Brazil: Leading land rights activist shot dead in hospital while recovering from previous attempt on his life

Waldomiro Costa Pereira, an activist with the Landless Workers Movement (MST), was killed on Monday 20 March, when gunmen stormed the hospital in Parauapebas in north-eastern Brazil’s Pará state where he was recovering from an earlier attempt on his life.

Video footage from the hospital security system shows the killers arriving on two motorbikes at the hospital where they overpowered the security guards before heading straight to the room where Waldomiro was recovering from surgery.

Waldomiro was a survivor of the April 17, 1996 massacre in the Amazonian State of Pará in which 19 peasants were killed. The policemen who were accused of carrying out that massacre are still awaiting trial. Although Waldomiro had resigned two years ago as one of the regional leaders of the MST in Pará, he was still considered one of the most important activists in the peasant movement in the region.

Brazil has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for land rights activists – with 61 killings last year – the highest level since 2003, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a Brazilian advocacy group. According to an MST spokesperson, “Impunity has become commonplace, as has the action of criminal militia groups.” The spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, said  that Pereira had been a long-time activist in the struggle for agrarian reform.

Conflicts over territory are common in Brazil where 1% of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s land, according to a 2016 study from the University of Windsor in Canada.

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