Two MST leaders brutally assassinated in the northeast of Brazil

On Saturday night, two heavily armed masked hitmen attacked an MST camp and murdered two MST militants José Bernardo da Silva and Rodrigo Celestino while they were eating dinner

December 10, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
Family, friends, and activists attend José Bernardo da Silva's funeral / Christian Woa

Social movements in Brazil and across the world have denounced the assassination of two members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in the Paraíba state in the Northeast of Brazil. José Bernardo da Silva, known as Orlando, and Rodrigo Celestino were eating dinner in the Dom José Maria Pires camp of the MST in the Alhandra municipality when four heavily armed, hooded gunmen entered and started shooting at them causing their death.

José Bernardo da Silva is the brother of Odilon da Silva who was assassinated nine years ago in Paraíba as well. Odilon was a member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB).

The Dom José Maria Pires camp, where the attack happened, is home to 450 families who are growing crops and producing on land that was previously abandoned and unproductive. The families have been occupying the land since July 2017. The land is part of the Garapu farm, which is part of the Santa Tereza group.

The brutal assassinations of the MST leaders on Saturday are further evidence to the systematic attacks faced by social movements in Brazil from the state and paramilitary forces. One of the central fears of social movements today is that with the election of Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil this past October, this violence will only increase. During his campaign, Bolsonaro encouraged Brazilian to arm themselves in order to combat social problems, land conflicts and the growing levels of urban violence. Many see the executions in Paraíba as the beginning of what may become commonplace under Bolsonaro.

Prior to the elections in October, Peoples Dispatch spoke with Débora Nunes, of the National Board of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) and asked about Bolsonaro’s attitude towards the social movements in Brazil, specifically MST. She commented that “the declarations of Bolsonaro with reference to the MST and agrarian reform are of explicit violence and repression. He has openly encouraged large landowners to confront the MST with ‘bullets’ from heavy arms, even gesturing how it should be done.”

Gleisi Hoffman, the President of the Workers’ Party of Brazil responded to the assassinations: “The execution of two comrades of the MST in Paraíba is very grave. The violence against social leaders will increase in all of Brazil, even before the possession of Bolsonaro”.

The MST released a statement wherein they demanded that the assassins of the landless rural workers be brought to justice and punished. “In these times of anguish and doubt about the future of Brazil, we cannot allow our destiny to driven by those who have political and economic power. As such, we continue reaffirming our struggle in the defense of the land as central to guarantee dignity for the workers of the countryside and the city,” they declared.

The President of the Unified Workers’ Central of Brazil-Paraíba also shared his reactions to the assassinations: “It is a moment of extreme sadness for two important movements of Brazil and for all of the movements; the labor movement is in mourning, the MST is in mourning and from here in a little more than twenty days a new Brazil is coming closer that is very worrying. We have seen this new Brazil with these two barbaric assassinations and it is a mere reflection of what is coming for the Brazilians that struggle for agrarian reform, for rights…we have to continue the struggle and use all possible methods to defend the working class.”

The funeral of José Bernardo da Silva was held in the chapel in the Zumbi dos Palmares settlement of the MST in Paraíba on Sunday and while the funeral of Rodrigo Celestino was held in the city João Pessoa.