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Landless Workers' Movement


Landless Workers' Movement

Landless Workers' Movement
Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra
Formation January 1984
Legal status Social movement
Purpose Agrarian land reform
Services Land reform movement, squatting (primary); basic healthcare and education (secondary)
Main organ
National Coordination Body, Nucleo de Base
MST supporters in Brazil.

Landless Workers' Movement (Portuguese: Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, or MST) is a social movement in Brazil, being generally regarded as one of the largest[1] in Latin America with an estimated informal 1.5 million membership[2] in 23 of Brazil's 26 states.[3] According to the MST, its aims are: firstly, to fight for access to the land for poor workers in general, something to be carried out, secondly, through land reform in Brazil, and, thirdly, through activism around social issues impinging on the achievement of land possession, such as unequal income distribution, racism, sexism, and media monopolies.[4] In short, the MST strives to achieve a social covenant providing a self-sustainable way of life for the poor in rural areas.[5]

Following in the tracks of various messianic or partisan-inspired movements for land reform in Brazil, the MST differs from its previous counterparts in its being mostly a single-issue movement, treating land reform as a self-justifying cause. It claims its effort at land occupations are legally justified and rooted in the most recent Constitution of Brazil (1988), by interpreting a passage which states that land property should fulfill a social function. It also claims, based on 1996 census statistics, that just 3% of the population owns two-thirds of all arable land in the country.[6]


  • Historical antecedents (up to the enactment of the Brazilian 1988 Constitution) 1
  • Land Reform and the 1988 Constitution 2
  • Foundation 3
  • Organizational structure 4
  • Ideology 5
  • Education 6
  • Media coverage 7
  • Sustainable agriculture 8
  • Violent confrontations: the Cardoso years 9
    • Ideological foundations of MST's later activism 9.1
  • The Lula government and the 2005 March for Agrarian Reform 10
  • MST resumption of direct action: from 2005 on 11
  • Present general situation 12
  • See also 13
  • Notes 14
  • References 15
  • External links 16

Historical antecedents (up to the enactment of the Brazilian 1988 Constitution)

The MST appeared late in the long history of the Brazilian land question, which had already been hotly debated (as well as actually fought) into the framework of previous Brazilian politics. During the mid-20th century, a consensus developed among Brazilian leftists that land reform was a necessary step for the democratization of property relations and for the actual exercising of political rights on a general basis, as opposed to the concentration of actual power in the hands of traditional elites.[7] Therefore, land reform was understood by many Brazilian Marxist activists and authors[8] as a necessary part of a late process of Bourgeois Revolution.[9]

However, the Brazilian ruling class and political elites never put a viable process of land reform on its feet - on the contrary, they mostly opposed actively any attempt at land reform as threatening their social and political power.[10] Therefore, it was eventually felt by the political leadership of the rural poor that land reform should be achieved only from below, by means of a grassroots movement. Therefore the fact that the novelty at the MST's emergence resided in its from the start playing the role of taking unto itself the task of achieving land reform on its own, "breaking ... dependent relations with parties, governments, and other institutions",[11] at the same time dealing with the struggle for the land in purely political - instead of social, ethical and religious - terms.

The first statute that regulated landed property in independent Brazil was the Landed Property Act (Lei de Terras) or Law number 601, enacted on September 18, 1850. Being drafted in a process of transition from a squatter's rights, favouring the historical concentration of landed property that became one of the hallmarks of modern Brazilian social history.[12] Historically, the Lei de Terras followed a tendency from colonial times in favour of large landholdings by means of mammoth land grants to well-placed people, usually worked by slaves.[13]

In capitalist terms, the continuation of such a policy favoured economies of scale by means of land concentration, at the same time creating serious difficulties for small planters and peasants to have access to the land in order to practice subsistence agriculture as well as small-scale farming.[14]

Since concentration of landed property was tied to the development of a capitalist Brazilian economy, opposition to the existing property structure by insurrectional means had, during the 19th and early 20th century, the character of a vindication of older property forms. This happened mostly by means of revitalizing ideologies[15] centered on a fabled, millenarian return an earlier, pre-bourgeois social order, expressed by movements led by rogue ("messianic") religious leaders outside the established Catholic hierarchy, seem as both "heretical" and "revolutionary" by surrounding society.[16] Such was the case in the 1890s Canudos War and the 1910s Contestado War. Some leftist historians, following in the tracks of the groundbreaking 1963 work by journalist Rui Facó (Cangaceiros e Fanáticos), tended to amalgamate early 20th-century banditry in Northeastern Brazil (cangaço) with messianism as a kind of social banditry, and, therefore, as a kind of protest against social inequalities such as the existing distribution of landed property.[17][18] This thesis, which developed independently in English-speaking academia around the 1959 work by Eric Hobsbawn , Primitive Rebels, was criticized by the unspecific character of its notion of "social movement", being at the same time praised by its melding of political & religious movements, formerly studied separately[19] - a combination that to be later at the basis of the MST's emergence.

