President of the Rural Workers Union of Rondon do Pará, in the state of Pará, José Dutra da Costa (Dezinho) fought for agrarian reform, against land grabbing and against slave labour. A leader of the Union of Rural Workers of Rondon do Pará since the 1980s he was elected president in the 90s. Since being elected president, he received numerous threats and was ambushed three times. He was always accompanied by colleagues and had police protection. However, some of the military officers who were supposed to protect him were themselves accused of having dealings with the gunmen who had been commissioned to kill Dezinho. In 1997 he spent six months away from home because of the threats.
On 20 November 2000 he was killed with three shots by hit man Wellington de Jesus who was arrested at the scene of the crime. Days before the crime, Decio Barroso Nunes, Delsão, accused of being the intellectual author of the crime, had said that Dezinho would not remain alive for Christmas.
The Brazilian state was denounced in the Organisation of American States for the death of Dezinho, especially given its failure to provide protection to the trade unionist, who had already received multiple threats. Brazil was also criticised because of the delay in bringing those involved in the crime to justice. In 2010, the Brazilian government signed an agreement with the OAS accepting responsibility for the death of Dezinho and committing to implement several public policies related to the struggle for agrarian reform.
Welington de Jesus was sentenced to 29 years in prison in 2006. However, he received a Christmas pardon and was released from prison in 2007. Other accomplices Ygoismar Mariano and Rogério Dias were summoned for pre-trial detention but they were not arrested. A third accomplice, Domício Neto, was eventually arrested by the Federal Police, but was released and then acquitted of the crime. Décio Barroso Nunes, identified as one of the intellectual authors of the crime, was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Dezinho’s companion, Maria Joelma, became a great leader and president of the Rondo do Pará Rural Workers Union after Dezinho’s death. She then also began to receive numerous threats and receives protection from the Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. She has been under police protection since 2005.