Landless rural worker shot by security company hired by multinational Syngenta
By Isabella Kenfield* and Roger Burbach**
In the Brazilian state of Paraná, Valmir Mota de Oliveira of Via Campesina, an international peasant organization, was shot twice in the chest at point blank range by armed gunmen on an experimental farm of Syngenta Seeds, a multinational agribusiness corporation. The cold blooded murder took place on Sunday 21 October after Via Campesina had occupied the site because of Syngenta’s illegal development of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Via Campesina and the Movement of the Landless Rural Workers (MST), the main Brazilian organization involved in Via Campesina’s actions, are calling the murder an execution, declaring, “Syngenta used the services of an armed militia.”
Syngenta is the world’s largest producer of agrochemicals and the third largest commercial seed producer. Between 2001 and 2004, Syngenta was responsible for the largest case of genetic contamination on the planet when its GM Bt-10 corn, approved for only animal feeds, was mixed with US grain meant for human consumption. Via Campesina first occupied Syngenta’s site in March 2006, after it discovered that Syngenta was illegally cultivating GM soybeans and corn. The occupation drew strong international support, and in November state governor Roberto Requião signed a decree of intent to expropriate the Syngenta farm and turn it into an agroecological research centre that would benefit poor rural families. The decree was a huge political victory for the rural and environmental movements, challenging the power of agribusiness in Brazil.
When MST organized a march on the Syngenta site in late November last year, its buses were halted by a blockade of tractors formed by about a hundred members of the Rural Society of the West, a group representing large landowners and commercial agricultural producers in western Paraná. It is part of a larger network known as ruralistas, which represents reactionary landed and agribusiness interests at the regional, state and national levels. Some Society members were on horseback and armed with guns. As the marchers began to cross the barricade, Society members fired shots into the air, and beat the marchers with sticks and clubs, resulting in the injury of nine people.
When asked why the organization had confronted MST, Alessandro Meneghel, President of the Rural Society, responded: "To show that the rural producers do not peacefully accept land invasions and political provocations... Attitudes such as these, of legally questionable [land] expropriations, send a bad message to investors, chasing them away and provoking ‘Brazil risk.’” Meneghel threatened “for every invasion of land that occurs in the region, there will be a similar action by the Society. We are not going to permit the rural producers … to be insulted by ideological political movements of any kind.”
Through its alliances with the Rural Society and other large landed interests, Syngenta succeeded in overturning Governor Requião’s decree. In July 2007, the Via Campesina was evicted from the site, relocating to MST’s Olga Benário settlement, located next to Syngenta. The de-occupation occurred in conjunction with a peaceful march by the movements, after Requião ordered the police to stop the Rural Society from confronting the marchers. Control of the property was returned to Syngenta, and it was then that the corporation hired the private NF Security company to guard the site.
A statement on Syngenta’s website claims the corporation “specifically agreed in the contract with [NF] security company not to use any force or carry weapons”. Yet, in late July families at Olga Benário were threatened by armed NF security guards, who entered the settlement and remained there for about 40 minutes. At night, the guards would fire shots in the air. These events were reported to the authorities.
As a result, in October the federal police raided NF Security’s headquarters, where it confiscated illegal arms and ammunition. The police report concludes that the NF Security company contracts individuals, many with criminal records, to form armed militias that carry out forced land evictions, and that the Rural Society numbers among its clients.
At dawn on 21 October, about 150 members of Via Campesina reoccupied Syngenta’s site, where they encountered four armed security guards, who were disarmed and left the site. At about 1 in the afternoon, Via Campesina reports, “a bus stopped in front of the entry gate and about forty armed gunmen got out, firing machine guns at the people that they saw in the encampment. They broke down the gate, then shot [Mota]. The militia attacked the encampment to assassinate the leaders and recover the illegal arms of the NF Security company.”
Five MST/Via Campesina members were wounded and remain hospitalized. Security guard Fábio Ferreira, who apparently returned to the site, was also killed. The reason for his death is unclear, although one MST member believes Ferreira was murdered because he had incriminating information he might have divulged. MST members Célia Lourenço and Celso Barbosa were chased and shot at, but managed to escape. It appears the two were targeted to die like Mota. Earlier this year, Meneghel of the Rural Society verbally threatened Lourenço at a public forum, and MST reports that on March 27th, its office in Cascavel, Paraná received an anonymous phone call advising Mota, Lourenço and Barbosa to be careful because “a trap was being prepared for them.” Mota himself registered the death threats with the local authorities. On August 28, Terra de Direitos, a human rights organization, registered the threats with the National Program of Human Rights Defenders, and requested protection for the three.
The owner of NF Security, Nerci Freitas, has admitted he gave the order for the attack on Syngenta. He has been arrested and charged with homicide and formation of gangs. No one has claimed that the Via Campesina/MST occupants were armed. The organizations are calling for the immediate arrest of Meneghel, and are demanding that Syngenta leave Brazil immediately, declaring, “Syngenta Seeds should be held responsible for what occurred.”
