Hercules Santos de Oliveira, a 20 year old, peasant farmer, member of Nova Vida Settlement, located in Santa Lúcia Farm, Pau D’Arco county, State of Pará, was murdered on May 24, 2017 in a series of events later known as the Pau D’Arco Massacre
Santa Lúcia Farm is situated on state owned lands but, due to illegal occupation, the land ended up in the hands of the Babinski family. The conflict in the area started in 2013 when the first peasant’s community decided to create a settlement on part of the farm and demand that the land be designated for land reform. Several occupations and eviction processes followed, as well as a land expropriation process still pending.
In the evening of May 23, 2017, a group of 25 peasants, including Hercules, lead by Jane Júlia de Oliveira, arrived at Santa Lúcia Farm planning to reinstall the settlement. A large group of settlers was supposed to meet them there, but there were problems with the transport and they didn’t arrive on time. So the 25 peasants decided to camp in the woods near the farm’s headquarters and wait for their companions to arrive the next day. They were surprised, however, in the early hours of May 24, 2017, by the sudden arrival of a group of military and civil policemen who came shooting and killing whoever they could find.
From the group of 25 peasants, 10 died, the others were chased in the woods but were able to hide and escape due to the heavy rain. The investigation found evidence of beatings, torture and execution – several of the bullet wounds indicated the people were shot from above, showing the peasants had surrendered before being killed. The survivors described how their leader, Jane Júlia, was beaten, humiliated and shot dead while pleading for the lives of her companions.
The attackers altered the crime scene and removed the bodies before the forensic team arrived. They also said the deaths were in legitimate defense. According to them, they were there to carry out 14 arrest warrants but were received with bullets from the peasants. The investigation, though, contradicted their version showing no evidence of confrontation at all.
The policemen involved were arrested during the investigation in order to prevent witness intimidation, but were released after the inquiry and will await trial in freedom. On February 19, 2019 a verdict was issued in the case (procedure n. 0011380-25.2017.8.14.0045) determining there was enough evidence to justify charges of deliberate murder. Hence, according to Brazilian law, the case will be forwarded for a jury trial.
After what happened, the Nova Vida Settlement was renamed as “Jane Júlia Settlement” in order to pay tribute to their leader and all the companions who lost their lives in the Pau D’Arco Massacre.