The Guardian June 14, 2000


Brazil: When I have land

by Mireya Castaneda

The Earth, in capitals, is everyone's home. However, when we speak of the 
land, the main problem is not discovery, rather it is rooted in its 
singularly unfair distribution. Nor is ruthlessness with regard to property 
unique to one country, and the recent activities of the Landless Movement 
(MST) highlights it.

Percentages and figures are almost always viewed with scepticism, because 
it is acknowledged that they can be manipulated to suit any argument. It is 
enough just to find the right angle in order to prove a point.

Nevertheless, there is always an exception to the rule and there are 
extremely enlightening ones which give immediate insight into a situation.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with a total surface area 
of 8,547,403 square kilometres and a population of 162,161,707. Yet less 
than three percent of the population monopolises 60 percent of the farm 
land.

If these figures were not enough on their own to demonstrate the terrible 
inequality, Raul Jungmann, Minister of Agrarian Development (in charge of 
agrarian reform), recently said to the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo 
that he suspects that the property deeds for 75 percent of these estates 
are false.

The Government has only received (up until April) the deeds of ownership 
for five of the 93 million hectares that make up the large estates.

When Joao Goulart assumed power in 1961, he began to approve legislative 
measures for certain basic reforms, among them the expropriation of land 
which was not exploited. But his government was overthrown, which brought 
the land redistribution program to a halt.

Twenty years later, the Landless Movement (MST) began. The landless 
campesinos decided to occupy unproductive land and fight for ownership in 
the courts. It was a reaction to the patent slowness of agrarian reform, 
the implementation of which is guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution.

Even though the present Government of Henrique Cardoso states that 14 
million hectares of land have been distributed since 1994, almost double 
the amount of land given out in the previous 35 years, information gathered 
by the MST indicates that 4.9 million Brazilian families are still without 
land.

They have hardly even begun to tackle the profound social inequality.

Therefore, in May of last year more than 30,000 MST members occupied public 
buildings belonging to the Ministries of Housing and Agrarian Development 
in 21 cities and the National Bank for Social and Economic Development in 
Rio de Janeiro.

The Government responded to the civil disobedience with violence  there 
was a death in Curitiba, dozens of injuries and hundreds of detentions. 
However, MST leader Jose Rainha Junior reiterated that the protest against 
the injustice would go on.

A further demand made during the protests was the definitive settling of 
more than 100,000 families camped on 504 properties with arid land which 
had been invaded.

Recently, Istoe magazine reported that Almir Guedes Soriano, 
President of the Rural Democratic Union (a landowners' association), 
threatened an armed response to the campesino invasion and claimed that "if 
the defence of the land had to be armed, then shots will be fired".

MST leaders have criticised Cardoso's Government for the agrarian reform 
plan it has been applying, based on payment for unproductive lands to 
estate owners, a process considered long and expensive, which has been 
denounced for multimillion-dollar fraud.

The President of the Council of Bishops of Brazil, Dom Jayme Chemello, 
argued that the country would not be democratic without agrarian reform, 
meaning in fact that the measures taken are insufficient.

Almost five million Brazilian families are a living example of what 
Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa says in her song: "When I have land I will 
sing."

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Granma International

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