against peasant leaders have become more common in recent years.

“Often it is the local economic forces that really control the police. That is why we have asked the Secretary of State Security to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation,” he said.

Junior said the national outrage sparked by Jonatas’ murder could shine a light on the region’s land disputes.

“The martyrdom of Jonatas draws the attention of Brazilian society to the problems of his community. It’s unfortunate that he became a martyr, but he’s playing that role now,” he said.

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