Brazil: Debate on the Criminalization of Popular Movements

MST Communiqué on the Raid of Florestan Fernandes National School

Demonstrators gather in downtown Belo Horizonte - Credits: Brasil de Fato MG

November 11 Mobilization | PHOTO: Belo Horizonte, Brasil

By Cristiane Sampaio
English Translation  by Sarah DeLorenzo

Legislators and representatives of different organizations stressed their growing concern about the progress of the conservative forces.

The growing criminalization of popular movements and other left forces has been a concern of various political entities and actors in Brazil. The matter was the guideline of a public hearing last Wednesday (November, 9), at the Federal Chamber, in Brasília (DF). During the debate in the Commission on Human Rights (CDHM), representatives of various institutions expressed concern about the context of conservative progress in the country.

During the debate, the repression against the High School students movements and theattack against the MST at the National School Florestan Fernandes were highlighted.

In the attack, agents invaded the National School Florestan Fernandes (ENFF) MST school of training, without any court order. The images caught by the internal TV system of the institution showed that there was that there was an excess of force. Social organizations, movements, artists and politicians repudiated the event all over the country,

“The ENFF is a role model political training school in Brazil and Latin America, and it was built with friends of the movement, people committed to the Agrarian Reform (…) It has a symbolic load for the world’s working class, including some people who define a space as a popular university, produced and coordinated by the MST, but establishes international solidarity relationships. The fact that the police arrived at a place with this symbolism and acting in such way is an injury to all”, said the educational coordinator of the ENFF, Rosana Cebalho Fernandes.

She also highlighted the MST’s concern with the pressure episodes suffered in other States, such as in Paraná and Goiás. “Our struggle is a workers’ right, a way of organizing ourselves and we can not be incriminated and framed in a law that deals with criminal organizations simply because they are fighting. (…) This is a time to denounce and repudiate the actions that criminalize social movements”, said the coordinator.

Representatives of the students movement also participated in the audience. Students Ravena Soares Carvalho read a note of repudiation against the action of the security forces during the evacuation of the Ave Branca Media Education Center (Cemab), in the satellite city of Taguatinga (DF), the last November 1.
“They arrived saying that they wanted to talk but, truthfully, when we opened the gates, we were forced to leave the premises. They used rifles, machine guns, completely unnecessary in front of the unarmed students. (…) We consider the occupation of schools to be a fair mechanism of struggle. The only banner we defend is education, and we will continue to do so”, said the student.


During the debate, the president of the CDHM, Deputy Padre João (PT-MG), criticized the actions of the Justice System. “There is a clear persecution to certain leaders of movements, just as there is a clear persecution to former President Lula Da Silva(…) They are trying to criminalize social leaders (…) Those who fight for public education, for the right to housing, land, water, for example, are criminalized”, affirmed the President.
According to Professor Beatriz Vargas, from the Faculty of Law of the University of Brasília (UnB), the context of criminalization has references in an “unconstitutional philosophy”.

“It’s an anti democratic position, that does not recognize the right to civil disobedience, and that tries people in a disqualifying way. We perceive this in relation with the students’ occupations, for example. Students were humiliated, as if they were “sub-citizens” or people without the capacity to have an opinion on the processes with which their are directly implied”, analyzed the scholar.

She also highlighted the current situation of other movements and quoted the MST. “Many years ago they have been objects of several offensives. We can say that some offensives are institutionalized; Others are illegal. They are what we could call paramilitaries”, she said.


The audience was also attended by the former Minister of Justice and the Attorney General Eugenio Aragão; The president of the National Council of Human Rights, Ivana Farina; The former minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency Gilberto Carvalho; And representatives of the Popular Uprising of the Youth and indigenous movements.

