Page 20 - Respond 2018 Magazine
P. 20


       Worst land-related killings

       in decades expose Amazon’s

       lawless frontier

       By Fabiano Maisonnave in Taquarussu do Norte

       Nine men were brutally killed in April in a remote Brazilian settlement where
       deforestation, land grabbing and violence go unpunished

       Nine men were stabbed or shot dead on 19 April over a   electricity. Several of them are the offspring of settlers
       territorial dispute in a remote area of Mato Grosso state,   who colonised the neighbouring state of Rondônia in the
       deep in the Amazon rainforest.                       1970s and 1980s. Now, they have found their own land
                                                            to farm. Known as posseiros, or squatters, they have no
       In the afternoon, hitmen swept through the land in question,   legal claim and take their chances with the inconsistent law
       known as Linha (road) 15, killing everyone they found. Some   enforcement.
       of the bodies bore signs of torture.
                                                            Fearing more attacks, most inhabitants left the region after
       The worst land-related slaughter Brazil has seen in 21 years   the violence, especially women and children. In the area
       reflects a chronic ambiguity around land rights. On this   where the slaughter took place, dogs roamed inside the
       lawless frontier, far from the gaze of the authorities, forest   houses in search of food and their deceased owners.
       clearance and conflict go hand in hand.
                                                            After the attacks, state police arrested two men they
       The rampage happened in a remote region, accessible only   suspect of carrying out the murders on the orders of a
       by an unpaved road. The closest city, Colniza, is a 7-hour   timber merchant. Squatters, however, said they had a good
       drive in the dry season; when it rains, it can take days.   relationship with loggers (all of them illegal) and blamed
       Communication here is so hard that the police were not   unnamed rival farmers for the attack.
       notified of the crime until almost 24 hours later.
                                                            Everything in Taquarussu runs informally. Despite the fact
       On 26 April, Climate Home was the first media to visit the   they have occupied some 20,000 hectares since the early
       crime scene. The journey involved an hour’s flight in a rented   2000s and that selling and buying lots are common, none
       aeroplane followed by a three hour drive in a 4×4 vehicle.  of the families has land titles. As one squatter who asked
                                                            to remain anonymous put it, “the only document is our
       Around 120 families live in a rural community called   presence here”.
       Taquarussu do Norte, a smattering of wooden houses
       with water wells and bathrooms in the backyard and no   The two government agencies in charge of land regulation
                                                            of that area disagree about who owns the land. Incra (the
                                                            Brazilian Federal Agrarian Reform Agency) said it belonged
                                                            to Mato Grosso state. Intermat, the state land management
                                                            agency, said it had belonged to a private owner since 1984,
                                                            but could not name the owner.

                                                            This imprecision is no exception. Official figures gathered by
                                                            Imazon, an non-profit research institution, show that there
                                                            are about 160,000 land claims pending regularization.
                                                         Credit: Google maps  Moreover, there are 71.3 million hectares of public vacant

                                                            lands in the Amazon, an area twice the size of Germany.
                                                            These are vulnerable to illegal logging and land-grabbing,
                                                            according to data gathered by another independent
                                                            research institute, Ipam Amazônia.
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