Organizations publish a statement denouncing the jailing of MST activists

Struggling for land is an exercise in citizenship

On the afternoon of May 31, one of the national leaders of the Landless Workers Movement (MST), operating in Goias, Jose Valdir Misnerovicz, was arrested in Rio Grande do Sul, in a joint operation of the Civil Police of the states of Goiás and Rio Grande do Sul. Two vehicles of Goiás Civil Police were in Rio Grande do Sul and were transferring Valdir to Goiás.

That same day MST activist Luiz Batista Borges had already been in jail for 47 days. He is from the Padre Josimo encampment in Santa Helena Goiás. He is imprisoned in Rio Verde. In view of this, organizations signing this statement are outraged at the court’s partiality and want to explain to national public opinion the context and motivations for these jailings.

The arrest warrant

On April 14, 2016, a board of three judges, presided over by head judge of the District of Santa Helena de Goiás (GO) issued an arrest warrant against three small farmers: Luiz Batista Borges, Diessyka Santana, and Natalino Jesus, members of the Padre Josimo encampment, and against Jose Valdir Misnerovicz known nationally and internationally as an activist and advocate for agrarian reform.

Luiz was arrested while responding to a request to provide information at the local police station. The striking absurdity in this process is that the MST for the first time was categorized in Law No. 12,850 / 2013, which defines criminal organizations.

It seems that the court decision was worked out with the state government. Two days earlier, on April 12, the Public Safety Secretariat of the State of Goiás had downloaded the ordinance n. 446, which imposed the civil police and military state of “readiness” for two months, for supposed “protection of public order and social peace,” to accompany “possible crimes in urban and rural conflicts.” The Security Bureau foresaw violent demonstrations in the case of imprisonment of the leaders of the movement.

What is behid this decision?

The ruling relates to the occupation by more than 1,500 families linked to the MST of a small part of the Santa Helena Sugar Mill which is in bankruptcy. The mill is part of the NAOUM economic group, which is being accused in court of various crimes, including the concealment of documents and computer equipment in order to erase the evidence of fraud and non-compliance of labor obligations. There are more than two thousand labor claims pending against the group, which put its former employees in absolute poverty, deprived of basic survival needs. Unemployed workers have carried out constant demonstrations against the mill.

Not only that, the former directors, Messrs. Monir Naoum, William Naoum and Georges Naoum, were convicted of the crime of misappropriation of social security contributions, since they reduced the contributions due the workers and did not pass them on to the public coffers. In addition, the Group has consistently reneged on their tax obligations. After the declaration of bankruptcy, it was estimated that the group’s debt to the public purse amounted to R$ 1,257,829,201.07.

Therefore, the State filed a lawsuit of tax enforcement against the Mill in the Federal Court of Anápolis. It ruled that the properties of the Santa Helena Mill should be transferred to the State to settle a small part of the debt to the Federal Treasury. And that showed that the state intended the property for INCRA for the purpose of agrarian reform.

It was then that the landless workers occupied part of the property in order to put pressure on public officials to speed up the process of transferring the property to INCRA. Once the occupation had been carried out, two court orders of reintegration of possession were filed against the occupiers in separate processes. The two court orders resulted in the forced eviction of more than 1,500 families in the encampments, who were all already producing food in the area.

However, the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) ruled that the decision of the Federal Court of Anápolis was the responsibility of the court of the District of Santa Helena de Goiás. This concluded the nullity action judged in Anápolis and decided that “the property must be intended for agroindustrial activity of sugar cane and that the landless would have difficulty carrying out such activity, causing immeasurable damage to the city of St. Helena. ” It should be noted that no cane is planted in the occupied area, only soy.

Who is the criminal?

Given the above, one must ask which is the criminal organization? Who is more harmful to society? Landless workers struggling for agrarian reform, a principle enshrined in the Constitution, or the Santa Helena Mill that leaves thousands of workers on the brink of misery by not fulfilling their labor obligations, and does not honor its debts with its suppliers and the Union ?

