Brazil: Landless Peasants Movement Confronts Growing Right-Wing Violence

David Walters dwalters at
Mon Jul 21 22:37:54 MDT 2003

Landless Peasants Movement Confronts Growing Right-Wing Violence and
Inaction by the Government in Carrying Out its Agrarian Reform Program

The landless peasants in Brazil continue to take matters into their own
hands, occupying fallow lands they've been denied for decades. During the
six months since the PT government took office under Inacio "Lula" da Silva,
the landless peasants have increased their land occupations by 140% over the
previous six months. The movement of landless peasants, along with that of
the rural workers, is urging the new government to adopt immediate agrarian
reform measures. 

The reason for this increase in land occupations is not hard to find.
Thirty-five thousand large landownders (or latifundiarios) -- often simple
agents of the large banks or multinational corporations for whom the land's
value is mainly speculative -- possess expanses of land in the tens of
thousands of acres. In fact, 45 percent of all cultivated lands are in the
hands of just 1 percent of the landholders.

Meanwhile, 3 million people (according to the official statistics of the
National Institute for Agrarian Reform) have been deprived of lands and must
roam the countryside looking for work in jobs where they are at the mercy of
the jagunços (or hired foremen), who abuse and harass the landless peasants,
to the point of assassinating those who dare to stand up for their rights.

During the six months of the Lula government, nothing has changed for the
better for the landless peasants. On the contrary, the right wing and large
landowners have increased their threats and attacks on these landless
peasants. Their private goons, or jagunços, are purchasing more weapons. In
fact, the number of assassinations in the countryside has increased
significantly. (It is estimated that more than 2,000 landless peasants have
been assassinated over the past 30 years.)

On July 3, the Military Police, under orders from the Justice Department,
evicted violently the Chico Mendes encampment of the Landless Peasants
Movement (MST) in Pernambuco. For the past six years, 600 families have
lived here. The destruction of the encampment was massive: 180 houses,
numerous schools, a church and all the crops were destroyed. The same day,
in the state of Paraná, another squatters' camp was invaded by the Military
Police, leaving many workers severely injured. Right-wing Senators are
seeking a government edict to criminalize the MST.

[The MST was born in 1984 out of this brutal struggle for the land. Today it
organizes all the landless peasants in Brazil. It benefits from close
relations with the Workers Party and the Unified Workers Confederation
(CUT), both of which arose at about the same time as the MST.]

What has been the response of the PT government to this dramatic situation?
What have the cabinet members in charge of the ministries of Agriculture and
Agrarian Development said about the escalating violence and the struggle for
the land? 

In response to the large landowners' massive rearming, Minister of
Agriculture Roberto Rodrigues declared publicly, "I consider that everyone
who owns something has the right to defend it. Otherwise, that person is not
worthy of owning it in the first place" (Folha de Sao Paulo, May 7, 2003).
Even though Minister Rodrigues later said his comment was a "slip of the
tongue," his declaration revealed that he is a representative of the
latifundiarios, of the exploiters, of the assassins of landless peasants
throughout the Brazilian countryside.

One must not forget that Minister Rodrigues is the past president of the
Brazilian Agribusiness Association and that he campaigned vigorously last
fall for José Serra, the ruling-class candidate who ran against Lula but
lost in the second round of the election of October 27.

What about the Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rosseto, who is a
well-known member of Socialist Democracy, a current in the PT affiliated
with the United Secretariat of Alain Krivine in France?

Minister Rosetto never took issue with Rodrigues' open endorsement of the
right-wing violence against the landless peasants, though he did state that
these armed militias in the countryside "are carrying out irresponsible and
illegal actions on a local level. These irresponsible adventurers will not
have any space to promote further their violence in the countryside" (Folha
de Sao Paulo, May 7). Still, at no time has Minister Rosetto proposed any
concrete measures to dismantle these armed militias.

Nor did Minister Rosetto propose at any time that the government adopt
measures to defend the Chico Mendes encampment. Nor did he propose any
actions to stop the destruction of the encampment in the Rio Bonito estate
in Pernambuco. 

In San Gabriel (Santa Catarina), in the face of the suspension by the
Justice Department of a land expropriation, the large landowners threatened
physical violence against the MST, which mobilized to protest this unjust

What did Minister Rosseto do to defend the democratic right of the MST to
march and protest the government's decision? At a time when the landowners
are hiring goons and unleashing waves of violence across the country,
Minister Rosetto dared to declare, "We will not tolerate violent
demonstrations of the landless peasants, just as we will not tolerate the
armed militias of the landowners" (O Estado de Sao Paulo, June 4, 2003).

Further still, Minister Rosetto declared, "The task of the government is to
ensure that the law is implemented" (Ibid.). But what does this mean when
none of the provisions on agrarian reform projected by the previous
government are implemented, and when new agrarian measures promised by the
Lula government are placed on the shelf? Does this mean that certain laws --
such as those on agrarian reform -- cannot be implemented, while others,
favorable to the bosses, can be?

What does it mean to respect the law, when PM 2.183, a presidential edict
adopted under Fernando Henrique Cardoso that prohibits the expropriation of
lands that have been occupied by the MST, has not been revoked. This remains
the case even though the National Directorate of the PT voted last March to
revoke this unjust law.

Minister Rosetto would have us believe that, "Agrarian Reform is much more
than access to the land." True enough! But shouldn't providing access to the
land be the first step of any agrarian reform law? Hasn't the fight to own
and cultivate the land been at the root of the centuries-long battle of the
rural dwellers in our country? Isn't this why millions voted to place Lula
in the presidency last October 27th?

On certain occasions, Minister Rosetto has acknowledged that providing
titles to the land is the "first step" of agrarian reform. But what concrete
steps have he and his Ministry taken to guarantee access to the land by tens
of thousands of families who have occupied hundreds of thousands of acres of
fallow land -- families who have been prevented from receiving their land
titles precisely because of MP 2.183?

The answer, alas, is absolutely nothing. This is why the landless peasants
are relying only on themselves as they pursue their difficult struggle to
obtain the land. But their struggle is become ever-more difficult, as the
government's failure to carry out its agrarian reform program is simply
emboldening the large landowners and further exposing the landless peasants
and rural workers to greater violence at the hands of their armed thugs.


(The article above has been excerpted and adapted from the "Open Letter to
the Members of Socialist Democracy, Brazilian section of the United
Secretariat" issued July 8, 2003, by the O Trabalho current of the Workers
Party. For a full copy of this statement, contact The Organizer newspaper at
ilcinfo at 

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