Corporate Murder in Brazil


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, October 21 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, proposing to turn it into an agroecological research center 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 the MST organized a march to the Syngenta site in late November last year, its busses 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 represent 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, the Society 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 the MST, Alessandro Meneghel, President of the Rural Society, responded: "to show that the rural producers do not peacefully accept land invasions and political provocationsAttitudes 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."

Syngenta, through its alliances with the Rural Society and other large landed interests, succeeded in overturning Governor Requião’s decree. In July of this year, the Via Campesina was evicted from the site, re-locating to the 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 web site 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, which 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 October 21st, 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 the 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."


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving