The order to kill Judge Joana Sarmento de Matos, of the Criminal Execution Court of Boa Vista, in the state of Roraima, came from the criminal organization First Command of the Capital from inside the Montecristo Agricultural Prison. It was found scrawled on the lid of a container seized during a search of the cells. Farmer Cosme Capistano da Silva is the next name on the hit list of hitmen in the Boca do Acre region, in the state of Amazonas, where he is killed or killed for a few hectares. With the journalist Vinicius Rosa Lourenço, from Magé, a city in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro marked by drug trafficking and militia action, the attack occurred without prior warning or threat. Despite being in danger, they insist on their struggles in a country where the difference between life and death may lie in a sentence, a newspaper headline or the fight for land. Three lives threatened with death by the murderers because they seek justice. They are almost hostages in their homes.
Brazil is a violent country. According to the Atlas of Violence 2021, carried out by the Institute of Applied Economic Studies in collaboration with the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, in 2019 there were 45,503 homicides in the country, which corresponds to a rate of 21.7 deaths per 100,000 population. Or, what is the same, 124 murders a day. The World Health Organization considers a rate of more than 10 deaths per 100,000 to be an epidemic. That is, it spreads uncontrollably. By way of comparison, that same year in Argentina there were 5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and in Spain only 0.6.
Judge Joana Matos deals with the direct consequences of the sweeping advance of criminal factions in Brazil. “Being a judge is already an activity that involves risks,” he says. In a border state, “the situation worsens even more,” he explains, referring to the drug trafficking routes that cross Roraima from Venezuela, Guyana and the Amazonian rivers. These routes aroused the interest of the First Command of the Capital, born in São Paulo, and of the Vermelho Command, of Rio de Janeiro, criminal groups that found in medieval prisons and on the streets of the abandoned peripheries a fertile territory to grow, leaving a scar that crosses the country from north to south. Roraima, where the judge works, houses about 3,000 inmates in a space that should fit just over 1,000. In the capital, Boa Vista, where a village atmosphere once reigned, now murders are committed with the utmost cruelty: severed heads and limbs, charred bodies.
Joana Sarmento de Matos
Joana works as a judge in Boa Vista, she is responsible for all the decisions that affect the lives of state prisoners: who can leave, who changes their regime for good behavior and who goes to the lonely for committing infractions. She is threatened with death by three criminal factions: the First Command of the Capital, the Vermelho Command and the Venezuelan Sindicato. To guarantee his safety, he has only been traveling in an armored car for six years and has worn a bulletproof vest. She is always escorted by two military policemen armed with rifles, who are always with her at home, at work and even at the hairdresser.
Cosme Capistano da Silva
Cosme has lived through the hardships of modern slavery in the countryside since he was a child and has made the defense of small farmers his cause of life. The farmer, an agent of the Pastoral Land Commission, mobilizes more than 2,000 families who occupy an extensive zone of land conflict in Boca do Acre, in the state of Amazonas. His social struggle has made him a staunch enemy of the loggers, the grileiros (thieves of public lands) and the big landowners. His name is next on the hitmen’s hit list. The first two have already been killed.
Vinícius is a journalist and political activist from Magé, a kind of contemporary Wild West in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro. They have always been passionate about the news. He created and edited local newspapers to bring information to local residents. This put him in the crosshairs. After publishing a series of reports in which he denounced nepotism in the City Council, he was the target of a shooting. He is surrounded by violence: he was at the home of a fellow journalist when he heard how they shot him dead. Today he lives practically locked in his fortress, surrounded by security cameras.
Threatened with death by some of the largest criminal groups in South America, for six years Joana Matos has only been driving around the city in an armored car. The bulletproof vest has become a mandatory garment and she doesn’t walk alone either: from the time she leaves her house until she returns, at the end of the day, the judge is escorted by two policemen armed with assault rifles. His routine is limited: no restaurants, walks in the park or meeting friends at the bar. “At first it was difficult, but the human being adapts to everything,” he says. It is a rigid security plan, created so that your name does not add to the statistics of judges killed by organized crime (there is no official data on the total number).
The dynamics of violence in the countryside is different and almost as old as the country itself. Brazil went from the hereditary captaincies, during the colony, to the contemporary latifundia, whose main characteristic is the great concentration of land. In this scenario, the caudillos of yesterday have been transformed, with a patina of modernity, into the entrepreneurs of the agro-industry. But they continue to use the same violent methods as ever. The life of Cosme, a child slave in the Amazon rubber plantations who became a farmer and agent of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), is mixed with the story of the struggle in the countryside. He always defended the small farmers, which aroused the ire of the large landowners of the region and caused his name to appear on a handwritten list on paper with the objectives of the hitmen. Two of his friends were also on this list – they were killed. One was shot seven times; to the other, 15.
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Cosme’s situation is no exception. According to CPT data, from 2011 to 2020 there were 403 murders caused by violence in the countryside throughout the country. The number of land conflicts in 2020 was the highest in the entire historical series monitored by the CPT since 1985, when the report Conflicts in Campo Brasil began to be published. The Commission itself has seen 12 of its members murdered over the years, and the case with the greatest impact was that of Sister Dorothy Stang, the missionary born in the United States who was targeted by hitmen in 2005 in the city of Anapu. , in the state of Pará. In Boca do Acre, where Cosme was born and raised, life is worth a few hectares of land.
Journalist Vinícius Lourenço, 40, lives under threat after denouncing a plot of nepotism at the Magé City Hall, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The reaction to his report came in a common language in Baixada Fluminense, a region marked for years by political violence: six shots at the car he was driving on the night of August 17 this year. He was about to suffer the same fate as three of his blogger friends and political activists from Magé, who were murdered for defending an idea or making complaints. Since then, Lourenço has had to set up a kind of bunker watched by cameras 24 hours a day in order to continue working … and living. His “strength”, as he puts it.
Vinícius wakes up every morning with the great fear that at any moment the hitmen “will come back to finish what they started.” Brazil is a hostile country for journalists. In 2020 alone they murdered two, kidnapped another two, 32 were physically assaulted and 34 received threats, according to a report by the National Federation of Journalists. Taking into account all the indicators of violence against press workers, there has been a 105% increase in attacks against these professionals, according to data from the entity. The government of Jair Bolsonaro, with its constant verbal attacks on journalists, has contributed to making the situation worse.
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