Framing the MST as a criminal organization is the most inconsequential way to combat social movements. There is already extensive jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Federal Supreme Court and Courts of Justice stating that the struggle of the landless is an exercise of citizenship and therefore is not to be confused with crime. Throughout the state of Goiás there has never been any judicial condemnation of any land occupation carried out by the MST.

In the context of the political crisis that Brazil is now going through, the ordinance of the Goiás Security Bureau, putting their police in a state of readiness, is nothing more than the attempt to turn the state into a laboratory for repression of social movements. It’s in the context of this crisis that the reactionary forces of the latifundios and agribusiness find support for their violent actions. In 2015, according to the CPT’s report Conflicts in the Brazilian Countryside, 50 workers were killed in conflicts in the countryside, the highest number since 2004. And in these first five months of 2016, 23 workers have already been murdered. Among them the execution of two militants of the MST in Paraná stands out.

The courts almost routinely put the defense of the right to property, even when it is not fulfilling its social function, above the defense of the basic rights of citizens. It is common knowledge that agrarian reform generate more direct jobs and the circulation of wealth within the city itself, unlike the large agricultural enterprises. An example of this is the very municipality of Santa Helena de Goiás, which uses pesticides lavishly but is completely unable to produce its own food.

The arrests of Mr. Luiz Batista Borges and Valdir Misnerovicz is a clear demonstration of which side Brazilian Justice is on. When ordinary people rise up in the pursuit and defense of their rights, they are seen as criminals and a danger to society. But the dispossession of the rights of ordinary people is seen as a normal process and is the price to be paid for the development of the country. And the powers that be agree with this view.

When will we see justice emerge?

Goiânia, June 1, 2016

1.    Agriculture and Trade Policy – EUA
2.    Alianca Estadunidense pela Soberania Alimentar (US Food Sovereignty Alliance, Estados Unidos)
3.    Anti-Racist Action Los Angeles – EUA
4.    Asociación Femenina para el Desarrollo de Sacatepéquez (AFEDES) – Guatemala
5.    BIZILUR – Asociación para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo de los Pueblos – Pais Basco
6.    Brazilian Women’s Group – EUA
7.    Cajueiro – Centro de Formação, Assessoria e Pesquisa em Juventude
8.    Central de Movimentos Populares – CMP-GO
9.    Centro de Desenvolvimento Agroecológico do Cerrado Dom Tomás Balduino – CEDAC
10.    Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (CECCAM) – México
11.    Comissão Brasileira de Justiça e Paz da CNBB
12.    Comissão Dominicana de Justiça e Paz do Brasil
13.    Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT Goiás
14.    Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT Nacional
15.    Comitê de Amigos do MST – Alemanha
16.    Conferência dos Religiosos do Brasil – CRB Regional Goiás
17.    Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço (CESE) – Brasil
18.    Federação dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais na Agricultura Familiar no Estado de Goiás – Fetaeg
19.    Food Empowerment Project – EUA
20.    GAIN International
21.    Grassroots Global Justice Alliance – EUA
22.    Grassroots International – EUA
23.    Grupo de Pesquisas sobre Trabalho, Território e Políticas Públicas – TRAPPU / UFG
24.    GWATÁ Núcleo de Agroecologia e Educação do Campo – UEG
25.    Inter-communal Solidarity Committee – EUA
26.    Land Action – EUA
27.    Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform – Sri Lanka
28.    Movement Generation – EUA
29.    Movimento Camponês Popular – MCP
30.    Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragem – MAB
31.    Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST Goiás
32.    Movimento Terra Trabalho e Liberdade – Democrático e Independente (MTL-DI)
33.    National Family Farm Coalition (US)
34.    National Fisheries Solidarity Movement – Sri Lanka.
35.    Organización de Mujeres Campesinas e Indígenas CONAMURI – Paraguay
36.    Other Worlds – EUA
37.    Pesticide Action Network North America
38.    Unión de Organizaciones de la Sierra Juárez Oaxaca Sociedad Civil (UNOSJO S.C.) – Mexico
40.    Union paysanne – Canadá
41.    WhyHunger – EUA

Land & Dignity!