Syngenta-hired militia attacks peaceful occupation

Syngenta-hired militia attacks peaceful occupation

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John Ahni Schertow
October 24, 2007
 

On Sunday, Via Campesina peacefully occupied an experimental GMO field of the Swiss company Syngenta in the state of Parana, Brazil, when it was attacked by an armed militia that killed one and critically injured 6 others.

Via Campesina issued a statement following the attack, demanding a full investigation into what they describe as the execution of Keno, a local MST leader who was shot twice at point-blank range. They are also calling for Syngenta to be held accountable because they hired the militia in the first place; as well as for the protection of Celso Barbosa and Célia Aparecida Lourenço, two other leaders of the MST who were chased by the gunmen but managed to escape.

A spokesman for Syngenta, while almost sarcastically describing the tragedy as “a quite dramatic and violent confrontation where we understand that indeed there were some deadly injuries,” asserts Syngenta had no involvement with the attack whatsoever, that the security company was hired only under contract as unarmed guards. So far, state authorities have arrested seven of the fourty-man militia.

What’s the law got to do with it?
At the heart of this is the 143-acre property where Syngenta is testing various strains of Genetically modified soya, beans, and corn.

The government of Brazil allows the use of GM seeds for some crops, but the State of Parana recently outlawed GM seeds–at least corn and soya–and has since charged Syngenta with the crime of planting those seeds, the penalty for which can be four years in prison and a complete suspension of the company’s activities in the country.

The State of Parana has been so far unsuccessful in shutting down the operation. Their hope is to confiscate the farm and transform it into an educational center for environment-friendly agriculture.

This is the precise effort of Via Campesina. In fact, Sunday’s action was an attempt to create “a Center for agroecology and seed reproduction for family agriculture and agrarian reform…”

Leading up to this, in March of last year, about 200 families occupied the land, remaining there until this past July, at which time Syngenta won a court order that forced them to leave. During the case, Via Campesina asserted the occupation was constitutionally valid because of Clause 186 in the Brazilian Constitution, which states that private property must serve a social function. Via Campesina argued Syngenta was not fulfilling this constitutional obligation.

A week of action for the MST
Sunday’s action was also one of several recent moves by the MST. On October 18, 1000 members of the MST blocked a major railroad (200 according to Reuters) operated by Brazilian mining giant CVRD in Para state, maintaining a presence until later the same day, after the government agreed to talk to them about their demands for swifter resolution to land issues.

Two days earlier, about 100 MST invaded tree plantations of Votorantim and Stora Enso paper companies, cutting down about 20 trees at one site, and allegedly destroying about 20 hectares of eucalyptus saplings at another.

The MST says these actions are part of a larger campaign against multinationals adversely effecting the land and the rights and livelihoods of Campesinos.

Visit MST Brazil and Via Campasina

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