Lawyers reject “arbitrary arrests” and denounce illegal maneuvers against the MST

La operación tuvo como foco a militantes del estado de Paraná, en la región de Quedas de Iguaçu, donde ocurren conflictos agrarios - Créditos: José Eduardo Bernardes/BdF


Lawyers of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) issued a statement in which they denounce the criminalization of their movement by Brazil’s judiciary power and the illegal acts of police repression that they are being victims of. They informed that they are taking steps to repeal the “arbitrary arrests” and denounce illegal acts against the movement.

Last Friday (November 4, 2016), the “Operation Castra”, carried out by the Civil Police of the state of Paraná, issued 14 prison sentences against militants of the MST in the states of Paraná, and Mato Grosso do Sul, and in the city of São Paulo.

In the communiqué, the lawyers stated that the “MST is a legitimate social and popular movement” with legal status and that “all Brazilian citizens have the right to organize and meet, even if it is to fight for the Agrarian Reform”, therefore “the abusive application of the Law No. 12.850/13 (criminal organizations law) on the basis that these people are MST militants, is illegal”.

Operation Castra focused on militants from the state of Paraná, in the Quedas de Iguaçu region, which is where most agrarian conflicts usually take place. According to the movement, “since May 2014, around three thousand families have occupied the areas of the Union, which were illegally appropriated by the Araupel company . The federal Justice said that the lands belonged to the Union and that they should be destined to the families who are still waiting for the Agrarian Reform”. Seven months ag,o two landless workers were murdered in the areas occupied by the company and, so far, the crime remains unpunished.

One of the arrest warrants was executed at the Florestan Fernandes National School (Guararema, Sao Paulo). Police invaded the place without showing any warrant for it and acted aggressively, threatening students, teachers and militants with firearms. As a result of that operation, “musician Gue Oliveira and librarian Ronaldo Valenca (64) were attacked and detained by the Police without justification”, says the statements.

“In relation to the actions of the Civil Police of the state of Paraná in the scope of the so-called” Operation Castra “in Quedas do Iguaçu on 04/11/2016, the lawyers of the case clarify:

1- The MST is a popular, legitimate social movement, as affirmed by the Supreme Court of Justice during the trial on 10/18/2016. All Brazilian citizens have the right to organize and meet, including to fight for agrarian reform, as well as for the country’s rural and urban properties to fulfill their social function. It is illegal and abusive to use Law No. 12850/13 (Law of criminal organizations) for the simple fact of being militant people of the MST.

2- Although the investigation orders are still not available to the team of lawyers, from the analysis of the documents to which it was possible to have access, it is verified that the weapons deployed in Operation Castra belong to EVALDO DE AZEVEDO, who was arrested a few days before in relation to another operation, and he has no connection to or relationship with the Landless Movement and the Camp Tom Tomas Balduino.

3- The attempt to criminalize the MST in the region of Quedas de Iguaçu has been taking place for years because of the large number of conflicts caused by the illegal appropriation of land in the region. As of May 2014 approximately three thousand families occupied areas of the Union illegally appropriated by ARAUPEL. The federal court declared that the lands belong to the Union and that they should be destined to the families that are waiting for the Agrarian Reform.

4- The Judicial Power of Falls of Iguaçu and the Civil Police of Paraná have acted in a partial way to criminalize the social struggle in the region. In April of this year no two rural workers were killed by the Militia Police when they were inside the MST camp, and so far no one was reported for such crimes.

5- The illegalities committed in the course of the Castra operation are serious and fragrant. There are seven unjustified actions practiced at the Florestan Fernanades National School (ENFF, in São Paulo) by the Armed Forces Armed Robbery and Assault Group (GARRA), unidentified, without a court order, invading the school by firing with deadly weapons And making threats, including death, to students, teachers and workers present. On the occasion the singer Guê Oliveira and the librarian Ronaldo Valença, 64, who has Parkinson’s disease, were arrested and beaten by the police without any reason.

6- Relevant actions and resources are already being developed by the revocation of arbitrary prisons and denunciations of illegalities committed.

Giane Alvares, Juvelino Strozake, Luciana Pivato, Diego Vedovatto and Paulo Freire.

São Paulo (SP),
November 6, 2016