Businessman turned philanthropist accused of murders and land theft in Brazil's Northeast

Euclides de Carli is considered as one of the largest land grabbers in the Northeast of Brazil.
Reporter Brasil | 2 September 2018

Businessman turned philanthropist accused of murders and land theft in Brazil's Northeast 
By Daniel Camargos | 9/2/18

(Translated from the original in Portugeuse by GRAIN)
Euclides de Carli, Vice-president of the APAE charity in São José do Rio Preto, is under investigation for grilagem (land grabbing) in Piauí, where he owns 130 thousand hectares which have been confiscated by a judge.   
Euclides de Carli is a 74-year-old bald-headed man with a grey moustache, who runs a charity bingo at the Rotary Club in São José do Rio Preto. It’s hard to imagine that the benefactor is at the same time a landowner who collected enemies and left a trail of hate wherever he went. Carli made a fortune selling and leasing land for decades, while carefully nurturing his image of a businessman-philanthropist from São Paulo’s hinterland. But among rural communities in the Northeast of Brazil, he is considered as one of the largest grileiros in the region.
Judge Heliomar Rios, from the specialised agrarian court of Bom Jesus, in Piauí, defined Carli as the “lord of the land”. The judge estimated that he has seized, through frauds and falsifications, a surface equivalent to two cities of São Paulo (300 thousand hectares). "But it could be much more than that," he says. Carli is also accused by the families of the victims and small farmers of having threatened and ordered to kill those who opposed him in the process of land appropriation. In spite of the suspicions of crimes that surround the landowner, Carli boasted he had never been convicted of grilagem.
However, he is now facing a lawsuit that accuses him of grilagem. By means of an injunction, the judge confiscated 124,000 hectares of one of his farms in the south of Piauí. One of the strategies used by Carli to obtain properties in the Matopiba region - an acronym formed by the abbreviations of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia - involves the use of oranges and a triangulation scheme with three notary offices, according to the lawsuit. Also according to the lawsuit, the notary offices are suspected of having been conniving with the scheme - they even accepted authorisations signed by dead people.
"His name causes fear in the communities and families from which he wants the land," says Raoni Azeredo, a professor at the Federal University of Western Pará, who studies land conflicts in southern Piauí. "There is a consensus that Carli is a powerful figure who always wins."
On the one hand, Carli is accused of stealing land and, on the other hand, he is considered as one of those responsible for modernising the Northeast [of Brazil] by opening the way for large soybean and cotton companies to enter southern Maranhão and Southwest of Piauí. "It's a new agricultural frontier that opens and no one will hold back this progress," Carli prophesied in a letter sent to a missionary 24 years ago.
Among his clients are agribusiness giants such as Cargill, SLC Agrícola, Bunge, Agrinvest and even international funds. In 2015, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA), a pension fund that manages the investments of five million American professors (including retired Harvard professors), also bought land from Carli, according to the New York Times.
The landowner is defined by the US newspaper as a "shadowy businessman," as well as "a land speculator accused of hiring gunmen to steal land from poor farmers by force." Reporter Brazil spoke with more than 30 people, consulted studies and reports from NGOs, and searched through documents from judicial processes that could help to shed light on Carli. Reporter Brazil insisted to interview him personally, but he denied the request citing health problems. He responded to questions sent by email, denying the accusations. “I’m not what people say I am, otherwise I would have already been arrested or convicted.”
He says he considers himself a "coloniser" and defines himself quoting the poet Cassian Ricardo: "For he who walks and carries a border on his feet walks divided: on one side he is a hero, on the other he is a bandit."
First flights
Carli began negotiating land in the 1970s in Mato Grosso do Sul. He had a fleet of airplanes to spray pesticides on soybean plantations and came to work as a pilot. He was one of the founders of the National Union of Agricultural Aviation (Sindicato Nacional de Aviação Agrícola), an entity of relevance in the sector. In the early 1990s, he sold his fleet to a nephew and set off for the Brazilian Northeast - more precisely to the South of Maranhão.
Carli, although discreet, had a good relationship with the local elite in Maranhão - which is also the State of the Sarney family. "He never lost an action in Maranhão," says Roberto de Souza Miranda, a professor at the Federal University of Campina Grande, who studied the land issue in southern Maranhão and conducted research on the entrepreneur's trajectory. One of the reasons why the grileiro was unscathed in the state, according to the researcher, was his good relationship with agribusiness clients.
