CHURCH Officials say that 75 peasant leaders involved in land reform capaigns were killed in Brazil last year. A report by the Pastoral Land Commission of the National Conference of Brazilian bishops reveals the latest figures bring to 563 the number of such activists killed by gunmen in the last six years.
"We can affirm that as long as there is no agrarian reform, democracy does not really exist in Brazil. In the countryside, the military arsenal of violence still exists intact," said Bishop Tomas Balduno of Goias, an aricultural region in central Brazil, at the launch of the report. President Fernando Cellor de Mello promised to consolidate democracy and eliminate the nation's poverty and rural violence in his election campaign of 1989, but a year after taking office his critics say both problems have worsened. The church reports charges that the 75 activists were killed by gunmen hired by rich landowners and paramilitary groups trying to dismantle the agrarian reform movement.
Only 14 of the 590 murders logged since 1985 have been brought to trial and there have been only three convictions, said Bishop Balduno.