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(en) Britain, SolFed*, DA #30 - Masters of their own destiny - The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 27 Nov 2004 10:20:48 +0100 (CET)

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[This] is probably one of the most successful direct action movements of the last century.
Founded in 1984 through a bizarre collaboration of radical
Catholic clergy and Marxists (though the clergy have since been
told to back off by Vatican City), the MST are based in Brazil - a
country still wreathed in poverty and a history of inequality
stretching back to colonial times.
The group fights for land reform in a country where just three per
cent of the population owns 66 per cent of all arable land, and 25
million people are living as landless peasants.

Tactics are simple and highly effective. Hundreds of people will
descend on unused land, setting up temporary homes there.
Under Brazilian law, they are then entitled to take control of that
land permanently, as long as it is otherwise unused by the owner
and they grow something on it.

In the last 20 years, over 250,000 people have been given land and
a new start thanks to such tactics. However, despite the peaceful
nature of these actions, it may not come as an enormous shock to
learn there have been casualties.

The fallow ground - comprising between 40 and 60 per cent of all
Brazil's arable land - is owned by a powerful and vastly
wealthy group known as the Latifundistas who have huge political
sway, along with dangerous guards to physically intimidate

Their most notorious move has been to form the Rural
Democratic Union (UDR), which, during Brazil's last
administration, hired mercenaries to drive out MST communities.
Over 1,500 people have died as a direct result of clashes with
police and hired Latifundista thugs. Only seven assassins have
ever been convicted.

It is hoped that with the recent shock accession of President Lula
and his pro-MST worker's party, this situation will improve.
Marina dos Santos, member of the national direction of MST,
said: 'We think we've started a new era and now we
can go forward in the fight for land reform. With a new
government installed, the balance of power has shifted around our
fight for land. We see the current federal government as an ally of
land reform, because it has a historical commitment to the

She admits, however, that reform will still be an uphill struggle.
'It is important to consider that the electoral victory of a
Leftist party happened in a period of decline in Brazilian socialism
which started in the 90s. This government will have difficulties in
trying to implement a policy which responds to all the demands of
the Brazilian population and stays true to the historical aims of the
Worker's Party (PT) itself.

'We understand our achievements, even in a PT
government, will rely on our capacity to mobilise and use popular
pressure. The government will only do something on behalf of the
workers if we succeed, through popular mobilisation, in making
them keep their election campaign promises.'

There is no doubt the current government, with its weak political
base and greater dependency on working class support, is a far
easier prospect than the previous privatisation-led coalition headed
by Fernando Cardoso.

Irrespective of whether this new more left-wing government will
help their cause, the MST looks set to remain highly successful,
having already fought so effectively against Cardoso's right
wing government. Marina believes the progress MST has made so
far is only the beginning.

'Throughout, we have faced accusations that the problem of
land reform has already been solved through economic
development. Even some members of the Left have adopted that
opinion. Our persistence has shown the opposite: this is a problem
which hasn't been solved in Brazil yet, despite all the
technological development in some sectors of Brazilian agriculture
over recent years.

'Our plan is to follow our historical mission, which is to
organise the poor people of the countryside: To build schools for
the children that live in the settlements, to produce healthy food,
without pesticides: To kill the hunger of peasants and urban

'We will continue to organise our co-operatives, we will
keep producing organic seeds. We will keep our three objectives:
to fight for land, to fight for land reform and to fight for changes in
our society.'

The movement has a highly efficient fundraising system. MST
ethical and organic produce now rakes in over $50million every
year, putting 150,000 children through school and paying for
hospitals and adult learning courses. They are also supported,
according to recent polls, by over 60 per cent of the Brazilian
population. With 32 million people below the bread line, they are
never going to be short of volunteers for a new life.
Marxist or Anarchist, you can't help but be impressed.

Direct Action is published by Solidarity Federation, the British
section of the International Workers' Association
* Solidarity Federation is of the anarcho-syndicalist spectrum

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