Source: The Rio Times
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A leading figure in Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (the MST, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra), was assassinated last Thursday evening in the Northern state of Pará. Valdemar Oliveira Barbosa was shot to death by two gunmen while riding his bicycle through the streets of his home town of Marabá.
Barbosa became the fourth person involved in environmental or land rights movements to be murdered in the state in the last three months.
He was an active member of the Marabá branch of the MST and had coordinated the invasion and occupation of an abandoned former cattle ranch known as Fazenda California one year ago, only to be moved on by police towards the end of 2010. It is thought that he may have been killed to prevent his planned return to the property.
According to statistics released by the land rights watchdog group, Catholic Land Pastoral, more than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in Brazil in the last twenty years – an average of between four and five killings every month.
The organization speculates that local farmers, ranchers and loggers are hiring killers to silence or dissuade protests over illegal logging and land rights in the environmentally sensitive region.
According to the Brazilian Justice Ministry, the state of Pará is particularly dangerous, with a homicide rate of forty murders per 100,000 people in 2009 – almost double that of Rio de Janeiro, which came in at around 24 murders per 100,000 people, and almost seven times the average homicide rate registered by the Pan American Health Organization for the U.S. during the same period.