On 18 February 2020, lawyer Fernando Ferreira da Rocha was resting on the veranda of his house in Boca do Acre, Amazonas State, when two gunmen entered the house and shot him multiple times, before escaping on a yellow Bros motorcycle.
Fernando was a criminal lawyer who defended the rights of peasant families and indigenous communities in the region, who are struggling to assert their claim to the land they occupy. According to Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), which documents violence in rural areas in Brazil, the killing had all the hallmarks of an execution.
The invasion of public land by big landowners and illegal miners at the expense of Indigenous groups and small growers has led to record numbers of violent conflicts in Brazil’s rural and forest areas, especially in the Amazon. CPT reports that 2020 was the most violent year in Brazil’s countryside since 1985, the year it first began to track land conflicts in the country.
CPT’s annual Atlas of Rural Conflicts showed that in 2020, there were 1,576 land disputes, 315 more than in 2019, which had been the previous record year. More than 40 percent of the total cases involved Indigenous peoples.
According to CPT’s president, Bishop José Ionilton de Oliveira of Itacoatiara, Amazonas State, “The current administration has signaled since the election in 2018 that it would favour invasions as it is doing now.”
Land rights activists, and those who defend them, such as Fernando, are routinely harassed, threatened or killed, crimes for which there is almost total impunity.