Tribune of the People

Brazil: Comrade Pele, Present in the Struggle

By Nélida Tello

On December 9, the National Commission of the League of Poor Peasants (LCP, Liga dos Componeses Pobres) published a commemorative statement for the late Jose Fonseca de Aruajo, also known as Comrade Pele, who was one of the founders of the LCP in the western Brazilian states of Rondonia and Western Amazonia.

Born in the northeastern state of Bahia, Comrade Pele’s family moved around the country when he was a child. He was introduced to the land struggle from a young age when his family and other peasants were attacked by the landlord of the land that they lived on. A priest attempted to intervene to end the violence against the peasants, despite the desire of the peasants to fight back. The priest was shot and killed by the landlord’s employees. In retaliation, the peasants killed the landlord’s gunmen.

Pele died on December 8 of this year after going into cardiac arrest and receiving negligent medical care at a hospital in the municipality of Couto Magalhaes, in the state of Tocantins in central Brazil. Pele was released from the hospital without receiving an electrocardiogram, which is a regular procedure conducted on patients who go into cardiac arrest.

The National Commission states:

We cannot fail to note our indignation at how his death took place. Pele was admitted on Tuesday night and was discharged on Wednesday morning. At the end of the afternoon of Wednesday, the 8th, he was hospitalized again, and a few hours later he died. Could it be that he was in a position to have been released, or was it due to the absolute lack of conditions in the health system they call ‘public'”

Pele was an important peasant leader in the LCP. He defended and upheld the agrarian revolution in Brazil as the only way for poor peasants to achieve dignified living conditions by conquering land and redistributing it to those who live and work on it. His political and ideological development derived from participating in the struggle to seize land in Rondonia and other Brazilian states in the countryside.

Pele participated in the Battle of Santa Elina in 1995, where more than 600 peasant families occupied the Santa Elina Farm and resisted a police attack. The peasants surrendered after running out of ammunition. After surrendering they were met with further state repression. More than 400 peasants were tortured as a result. LCP leaders and a seven-year-old girl were executed by the reactionary armed forces, and many others were forcibly disappeared.

The Corumbiara Peasant Movement was formed following the Battle of Santa Elina. The organization led the seizure of the Primavera estate in Rondonia. Pele was a key actor in the mobilization of peasants and the land takeover.

In regards to Pele’s participation with the LCP, the statement reads:

Anytime, anywhere, under any weather, sleeping under a canvas shack or somewhere a little better, where the masses clamored for the League’s support in the centuries-old struggle for land, Pele was [there]. … Pele was not intimidated by any situation. Countless times when serving the peasants, he participated in public hearings in public bodies, he put in their proper places the ‘authorities’ chosen to deceive, soften or intimidate the masses.”

He participated in a two-line struggle to determine the future of Corumbiara Peasant Movement. Some members of the movement wanted to conciliate with the old Brazilian State, while others wanted to take up class struggle. Pele defended the path of class struggle for the organization. After this struggle, the Corumbiara Peasant Movement concluded, and the Peasant Fight Commissions was initiated.

At a meeting of the National Commission of the LCP held earlier this year, Pele was criticized for running for councilor in the Brazil elections, which he later self-criticized for. The LCP upholds a boycott of the bourgeois elections. As a consequence, he was removed from the National Commission. Before he passed away, the National Commission sent him to Triangulo Mineiro, in southeastern Brazil, to fulfill a role for the commission where he did well.

The National Commission writes:

Opportunism tried to co-opt Pele with the siren song of the electoral farce. With a hard struggle of criticism and self-criticism, the comrade overcame this period and once again swore by the banner of the LCP and the Agrarian Revolution.”

The statement goes on to describe the actions and events he participated in:

Pele participated in countless land grabs, road closures, congresses, meetings, hearings, etc. He defended the worker-peasant alliance and the Agrarian Revolution. Several times he gave important interviews to A Nova Democracia, a press that he defended tooth and nail. … And recently he commanded the repossession of the Santa Lucia estate, a week after the infamous Pau D’arco Massacre, in Para, in 2017.”

Pele was known for being humble and for struggling against leaders who were authoritarian and arrogant. He taught the leaders to be humble and listen to the masses when they speak.

The statement concludes with a call to raise the red flag of the agrarian revolution in tribute to Comrade Pele:

To Comrade Pele; to the relatives that he embraced in the last years of his life, his […] partner and the children he adopted as his own, who always respected, admired, and supported him in his decision to fight, fight, and fight; to his teachers; to the thousands of masses and comrades who will mourn his departure and pay homage to him, as will thousands of peasant masses in the near future: let us continue to raise our red flags of the Agrarian Revolution, ever higher; we are going to continue to strengthen the worker-peasant alliance more and more; […] We’re going to win, Pele. That victory will also be yours.”

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