By Rachel Mucha, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A year has passed since the April 24th, 2018, assassination of 33-year old quilombola leader Nazildo dos Santos Brito, a resident of the Turé III community in the Acará District of Pará.
According to witnesses, wealthy local farmer José Telmo Zani paid local residents Marcos Viera and Raimundo Santos to kill Nazildo. Supposedly, Zani ordered the hit because Nazildo had protested against his farm’s illegal encroachment into quilombo lands. Despite the cruel and political nature of the crime, Pará state courts continue to neglect the investigation and trial of the principal defendants.
The State Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPPA) accused Zani, Santos, and Viera of homicide and ordered their temporary detention to prevent them from further threatening Nazildo dos Santos Brito’s family and friends.
However, the Appellate Court in Tomé-Açu, where the case is being tried, claimed that Zani had “not impeded the criminal process” and thus chose only to require the temporary imprisonment of Santos and Viera.
Santos remains at large, and Viera was only imprisoned for Nazildo’s murder after his arrest in an unrelated traffic accident. Human rights advocates maintain that Zani is unfairly receiving impunity because of his wealth and status in the region.
The UN Environment decried Nazildo dos Santos Brito’s murder as evidence of increasing violence in land-related conflict in the Amazon and requested a “total, impartial, and transparent” investigation into the case.
Nazildo dos Santos Brito is one of 16 people killed in land rights conflicts in Pará in 2018, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). In 2017, Pará recorded the highest number of killings (21) of landless rural workers, indigenous people, quilombolas, smallholders of public land, fishers, and agrarian reform settlers, according to the CPT, followed by the states of Rondônia (17), Bahia (10) and Mato Grosso (9).
Zani owns Rio Negro Farm, which borders the Turé III quilombo community and allegedly wanted to expand his palm oil production onto quilombo land. Quilombos are settlements in Brazil’s rural areas, where most residents (quilombolas) are the descendants of escaped enslaved peoples of African origin.
As president of the residents’ association Remanescentes do Quilombo Turé III, Nazildo led community resistance efforts against Zani as he invaded Turé III lands to extract wood illegally. Due to threats on his life from Zani and other farmers, Nazildo dos Santos Brito asked the Federal Public Prosecutor (MPF) for special protection three months before his death.
His request was denied. “Everyone knew that this could happen,” said Laelson Siquiera de Souza, a friend of dos Santos Brito. “Nazildo was behind us, he fought for our things and this bothered people. We asked for help, but it didn’t work. Now, all we have left is to hope that justice is served.”
The State Court has yet to complete the evidentiary hearing phase of Nazildo dos Santos Brito’s case, which precedes a trial by jury. The Court suspended the first two hearings, on April 4th and April 24th, 2019, because the District Attorney of Acará failed to provide crucial witnesses for the prosecution with the correct information about the date and time of the proceedings. Another hearing is scheduled to take place on June 25th, at the courthouse in Tomé Acu.
In the meantime, local journalists at “Amazônia Real” newspaper report that Nazildo’s friends and family who testified against Zani, Viera, and Santos fear violent retribution. Like Nazildo had before his death, they have unsuccessfully petitioned for special protection from the MPPA.
“He [Zani] always intruded into quilombola territory, and this war got worse seven years ago when we received the document from the Palmares Foundation saying that the land was the [quilombola] community’s. Then, he began to threaten us directly,” according to dos Santos Brito’s brother Ananias, who has also received death threats. “Truthfully, Nazildo was the one who faced him.”
Some of the original reporting in this article was produced by Amazônia Real, a partner of The Rio Times, and translated and republished with their permission under the Creative Commons License.