20 years since the heroic resistance of Corumbiara!

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On the 9th of August 1995 police attacked a encampment of landless peasants killing at least 13 people and destroyed the settlement after the occupiers successfully resisted a first attempt at eviction on the 18th of July. The area was sealed by military police and the survivors were subject to systematic beating and torture.

Maria dos Santos was in the kitchen cooking with her children Vanessa, aged seven,and Romerito, aged eight, when the shooting began. Dozens of women with their children flooded into the kitchen screaming. Maria took her children by the hand and ran towards the nearby stream. Vanessa was shot in the spleen by police. Maria picked her up in her arms and crossed the stream, but by the time she reached the other side Vanessa had died. Maria ran another four kilometres with her dead child in her arms.

Nelci Ferreira, aged 23, was shot in the head with two bullets as he bent down to help another peasant who had been shot. After he reached the pharmacy for help, police grabbed him by the hair and kicked him in the face. Another rural worker, Odilson Feliciano, was hit about the head until he fell, and then shot with a revolver in the back of the neck. As he dragged himself along the ground he was kicked and beaten in the back and head. Nelci Ferreira and Odilson Feliciano died on the way to hospital. Autopsy reports confirm that they were shot at close range in the back of the head and the neck. José Marcondes da Silva, aged 49, and Ercílio Oliveira de Campos, aged 41, reportedly gave themselves up and lay on the ground in surrender. Police grabbed women by the throats and used them as shields as they approached the two men who were lying on the ground.23 The police then allegedly shot them where they lay. Ercílio Oliveira de Campos’ autopsy reveals that he received 19 bullets in the heart, lungs and head. José Marcondes da Silva was unrecognisable due to massive head injuries.

Enio Rocha Borges died in hospital from a bullet wound in the stomach. After the killings and beatings, police made the men board trucks taking them away to detention in local police stations. In the nearby police camp, peasants were detained and beaten by police and by gunmen hired by a local landowner, who participated in beatings with the complicity of the police. Sérgio Rodrigues Gomes, aged 24, who had already been shot and was bleeding, was taken away from the camp in a blue Toyota pick-up, allegedly by the private gunmen. The truck returned without him. Two weeks later his dead body, showing marks of savage beating and gunshots to the head, was found in the river Tanaru 70 kilometres away from the Fazenda Santa Elina. The CER reported that one of the dead was completely unrecognisable because the entire face and head had been totally destroyed. The autopsy reports showed that the several victims had been shot in the head or in the back, and a number had been shot at close range, suggesting that they had been extrajudicially executed. Rosália Amâncio Bispo, aged 32 and one of the witnesses to the massacre, told reporters that she saw the police handcuff one peasant, tie him up with rope to a tree, beat him and finally kill him with machine gunfire. “I will never forget that scene,” said Rosália.

Many of the peasants were ill-treated after the initial confrontation when they were made by the police to lie on the ground face down in rows for many hours. They were beaten with truncheons, kicked and stamped on, sustaining serious head injuries and some reportedly had burst eardrums. Some were extrajudicially executed after arrest. The following victims gave their testimonies to the CER: Jeremias Gonçalves, 18 years old, was beaten whilst lying face down; Messias Ramos da Cruz was shot in the neck and beaten with a rifle butt whilst lying on the ground; Wanderlei Antonio Coelho was shot twice in the legs and once in the foot as well as being beaten; Felipe Sviderski had his ribs broken and had a lot of difficulty talking due to injuries to his face; whilst he was lying face down José de Souza Teixeira was hit with a rifle butt which smashed his ear and knocked out four of his teeth; Luiz de Souza was shot in the leg and beaten around the face and body with a truncheon; Jaime Alves was shot in the mouth and beaten; Genaro Rodrigues was kicked in the face; three young women, Zelina, 26 years old, Idalina Lúcia da Silva Medeiros, 19 years old, and one adolescent girl, Paula Alves, 15 years old, were also beaten.

The CER interviewed eight adolescents in the Gymnasium in Colorado do Oeste, where some 355 of the landless were being detained. They all showed signs of bruising and beatings. At the Vilhena Hospital the CER recorded on video Mauro Batista Dias, aged 35, who received broken ribs. Later he told journalists that he had been captured by military policemen who then threw petrol over him and threatened to set him on fire. “They humiliated us as much as they could”, he recalled. He confirmed that the peasants had already surrendered when the police began to beat them. Moacir Camargo Ferreira was shot after having helped the police to load the dead bodies onto a lorry. One policeman allegedly hit Alzira Monteiro, aged 44, in the mouth with his elbow, broke her dentures and shouted in her ear, “You are rats, the landowner has money to pay and kill everyone.” The same policeman had allegedly boasted after returning from chasing peasants, “I’ve killed two, and will kill another 20.” In another incident, police removed the crutches from 21 year-old handicapped José Carlos Moreira and made him drag himself along the ground. The policeman then allegedly beat him with a piece of wood with a nail in it, that they believed he had used as a weapon.

As peasants fled in panic into the forest, it took weeks to locate all the survivors. It was feared that they might have been injured or killed in the period in which police sealed off the encampment immediately after the massacre, and before there was independent access. The body of one of those listed as “disappeared”, Sérgio Rodrigues Gomes, was found in the river Tanaru two weeks Darli Martins Pereira was also last seen with Sérgio Rodrigues Gomes and remains “disappeared”. An investigation of morgue and hospital records in neighbouring municipalities revealed that two other peasants, Oliveira Inácio Dutra and Jesus Ribeiro de Souza, previously thought to be “disappeared”, had died within two months of the injuries they sustained that day. The toll from the massacre is thus: thirteen peasant and two police fatalities and one peasant Darli Martins Pereira who remains “disappeared”.

details from 1998 Amnesty International report: Corumbiara and Eldorado de Carajas: Rural violence, political brutality and impunity

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