Mota’s murder exhibits an unsettling arrogance and dismissal of the law and the government by the Rural Society, NF Security and Syngenta, not unlike that being played out on a grander scale by the Blackwater security company and US corporate interests in Iraq. It also highlights the increasing number of conflicts between agribusiness and rural civil society sweeping Latin America, as the alliance between national and international agribusiness deepens from country to country. Mota’s death could well signal a new era of continental violence and bloodshed as the powerful agribusiness interests come up against the progressive social movements that are shaking the Americas.
*Isabella Kenfield is an associate of the Center for the Study of the America (CENSA) who has just returned from living in Brazil. She writes on agribusiness, agrarian conflicts and social movements.
**Roger Burbach is director of CENSA who has written extensively on Latin America and US policy. He is currently at work on “The New Fire in the Americas.”
Monday, 29 October 2007
Saturday, 6 October 2007
Lest we forget
In memory of the Egyptian and Syrian servicemen who gave their lives to liberate their lands from the Zionist occupiers and their American patrons.
In memory of the Moroccan servicemen and the Palestinian fighters who fought in the war of liberation on the eastern front.
In memory of the Iraqi and Jordanian servicemen who came to the aid of their Syrian brothers.
What is taken by force can be recovered only by force.
Thursday, 4 October 2007
We believe that this is the Orient House Ensemble's finest album (so far)
To listen to some audio samples
To watch us live (Sky TV Special)
To buy online:
BEING IN TIME
When I founded the Orient House Ensemble in 2000, I had just a few tunes in mind, but I also had a great belief. I was sure that music was capable of bringing people together. I was totally convinced that music could heal the wounds of the past. I was sure that music was a message of peace. I was confident that, if rivals could make it into a song, they can easily learn to live together.
Eight years later, I must admit that I may have got it wrong. This is our fifth album. We have performed hundreds of concerts around the world and somehow peace is nowhere near. Every other day a new conflict comes to life. Once a week, a newly born fear is shaped into a sinister agenda wrapped in an image of Western goodness. As far as my homeland is concerned, peace has never looked so far away. The world is indeed becoming more and more hostile.
Yet, we, the Orient House Ensemble, have done something, a thing that has very little cosmic significance. We have learned to sing together. We didn't plan to learn, we didn't educate ourselves. It just grew on us. Over the years our personal fears faded away. Our insecurities melted down. Without realising it, our music made it into a language with some very personal shapes and colours. Music has become our refuge.
I was wrong regarding music as messenger. I was wrong referring to music as an idea or ideology. Music is not a messenger, it is actually the message. Music doesn't belong to man. It is the other way around, man belongs to music. Music speaks itself through man. Music comes into play when thoughts pass away, consciousness disintegrates and ideologies implode. Music is the true Being in Time. Just give it time and let it be.
THE REFUGE TOUR
"...this is his bands finest album to date and one that best captures the spirit and vitality of their live shows."
**** Jazzwise Magazine, October 2007
"...The individuality of the music is extraordinary."
**** Alan Brownlee, Manchester Evening News, August 07
".the OHE is one of the most uncontrivedly versatile and unequivocally entertaining jazz units currently operating in the UK"
Chris Parker, The Vortex, September 07
".Gilad Atzmon has earned a reputation as an original and creative musician and composer, and that is apparent again in the eight new compositions here."
***The Scotsman, September 07
".each track on Refuge makes a statement."
**** John L Walters, The Guardian, September 2007
"...See Him Live and Buy His Albums."
****Alan Cross, Amazon, September 2007
".The new album is as passion-filled as ever."
Peter Bacon, Birmingham Post, September 2007
".Atzmon has always been one of the most distinctive saxophonists on the British circuit."
Clive Davis, The Sunday Times, September 07
".a brilliantly navigated combination of gentle, sensitive lyricism and precisely focused passion."
Chris May, All About Jazz, September 07
".the album feels tranquil and meditative.."
Phil Harrison, Time Out, September 07
".Atzmon is an astonishing musician."
John Lewis, Metro, September 07
Roger Trapp, The Independent September 07
".More sophisticated, subtle and varied than anything else I've heard them do and . absolutely overwhelming.If you can possibly see them live, do."
Aaron Broadhurst Blog, St Ives gig Review,September 2007
".He makes a lovely liquid sound and produces beautifully formed rapid roulades with every note clean as a whistle."
Ivan Hewett reviews Gilad Altzmon at Brentwood Theatre, September 07
".his phenomenal musical talent has gained him a sizeable and discerning following.The quality of the music was extraordinary.this was still a memorable and thrilling showcase for the talents of a passionate, intensely focused musician - and one which is unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry by those who attended."
Graham Williams, Live Review, Taliesin Arts Centre, South Wales Evening Post, September 07
For more information about live gigs click here.