By Jessica Mota, from Brasil Reporter

Police do not rule out any hypothesis, but relatives of those executed point to political crime

Each foot of beans, banana and passion fruit in the plantation of the family Bernardo da Silva is a reminder of Orlando. The dedication and the ideas of the rural worker translate into the abundance of the farm that he cared for. There, the wind blows with the intensity of the northeastern coast and makes the banana trees whisper. They’re talking about Orlando. “It looks like he’s still coming,” says his wife, Nilda. On December 8, José Bernardo da Silva, known as Orlando, 46, was executed point blank. Six shots. He was one of the leaders of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Paraíba and lived in the Zumbi dos Palmares settlement, a distance of 1h30 from the capital.


Another three bullets were also fired at Rodrigo Celestino, 38, who was part of the coordination of the Dom José Maria Pires encampment, located in the rural area of ??Alhandra, on the southern coast of Paraíba, where the crime occurred. The murders were like lightning. It all lasted three minutes. The executions arrived without warning or threat. They were all caught by surprise.


Why no one knows for sure. “At this time, no hypothesis can be ruled out, nor can we affirms a crime with specific motivation happened,” comments Roberta Neiva, a police officer at the Paraíba Civil Police.


But Orlando’s older brother, Osvaldo Bernardo da Silva, 47, does not hesitate to present his thesis. For him, it is a political death “because of the way it was executed. He [Orlando] was taking someone’s privilege and someone was bothered by it. ”


In the thesis of political assassination, the suspicions are many, due to the wide action of Orlando and Rodrigo. Rodrigo was an agricultural technician and worked to help develop agroecology and environmental protection projects in the camp. Orlando, in addition to his dedication to the MST, also worked in partnership with the brothers and sisters who were part of the Movement of the People Affected by Dams, the MAB, because his family lost everything in 2002 due to the construction of the Acauã dam on the Paraíba River, of the state. To this day no one has been compensated.


There are several suspicions ascertained by Brasil Repórter in conversations with rural workers and residents of the region. One of them is that the instigators could be entrepreneurs in the local construction industry, bothered by the attempt to preserve the sand gullies on the banks of the river that is close to the camp. Some also comment on the possibility of retaliation by the owners of the farm where the camp was founded, in the attempt to expel the encamped there. Others are suspicious that someone in the camp itself is involved. Also the motivation of a political message is not discarded, to intimidate the MST before the increasing discourse of criminalization of the movement.


Osvaldo also does not exclude the hypothesis that the crime against his brother was motivated by another occupation they led in Paraíba, at the Mascate farm in the municipality of Itatuba in 2009. In July of that year, his other brother, Odilon Bernardo da Silva, a militant of the MAB at the age of 33, was executed in an ambush in Aroeiras, a nearby town to the occupied unproductive farm and region of origin of the Bernardo family.


The Garapu farm


Dom José Maria Pires, where Rodrigo and Orlando worked, is part of Fazenda Garapu, a farm owned by Agrimex – one of 47 companies in the Pernambuco group João Santos, from Cimentos Nassau – where production is at a standstill, but bamboo still dominates the landscape. There, the campesinos try to transform the monoculture of bamboo, used mainly in the pulp industry, in cultures for feeding and producing natural cosmetics, including using the essence oil of the bamboo itself.


The MST camp has been there for one year and five months and today has 354 families. According to INCRA [Brazil’s agrarian reform agency], the process to regularize the settlement and expropriation of the approximately 5,250 hectares was initiated in March 2018. It is in the notification stage of the owners so that the technical evaluation of the organ will occur next.


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