Brazilian authorities have revealed that six rural workers were mysteriously murdered in their homes in the lush rural state of Bahia in Brazil Sunday.
The crime, which was only announced Tuesday, is the latest in a wave of killings targeting residents in the disputed Iuna Quilombola Territory that lies in the city of Lencois. The murders bring to eight the number of those killed in disputed lands in Bahia within less than a month.
According to authorities, the victims lived in two neighboring homes — four in one house and two in the other — and were killed by men in an unidentified black vehicle. Each victim was shot four to six times. All were quilombolas — the descendants of Afro-Indigenous Brazilians who escaped from slavery to hinterland settlements known as Quilombos.
The victims have been identified as Adeilton Brito de Souza, Gildasio Bispo das Neves, Amauri Pereira Silva, Valdir Pereira Silva, Marcos Pereira Silva and Cosme Rosario da Conceicao
While state security forces are investigating possible links between the victims and drug traffickers, the crimes have shed light on an ongoing dispute between quilombolas and farmers who want the quilombolas expelled from the region.
In 2010, the Quilombola Territory of Iuna began the process of gaining legal recognition and titles to the land. The roughly 3,500-acre territory is home to 1,400 residents and is in the city of Lencois, a major eco-tourist destination and the starting point for treks into Chapada Diamantina National Park. The park spans a highland region of canyons and waterfalls known for its hiking trails, which were opened by miners searching for diamonds, gold and other precious minerals.
While in theory, Brazil's 1988 Constitution assures quilombos titles to lands they historically are located on, very few quilombos actually enjoy legal recognition. According to recent data, 303 quilombo territories in Bahia state alone are seeking regularization, but only 34 are in an advanced state of regularization. The state still has no legally-recognized quilombola territories, while 19 territories have been identified as disputed land claimed by third parties.
On July 16, quilombola Lindomar Fernandes Martins was fatally shot six times on a road leading into Iuna. No one was arrested for the crime. The next day — also in Bahia — Jose Raimundo Mota de Souza, Jr., the president of the Association of Rural Workers in the Jiboia Quilombola Community, was shot dead while working in the fields with his brothers and family members.
The Association of Rural Workers' Advocates and Catholic Church-linked Pastoral Land Commission, as well as the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform — the government agency charged with processing quilombo land claims — have issued messages of solidarity with the victims' families and urged authorities to investigate and prosecute those involved in Sunday's killings.