CAPTION ”He who walks and carries a border on his feet walks divided: on one side he is a hero, on the other he is a bandit," writes Carli, quoting the poet Cassian Ricardo.
"Euclides de Carli acts with the endorsement of the state. He extorts land from the region and uses physical and psychological violence. He uses licit and illicit methods. From offering money below market values, ​​to using armed security to frighten families," says Professor Raoni Azeredo of the Federal University of Western Pará, who studies land conflicts in southern Piauí.
"Carli is terrifying. His security forces often put chains on the roads so that we can not pass through. They also break in our houses at night to threaten us," says Vitório Lopes, a local resident who is in a dispute with Carli for the ownership of a plot in Santa Filomena (PI). The litigation has been going on for more than a decade. In 2011, at the height of the disputes, Vitório’s brother José Antônio Lopes was murdered.
The brother of the victim has no doubt that the murderer was Carli. The police investigation concluded that the murderer was João da Cruz, relative of the victim. Da Cruz is currently outlawed and has an open arrest warrant, according to the Public Security Department of Maranhão. Lopes says that the murderer would have received an offer of R$ 30,000 for the crime. "The only enemy my brother had was Carli," he says.
Asked about the accusation of having masterminded the death of Jose Antonio, Carli says he bought the family plot and paid the victim. "Who knows? Maybe the relatives had a disagreement over sharing the plot? The killer is a relative on the run, "says the businessman.
One of the strategies of the group headed by Carli, according to the investigation against him, is to dismantle, threaten and harass the families living on the lands they’re interested in. According to Miranda, a UFCG professor, some families received money to leave their lands otherwise they would have to split them and fight among themselves.
The image that Carli wants to convey is quite different. The company website highlights the charitable actions of the entrepreneur. Web visitors are informed that he donated 47.5 tons of rice to families in the interior of Piauí, promoted social actions to raise funds for Apae and was awarded for his work at the Rotary Club in the interior of São Paulo. One can even listen to a song made in his honour, by an amateur singer, who narrates in verses the countryside origins of the entrepreneur.
They even killed the poodle
The businessman is allegedly involved in another unexplained death. João Emídio de Souza Marques, known as João Orelhinha, was one of Carli's associates in the supposed ‘grilagem’ scheme, responsible for falsifying public proxies to acquire land. In one episode, Orelhinha bought land from a farmer who had died seven years earlier. Francisco de Assis Rodrigues Santiago Júnior, prosecutor of the Public Ministry of Piauí, provided details about this and dismantled the scheme.
After decades working as the supposed strong man of Carli, Joao Orelhinha was murdered in 1998 along with his wife and a poodle dog. In the region, as per conversations with residents and with those who studied and investigated the case, their death was attributed to gunmen who would have been paid by Carli for burning files.
Repórter Brasil did not find, in the Court of Justice of Piauí, any record of conviction of the gunmen who killed Joao Orelhinha. The court’s press office conducted a search and found 18 cases in which Orelhinha is quoted, but none deals with the murder. "This document disappeared," says Judge Heliomar Rios, from the agrarian court of Bom Jesus. "If you can find it, tell me, I have not found it yet,” he added.
Asked whether he had ordered the murder of his former partner, Carli replied: "It has already become a habit. When any problem related to lands arises, I’m always the first to be suspected. " The businessman says that João Orelhinha "was regally indemnified" when he finished his work and that later he would have moved to the region of Barreiras (PI). "I do not know João's activities in that part of the state nor with whom he was involved," he says.
Prosecutor Santiago Júnior tracked the actions of Orelhinha while he was Carli’s partner. The findings of this investigation later became the basis of the lawsuit that led to the confiscation of the lands. According to Carli, the land confiscation happened because of problems in describing the location of the farms and not because of document fraud. "Entremeios has some really false documents, where I was cheated by the notary office. I had to buy the lands two or more times to fix the problem. All the lands were bought from individuals and did not constitute an appropriation of vacant lands," he says.
During his time as a businessman in Matopiba, Carli relied on the help of friends and influential people, but also faced resistance and cultivated enemies. One of them was Bruno Haspinger, an Italian religious missionary who led the Peasants' Association in the district of Balsas. Haspinger is 78-years-old and lives in Germany.
