São Benedito (Agenzia Fides) - On Sunday, March 19, around 4 a.m., the Traditional Baixão dos Rochas community, in São Benedito do Rio Preto, a municipality about 240 kilometers from São Luís, in the state of Maranhão, was attacked. According to information released by the Bishops' Conference, about fifteen heavily armed men searched the houses before setting them on fire. Families, with elderly people and children, were forced to leave their land during the night. A group of elderly people and a child were held hostage. Animals were killed and the food warehouse was looted.
The 57 families had lived communally on these lands for more than 80 years, practicing family farming and mining.
Yesterday, March 21, at dawn, shots were heard in the area and equipment was set on fire. The conflicts began in 2021, when two agribusiness-linked companies began encroaching on land and threatening residents. The invaders began to clear the land, without an environmental license, to plant soybeans. They then sued to evict the families living there.
The Episcopal Pastoral Commission for Socio-Transformative Action of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (Cepast-CNBB) and more than 50 organizations signed a "Note of Indignation" on the attack. The note asks the judicial bodies of the State of Maranhão to investigate the incident and propose solutions to put an end to the violations of which traditional communities are frequently victims in the State, guaranteeing the security of the territories and all families who experience violence in the countryside.
The note underlines that "the national context of violence in the countryside is historically marked by land grabbing, inequality, injustice and impunity. This terrorist act is not an isolated action in the region of Baixo Parnaíba, but a violent practice present throughout the country and particularly unpunished in Maranhão, which systematically attacks indigenous peoples and traditional communities".
On March 21, Monsignor José Valdeci dos Santos Mendes, Bishop of Brejo and President of Cepast-CNBB, met with the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship, Silvio Luiz de Almeida, to whom he presented a report on the human rights violations of traditional communities in Maranhão. Agro-industry is progressing, especially in the state of Maranhão, oppressing traditional communities who also suffer from the absence of the state, in addition to the granting of undue environmental licenses due to the slowness of the processes and of state connivance, and everything contributes to these attacks on the people of traditional communities", the Bishop said in a video message. (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 22/3/2023)
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