Brazilian rural activist killed in GM crops protest

By staff writers
8 Nov 2007

A member of a leading workers' rights organisation in Brazil, partnered by Christian Aid and other aid agencies, has been shot dead at point-blank range after fighting broke out during the occupation of a genetically modified crops testing site.

Valmir Motta, a regional leader of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) was killed along with a security guard at the Swiss-owned Syngenta Seeds farm in the southern Brazilian state of Parana. Syngenta was created in 2000 when Novartis AG and AstraZeneca PLC merged their agribusinesses.

Five other MST activists suffered gunshot wounds and a seventh, Izabel Nascimento de Souza, was severely beaten and remains in a coma, critically ill.

The seven were amongst 200 activists from MST and an allied movement, Via Campesina, who were occupying the testing site to protest against Syngenta’s use of genetically modified seeds.

The activists let off fireworks when they entered the area at 6am on 21 October, and the security guards on duty fled. About seven hours, later a bus load of 40 armed men entered the MST encampment and opened fire.

Hannah Erlichman, Christian Aid’s Brazil programme manager said: "We are appalled that a peaceful protester has been shot dead and others wounded on land owned by a European company."

Medard Schoenmaeckers, a spokesman for Syngenta, told The Independent newspaper "We don't know what happened and we are waiting for a full police report."

He strongly denied accusations from the landless farmers that it sent an armed militia to the farm to evict them.

"We have a specific clause in our contract with the security firm stating that at no time can the guards carry or use arms," he said. "Until the police issue a report, I don't want to speculate about what happened."

The company has reportedly sent a team of lawyers from its headquarters in Basle, Switzerland to investigate what happened at the Brazilian farm.

Maria Rita Reis, a Brazilian lawyer representing MST, said: "The situation at the site remains tense. The landless workers camped in the region, and especially the MST leaders Celso Barbosa and Celia Aparecida Lourenco – who were chased by the gunmen during the attack – remain in danger. It is essential that steps are taken to guarantee their safety and avoid more death."

MST is calling on the Brazilian state to take action against Syngenta Seeds as it is a contravention of Brazilian law to ‘contract private militias.’

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