Raimundo Mota de Souza Junior, leader of Brazil's Small Farmer's Movement was killed Thursday while working on a farm with his brother and nephew in the Jiboia region in the municipality of Antonio Gonzalves in the state of Bahia, according to Brasil de Fato.
Souza Junior was a staunch defender of farming techniques free of agro-toxins and of popular education. He was also a Quilombola — a descendant of Africans who fled enslavement by Brazilian authorities and formed rural, free communities. These traditional communities continue to exist throughout Brazil and are known as quilombos.
Neighbors told MPA representatives that unknown men had passed by Souza Junior's residence shortly before he was killed. His murder comes amid an escalation of rural conflict and violence throughout Brazil. According to data compiled by the Pastoral Land Commission, 48 campesinos have been killed in Brazil this year alone.
On May 24, ten rural workers, nine men, and one woman, on the Santa Lucia farm in the town of Pau D'Arco were killed by Brazil's military and civilian police as part of an eviction order led by state forces.
Survivors, witnesses and victims' family members contradicted claims by the police that said they were met with a barrage of gunfire as soon as they arrived at the farm. The campesinos said that the police arrived on the scene shooting and made no attempt to inform anybody of a legal order, with some adding that the woman killed had a bullet wound in her back.
In April, 10 more campesinos, including seniors and young people, were murdered in an encampment situated in Colniza in the state of Mato Grosso. According to Mato Grosso's Department of Public Safety, the massacre was committed by “hooded” gunmen.
In related news, Global Witness published a report last week which showed Brazil as being the most dangerous place in the world for environmentalist to work in 2016. It led the ranking with 49 environmentalists murdered throughout the year.
Billy Kyte, a spokesperson for the organization, noted that figures compiled by the group are only “the tip of the iceberg. We believe that the number of deaths are higher, however, they're not always divulged to the public or their real causes aren't always reported.”
This is Brazil's fifth consecutive year of being ranked the deadliest country for environmental workers and activists.