Site icon Conservation news

Brazil evicts 80 rural peasant families, awards land thieves parcel

  • 80 families, hopeful of being granted land in the Amazon state of Pará, have instead been ordered by a Brazilian court to vacate their camp located on the parcel in just two weeks.
  • The land will then be turned over to members of the Vilela family, notorious convicted land thieves, illegal forest fellers and members of the wealthy Brazilian rural elite.
  • The judge’s decision has been called into question. Eliane Moreira, Justice Prosecutor in the Pará Public Ministry, has long criticized authorities for allowing land thieves to use the environmental register to legitimize land grabs, something the judge has now endorsed.
  • It will be very difficult for the peasant families to appeal the decision, as they don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer and cover other legal expenses.
One of the shacks at which 80 peasant families have been living for nearly a year in hopes of obtaining ownership of a small plot to call their own in the Brazilian Amazon. Their hopes were thwarted this week when a Brazilian judge handed over the plot to known land thieves. Photo by Thais Borges

(Leia essa matéria em português no The Intercept Brasil. You can also read this Mongabay article in Portuguese at The Intercept Brasil)

Until this week 80 impoverished families, camped for almost a year under black plastic tents, were hopeful that, despite violent attempts by gunmen to evict them, that they would soon win rights to a piece of land and be able to build a better life for themselves.

The camp, near the BR-163 highway in southwest Pará state, is located in an Amazonian region where violent land conflicts have escalated to very high levels recently, as illegal loggers and land thieves try to intimidate and drive out indigenous communities, traditional populations and peasant families.

When Mongabay visited the camp in November 2016, Rodolfo Ávila, a lawyer assisting the peasant movement, said that “INCRA [the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform] has destined this land for agrarian reform, which is exactly what these families are calling for.”

But on Monday, 19 June, a judge in the city of Santarém in Pará decided in favor of the Junqueira Vilela family — known nationally and internationally to be running a powerful criminal gang that steals land, illegally fells forest and uses slave labor.

The judge gave the encamped families two weeks to vacate.

The landless peasant occupation camp near the BR-163 highway in southwest Pará state near the town of Novo Progresso from which the 80 families have been ordered to be evicted by the court. Photo by Thais Borges

The court ruling came in response to a judicial action launched in April by Vilela family siblings, Beatriz and Marco Junqueira Vilela, Dorival Pandin and Heládio Cezer Menezes Machado. Three of the four are directly linked to other members of the Vilela Junqueira family, which was targeted by the Flying Rivers Operation, a federal investigation jointly launched in June 2016 by the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), the environmental agency IBAMA, and the Federal Police.

Marco and Beatriz are the cousins of Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as Jotinha, and of Ana Luíza Junqueira Vilela Viacava, both arrested for land theft, the formation of a criminal gang, illegal deforestation and other crimes carried out near the peasant camp.

Heládio Cezar Menezes Machado was accused of “coercive behavior” during the Flying Rivers Operation and partnered with Junqueira Vilela in the building of the Rochedo and Nhandu hydroelectric dams, both closed down after accusations of various illegal acts.

An area of Amazon forest cleared by the AJ Vilela gang near the Baú indigenous reserve. Photo courtesy of Brazil’s Environmental Protection Directorate (Diretoria de Proteção Ambiental – IBAMA)

The judicial decision, which was reached without consulting the peasant families, was largely based on documents presented by those bringing the action, documents that include an Environmental Rural Register (CAR) and the Authorization for the Functioning of Rural Activity (AFAR), which the judge accepted as proving ownership.

But Eliane Moreira, Justice Prosecutor in the State of the Pará Public Ministry, argues that “the CAR was never intended as a land ownership tool but as a tool for environmental monitoring.” In other words, the CAR is issued to those claiming ownership and doesn’t in itself prove ownership, while AFARs have not been valid since 2013.

The judge accepted the assurances made by those bringing the action, saying that he was confident that the land being turned over to them would be maintained “in accordance with [Brazil’s] environmental legislation.” However, according to IBAMA, more than 1,000 hectares (2,470+ acres) in the vicinity have been illegally deforested by Wander José Junqueira Vilela, the father of Marco and Beatriz.

A map showing illegal deforestation by the Vilela family carried out across adjoining land plots. Map by Mauricio Torres

The area in dispute has been divided into lots, none of which exceeds the maximum size permitted by the law. Each lot has a different CAR and, allegedly, a different owner. However, it is interesting to note (see map) that the deforestation carried out by Wander José crosses several properties, clearly suggesting that the partners have used the old Amazonian trick by which a land thief gets other people, known as “laranjas” (oranges), to register the land in their name to circumvent legal restrictions on size.

Another possible indication that those gaining property rights in the case are perhaps not as well intentioned environmentally, and as respectful of the law, as the judge believed is Marco Junqueira Vilela’s profile on Facebook. While his cousins were under arrest during the Flying Rivers Operation, he had as his Facebook “wallpaper” a satellite image of the forest illegally cleared by his family. The wallpaper was later removed.

