Landless Workers could become subject to Brazil’s Antiterrorism Law

BY
Landless Workers Movements could become subject to Brazil’s Antiterrorism Law

Brazil’s antiterrorism law could get more restrictive.

Earlier this week, militant members of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) occupied the triplex used as evidence of former President Lula in the corruption charges leveraged against him. Guilherme Boulos, a national coordinator for the movement and current presidential candidate, quipped on social media: “If it’s Lula’s, the people can stay. If not, then why is he in jail?”

But the MTST and its rural counterpart, the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement), are proving to be a thorn in the side of Brazil’s current conservative administration. The MST has been occupying land for more than 30 years, often over issues related to land rights. While the Constitution provides their right to do so, the actions of the two groups could soon be subject to Brazil’s Antiterrorism Law.

Just months before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil signed off on its first piece of legislation to counteract terrorism. The United Nations and human rights NGOs including Conectas and Greenpeace condemned the Antiterrorism Law instantly, saying that it contained clauses that threatened the rights of protestors.

Amerigo Incalcaterra, Representative in South America of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at the time that “the bill includes provisions and definitions that are too vague and ambiguous, which are ultimately incompatible with the international human rights standards.”

The MST, too, made an uncanny prediction in their criticism, saying that the bill would “be used by conservative sectors of society against legitimate demonstrations of various social movements”. By February this year, a proposed change to the law that could specifically target the movement’s activists was rapidly gaining signatures in Congress. By March 13, it had secured enough signatures to warrant an urgent vote.

How changes in the Antiterrorism Law could harm MST and MTST

The amendment, proposed by representative Jerônimo Goergen (PP-RS), hopes to modify Article 2 of the Antiterrorism Law by upping the maximum prison sentence. Additionally, its lobby to remove a clause that protects “political manifestations, social movements, trade unions, religious, class or professional category, directed by social or reclamation purposes”, thereby potentially blurring legal definitions of terrorism.

Goergen, a member of Congress’s agricultural lobby himself, has not been subtle about the proposed amendment’s targets. “We propose a penalty of 12-30 years for invasions of those so-called social movements – which have nothing social about them. They are not legal entities, and use human misery for their electoral gain. That’s why Boulos is even a candidate for the presidency,” he said in a video.

Nor is such an idea only popular among Brazil’s uber-conservative politicians. Flávio Rocha, the former owner of department store giant Riachuelo turned aspiring ‘reasonable right-wing’ presidential candidate, was among those to voice support. Even as far back as 2009, in the last throes of the Lula government, research from IBOPE found that 92 percent of the public disapproved of the MST’s land occupations.

Even before this change, the legislation had already been used to arrest MST leader José Valdir Misnerovicz in May 2016. He was only freed after Senator Paulo Paim requested that his trial was prioritised, following several months of preventative imprisonment.

Growing threats to rights endangering lives

Farmer and landowner reactions to the MST indicate that they see the groups as criminals engaging in guerrilla warfare. In January, a video in which farmers describe their efforts to remove MST from the land as they set fire to the remainders of the MST barracks earned 266 thousand views on YouTube. No police or law enforcement agents were present in the video, or mentioned by its narrator.

A second video, shared by right-wing pressure group Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), was cited by Goergen in an interview with Congresso em Foco as an evidence that vigilante justice is currently necessary to combat the MST. The video purports to show MST workers plundering farms in Correntina, in western Bahia. The MST released a statement calling out the misinformation; the video was actually a protest in response to power outages.

But Goergen’s efforts show that legislative attempts undermining the MST and MTST’s right to occupy spaces have arrived at a precarious moment for Brazil’s constitutionally guaranteed rights. In a study published this week, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) found that 2017 was the deadliest year on record for land rights defenders since 2003.

Over the course of 2017, the CPT’s study found that 70 such defenders murdered last year. The intensification of such violence is recent: the report found that numbers had increased by 15 percent from 2016. Amnesty International also found that 2017 was a dangerous time to be a human rights defender in Brazil, with increasing numbers of lethal attacks.

The original target of the Antiterrorism Law was drug cartels, like the Red Command (CV) and the First Capital Command (PCC). The law’s author, representative Edson Moreira, confirmed to El País in 2017 that he never intended it to be leveraged to target social movements, which form a healthy part of democracy. However, the law’s practical use will depend heavily on amendments and their interpretations.

Read the full story NOW!

Tags: , , ,


About the author

Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.