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Project June 4, 2021

Food Giant Uses Gunmen To Intimidate Residents Out of Commercially Valuable Land

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The Maratá Group, a food giant from the Sergipe region with a strong presence in northeastern Brazil, especially in Maranhão, has for years used a controversial strategy, to say the least, to acquire productive land in that region of the country.

The company hires gunmen, known as jagunços, to intimidate and expel traditional peoples from their ancestral lands, in which the group is interested, mainly to plant soy monoculture crops. Some of the main forms of intimidation the jagunços use are death threats and shots fired at the people’s house doors and at the trees in their backyards. To carry out the expulsion of people from their ancestral lands, the jagunços also set fire to houses, crops and stored food.

In August 2019, one of these attacks, carried out in the municipality of Timbiras, Maranhão, left one resident dead of a heart attack, hundreds of people homeless, and saw a pet dog shot and murdered by one of the jagunços with a large-caliber gun. Four jagunços were arrested — three of them wore company uniforms — but were released shortly afterwards. This reporting project aims to show the intricacies of this violent land grabbing strategy in different municipalities in Maranhão and to show the impacts on the lives of the traditionally violated people, as well as the result of the investigations — or the lack thereof.

The areas in which the company carries out violent activity include several municipalities in the Amazon region of Maranhão, like Timbiras, Coroatá and Codó. These are areas where national agricultural business interests, combined with the interests of transnational corporations, designate interest zones for expanding agriculture mainly for two principal monoculture crops: eucalyptus, which is used for mining and steelmaking, and soybeans, which are produced for export.

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