New Internationalist 327 September 2000
In April 1996, on a road 500 kilometres from the city of Belém at the mouth of the Amazon, 19 people were murdered and 69 seriously injured when local police attacked a march of landless people demanding land reform. Two died later from their injuries and many suffer from the trauma. ‘There are still people who cannot sleep very well, they hear crying, bullets and gunfire at night,’ says Jorge Neri, a leader of the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST). ‘There are children who rarely leave their homes, who are afraid of the sound of fireworks. Any loud noise scares them.’
Jorge Neri has been touring nine European countries to gather support for bringing the perpetrators of the massacre at Eldorado dos Carajás to justice. Last year three police commandants were found innocent in court but the ensuing outrage meant that the trial was suspended. Since then, 16 local judges have reportedly turned the case down. The judge who eventually put himself forward, José Maria Teixeira do Rosairo, has a record of hostility towards the landless. The MST wants international observers to attend the retrial to ensure its impartiality.
Meanwhile, the violence against rural workers and activists in Brazil continues. Over the past 12 years at least 1,167 have been murdered, while only 86 suspects have been brought to trial, of whom just 7 have been convicted. The Brazilian Government is proposing legislative changes that will make it harder to secure land through the kind of ‘invasions’ the MST has been organizing to great effect for many years.
A monument to the people killed at Eldorado DOS Carajás now stands at the centre of what has become a thriving rural community, occupied by some 600 families. ‘There is a school for all the children and agricultural production has flourished,’ says Jorge Neri. ‘This shows that these people were not “bandits” or “marginal”. They died because they fought for dignity, work and freedom.’
The fact that more than 20 million people have yet to find land does not daunt him. ‘Latin America is a huge volcano,’ he says. ‘It may have been dormant for a few years, but that’s because we’ve been reorganizing from the bottom up.’
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In southernmost Pakistan, site of the Government’s nuclear tests, drought has left a trail of deaths and destruction. International aid organizations estimate it will take at least three years before life can limp back to normality.
In Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest province, at least 200 people perished due to the drought — although the Government puts the death toll at 15. Baluchistan’s Arenji area is where Pakistan tested its nuclear device. ‘The drought started immediately after the nuclear blasts. It is for the scientists to ascertain the link between the two. We have reasons to believe it was because of the detonations,’ says Akhtar Mengal, former chief executive of Baluchistan province.
Government officials emphasize there was no report of radiation in the area after the nuclear blasts in Chagai. But Mengal has doubts about their capacity to limit the effects of the detonations to the test site: ‘Even in the most advanced nations of the world, nuclear blasts are not entirely safe.’
Field workers in Baluchistan said tens of thousands of people had migrated to the neighbouring province, abandoning their dying flocks. The drought has claimed at least 75 per cent of local livestock, including goats, sheep, cattle and camels, in a region where two out of every three families depend upon the herds for their survival.
In the southeastern province of Sindh, Tharparkar district was the worst hit — at least half a million people were badly affected. The official death count stood at 127 but one international aid worker estimated the figure was 560. Oxfam says that in Tharparkar ‘around 70 per cent of the population face a 75-85-per-cent food deficit; livestock left in the desert area face acute fodder shortages; and debt for poor households has doubled.’
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Tension between ethnic groups in Kenya now has an added religious element as more youths from the Kikuyu people become members of the Mungiki religious sect. According to Maina Njenga, a founding member of Mungiki, the organization was born ‘when a number of people saw visions where we were commanded by a divine power to call upon the Kikuyu people and all Africans to go back to their roots. We in Africa had our own prophets and we should seek them instead of believing everything we are told by those who believe in Christianity.’
Members of the sect don dreadlocks, sniff tobacco, advocate female genital mutilation and are opposed to the consumption of alcohol. They are also dissatisfied with President Moi who, they claim, has discriminated against the Kikuyu when allocating funds and employment ever since he came to power in 1979; Moi is from the Kalenjin minority. Ironically, it is arguable that Moi would not be President today if Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta and his coterie of loyalists — dominated by the Kikuyu — had opted to dump him from the Vice Presidency perch that he held for almost a decade. According to Dr Shem Okoth of the Sociology Department of the University of Nairobi, Mungiki is ‘a reflection of the sordid scenario in Kenya where a certain community believes that it needs to get cohesive to protect its own from being marginalized. The religious element in the sect is only an excuse for bonding.’ The Kikuyu form Kenya’s largest ethnic community, comprising 20 per cent of the 30 million population. Now the Mungiki’s rise to prominence has fuelled an undercurrent of resentment amongst Kenya’s 41 other ethnic groups. Christian leaders are also alarmed. ‘Mungiki is primitive and retrogressive and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa has vowed to fight it,’ says Reverend Linus Kimani Mwangi in Nyeri. ‘The sect leaders are recruiting jobless youths to use them in heinous crimes, including forcibly circumcising women.’
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