A screenshot of Facebook wallpaper showing a satellite image of Amazon land illegally deforested by the Junqueira Vilela family.

Marco possibly believed he was thumbing his nose at law enforcement and other authorities in an amusing fashion, but some Brazilians, who saw the image via social media, viewed the deforestation wallpaper as an arrogant expression by a member of the Brazilian rural elite who believes he can steal public property, do profound damage to it, then get society to condone and reward his action — an arrogance that this week’s judicial ruling seems to demonstrate could be well founded.

Mongabay contacted Marco Junqueira Vilela by email with various detailed questions but he did not reply.

The judge’s ruling was only preliminary and the peasants have the right to be heard before the final decision is taken. However, the families have very little money and will find it difficult even to cobble together enough cash for the two-day bus fare to Santarém, let alone pay for a lawyer who can stand up to the legal onslaught that the skilled professionals employed by the Vilela family can unleash.

Moreover, by the time a final hearing would be held, the families will likely have been evicted. There is little doubt that the optimism that reigned in the camp when Mongabay visited last November will have been replaced this week by despair.

(Leia essa matéria em português no The Intercept Brasil. You can also read this Mongabay article in Portuguese at The Intercept Brasil)

FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.


COMMENT: After the publication of this article, representatives of the Junqueira Vilela family contacted Mongabay and The Intercept Brasil with the following notes in Portuguese, which we publish here in full. This update was made on 5 July, 2017:

Note 1:

Em resposta à reportagem “Justiça decide que agricultores devem deixar terras reclamadas por desmatadores”, publicada por esse site, os produtores rurais Wander José Junqueira Vilela e seus filhos Marco Junqueira Vilela e Beatriz Junqueira Vilela esclarecem que detêm a posse da área mencionada desde 1999.

Diferentemente do que alega o texto, não há e nunca houve “80 famílias” acampadas nas terras particulares dos Junqueira Vilela. A decisão judicial que expulsa os invasores menciona apenas quatro famílias. A própria foto feita pelos autores do texto mostra uma única barraca com menos de dez pessoas. Tampouco é real que a área referida tenha sido destinada à reforma agrária pelo governo. Os documentos estão à disposição dos interessados. As quatro famílias são compostas de grileiros profissionais que atuam na região, invadindo terras particulares e da União para loteá-las e vendê-las clandestinamente.

Na sexta-feira passada (23/06) e no último domingo (25/06), o Ibama fez operações na região para combater os focos de desmatamentos produzidos por esses invasores, que tiveram sua barraca queimada.


Note 2:

Caros, tudo bem?

O site Mongabay publicou recentemente uma reportagem mencionando o produtor rural Antônio José Junqueira Vilela e seus familiares.

Os repórteres autores que assinam o texto não nos procuraram para ouvir nosso lado, descumprindo uma das regras basilares do jornalismo de qualidade. Consequentemente, algumas informações contidas no texto estão erradas e há ainda muitas denúncias que já foram desqualificadas na justiça. Peço, por favor, para publicarem nossa nota no pé da reportagem.

Abaixo, segue a nossa nota. E claro, caso queiram, temos documentos judiciais comprovando todos os argumentos.

Muito obrigado. Abraços.

Diego Braga Norte

Nota de esclarecimento

O texto produzido pela Mongabay, agência financiada pelas fundações americanas Ford e Overbrook, e publicado a 20/06/17, com o título “Justiça decide que agricultores devem deixar terras reclamadas por desmatadores”, tem erros factuais que precisam ser corrigidos.

As acusações contra a família Junqueira Vilela são falsas. Os autores do texto não ouviram o outro lado. Se existe alguma “poderosa quadrilha que grila terras, desmata e explora trabalho escravo na Amazônia”, os acusadores terão a chance de provar o que afirmam na Justiça.

O texto, maliciosamente, associa a decisão judicial noticiada a Antonio Junqueira Vilela Filho, quando as terras pertencem a seus primos com quem não mantém qualquer tipo de sociedade ou proximidade geográfica.

A tentativa de oferecer um discurso ideológico em formato de notícia cai por terra diante dos fatos. Acusações feitas contra os Junqueira Vilela no final de 2016 foram agora reproduzidas — mas omitiu-se do leitor que cada uma delas está sendo desmentida judicialmente. Para incriminar a família, usaram-se gravações de telefonemas no Mato Grosso, de propriedades onde não há restrições para a produção rural, como se os diálogos tivessem ocorrido no Pará — em região que sequer é alcançada por operadoras de telefonia.

O Ibama induziu o Ministério Público e a Justiça a erro — o que agora está sendo corrigido — uma realidade que, aparentemente, não interessa à agência americana divulgar.

Por essa razão, torna-se necessária a publicação deste esclarecimento.

Exit mobile version