Haspinger launched a network of international NGOs in the late 1990s and a campaign to show that soy in the region was "dirty with blood." The priest says he received several death threats during the campaign. He also says that the geographer responsible for mapping the lands grabbed by Carli was attacked. "One night they jumped the wall of my house and burned all of the house’s window screens that protect from mosquitoes," recalls Haspinger.
Aside from Maranhão, Carli also made enemies in Piauí. "I had the displeasure of talking to him twice. He is an educated but vile human being. A man who lives of stealing land from others. If there was land in hell, he would take it," says rural farmer Franklin Batista, who is contesting against Carli in court over land tenure in Santa Filomena (PI).
Another declared enemy of Carli is the former state deputy of Maranhão, Manoel Ribeiro, who went to the Legislative Assembly plenary in 2012 and accused him of grilagem and deforestation of 11,000 hectares of native forest for soybean planting in the subdistrict of Gerais de las Balsas. The deputy echoes the murder charges attributed to Carli. "I will unmask, even with videos, the real face of this thug," said the deputy at the time. Repórter Brasil tried to interview Ribeiro, without success. Asked about the ex-deputy's accusations, Carli called it "inconsequential" and attributed the attacks to a land dispute between the two.
Judge Heliomar Rios himself - who ordered the confiscation of Carli’s lands - was in a three-year protection programme, escorted daily by armed police. "It was an attempt to inhibit my work. To frighten me. Today my routine is normal, but during those three years even my family was escorted," he recalls.
In replies to Repórter Brasil, Carli believes that the crimes attributed to him are the result of "envy and inability of some to see the future". He states that he just used the experience he gained in Mato Grosso and applied it to Maranhão and Piauí. "I foresaw the future and so I bought," he says, referring to the lands.
A city to call your own
The pressure made by the religious Haspinger led Carli to begin a process of improving his image, as Miranda points out. He donated land to create a town, which would be called "Vila de Carli", near Balsas (MA). The construction also provided for a road ring to drain soy from the south of the state.
Today the village is actually called Vila Batavo, because a group of people from Cooperativa Batavo live there. The place is also home to families expelled from their lands after disputes with Carli. They were "compensated" with lots in the village. In the book "The Cerrado in dispute - Global Appropriation and Local Resistance", published in 2009, UFMG professor Carlos Eduardo Mazzeto Silva tells the story of Tereza Pereira dos Santos, a former squatter who was expelled from her homeland by Carli’s henchmen and moved to a 100 m² plot in Vila Batavo, the standard size of the lots in this village. "We're here, as poor as church mice...", says the former farmer in the book, complaining about the misery situation of the village that would have originally bore Carli’s name. 
Miranda, of UFCP, also rescued Haspinger's correspondence with Carli and published excerpts in his thesis. In the letters, Carli reveals his disdain for traditional communities and towns living from extractivism. "They have never cultivated the lands they occupy, but have only overthrown the natural forest and burned it. They live on predatory hunting," he wrote in 1994. For him, agriculture without technology is a condemned crop. "There's no point in insisting on the ‘slash-and-burn’ thing that used to be done in the old days. It takes technique, money and credit."
With his shirt sleeves tucked up just below the elbow, Carli appeared in an interview on TV Rio Preto in September 2017 to announce the 4th edition of an ox raffle as part of his charity activities. The goal was to raise money for Apae, where he holds the position of vice president.
"Euclides is a philanthropic guy," says Apae president of São José do Rio Preto, Valdir Nonato. "He's a very discreet guy, even for those who own an untold fortune. There are some cool guys who like to show up. He (Carli) is not one of those." Nonato says Carli donated a lot to Apae recently and that, in the city, he owns about 30 parking lots. "The accusations against him in Maranhão are only lies which owe to the way politics are done there," Nonato believes.
To whoever puts his word in doubt, Carli recommends consulting the websites of his companies. On those, one can download certificates showing that there’s nothing against him in the courts of Maranhão and Piauí. "If everything [the lands] has been grabbed, wouldn’t it all be in the hands of Justice? It's all fake news," concludes Carli.
This report has been carried out with the support of DGB Bildungswerk.
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