With the joint disappearance of both Messianism and cangaço during the late 1930s, there were, from the 1940s to the 1950s, various additional episodes of plain peasant resistance to evictions and land-grabbing by powerful ranchers (Teófilo Otoni, Minas Gerais, in 1948; Porecatu, Paraná, in 1951; South-west Paraná, in 1957; Trombas, Goiás, 1952–1958).[20] But these were mostly local affairs that were repressed or settled according to local conditions and didn't give rise to an alternative ideology to the view generally held by both policy makers and scholars across the whole political specter, that the demise of Brazilian rural society was an objective need, to be reached through mechanized agrobusiness and consequent forcible urbanization. However, the Left felt it was necessary, at least, to remove the obstacle posed to both economic modernization and political democratization by technologically backward, "feudal" latifundia.[21]

During the 1960s s, Brazilian society and politics had to cope with the appearance of various movements that aimed at attempting land reform by legal means, starting with the 1960s organization of peasant leagues (Ligas Camponesas) in Northeastern Brazil[22] which opposed mostly eviction of peasants from rented plots and transformation of plantations into cattle ranches,[23] Such movements would be shaped by a tendency to counter the existing landed property structure by means of a rational appeal to the allegedly social function of property. Nowadays, it is argued that undeniable contemporary development of a highly dynamic and economically well developed agricultural business was furthered at the price of extensive social exclusion of the rural poor.[24] According to MST's ideologues, the alleged efficiency gained by this arrangement was by no means general, as since 1850 Brazilian landed property management was tied to the particular interests of a single class - the rural bourgeoisie.[25] Although the MST explains its actions directly in socio-economic terms, it still points to Canudos (and its allegedly millenarism)[26] as a legitimizing episode, a way to justify its existence in an historical perspective,[27] as well as a means to develop a powerful mystique of its own.[28]

As much of the driving force at the early organizing of the MST came from Catholic base communities,[29] much of the MST ideology and actual practice are rooted on the principle, taken from the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, that private property should serve a social function[30] - a principle developed during the 19th century,[31] and made into Catholic official doctrine since Pope Leo XIII's Rerum novarum encyclical;[32] on the eve of the 1964 military coup, that was the principle evoked by President João Goulart in his famous "Central rally" (a mammoth rally held in Rio de Janeiro, near to the city's greatest railroad station, where the president made a speech offering a blueprint for various political and social reforms) when proposing the expropriation of estates of more than 600 hectares in area situated at the vicinity of federal facilities (roads, railroads and reservoirs as well as sanitation works)- a move that triggered the strong conservative resistance leading to Goulart's downfall.[33] Nevertheless, this same principle would be formally acknowledged by the Brazilian Catholic hierarchy in 1980, when the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) would issue a document - Church and Land Problems - recognizing and pleading for public acknowledgement of communal rights to the land.[34]

In Brazilian constitutional history, land reform – understood in terms of public management of natural resources[35] - was first explicitly mentioned as a guiding principle for government action in the text of the Constitution of 1967 (Article 157, III), which wanted to institutionalize a political authoritarian consensus in the wake of the 1964 coup. It was the intention of the military dictatorship to use land reform as a policy tool in order to develop a layer of conservative small farmers as a buffer between latifundia owners and the rural proletariat.[36] Therefore the fact that in 1969, during the most repressive phase of the military dictatorship, the 1967 constitutional text was amended by a decree (ato institucional) of the military junta that held interim power during the last illness of the military President Arthur da Costa e Silva, in order to authorize government compensation for land expropriated for purposes of land reform to be made in government bonds, instead of cash, as had been formerly the only legally admitted practice (Art.157, § 1º, as amended by Institucional Act no.9, 1969).[37]

Land Reform and the 1988 Constitution

Following an earlier principled pattern, the present Brazilian 1988 constitution also requires that land serve a social function. (Article 5, XXIII.) As such, the constitution requires the Brazilian government to "expropriate for the purpose of agrarian reform, rural property that is not performing its social function." (Article 184)

According to Article 186 of the constitution, the social function is performed when rural property simultaneously meets the following requirements:

  • Rational and adequate use.
  • Adequate use of available natural resources and preservation of the environment.
  • Compliance with the provisions which regulate labor relations.
  • Exploitation which favors the well-being of the owners and workers.

Since such requirements are vague and not objectively defined, however, the acceptance of the "social interest" principle for land reform into the Constitution was seen as a mixed blessing. Notwithstanding the fact that the "social interest" principle was accepted in general, it had to cope with landowners' lobbying, organized since 1985 through the landowners' organization named

  • Website of U.S.-based solidarity movement, Friends of the MST
  • Website of MST (In Portuguese)
  • "Brazil: Cutting the Wire" December 13, 2005 Frontline/World
  • History Did Not End Documentary about the MST (Portuguese/Italian with English Subtitles)
  • War on Want's MST project page. UK charity War on Want provides support to the organisation
  • BBC article—Brazil Landless Visit President
  • Terra de Direitos website
  • [122] Patrick W. Quirk, Foreign Policy in Focus, September 24, 2007
  • Website of Ruralistic Democratic Union - Anti-MST movement

External links

  • Patel, Raj. "Stuffed & Starved" Portobello Books, London, 2007
  • Wolford, Wendy. "This Land Is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings of Land in Brazil." Duke University Press, Durham, 2010. ISBN 0-8223-4539-0
  • Wright, Angus, and Wendy Wolford. To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil. Food First Books, Oakland, 2003. ISBN 0-935028-90-0
  • Carter, Miguel.The MST and Democracy in Brazil. Working Paper CBS-60-05, Centre for Brazilian Studies, University of Oxford, 2005. Available at [121]. Retrieved November 2, 2014
  • Ramos, Tarso Luis. Brazil at the Crossroads: Landless Movement Confronts Crisis of the Left. 2005.
  • —, "Agroecology vs. Monsanto in Brazil", Food First News & Views, vol. 27, number 94, fall 2004, 3.
  • Branford, Sue and Rocha, Jan. Cutting the Wire: The story of the landless movement in Brazil. 2002. Latin American Bureau, London.
  • Questoes Agrarias: Julgado Comentados e Paraceres. Editora Metodo, São Paulo, 2002.


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  3. ^ Dave Hill & Ravi Kumar, eds., Global neoliberalism and education and its consequences. New York: Routledge, 2009, ISBN 978-0-415-95774-8, page 146
  4. ^ "Nossos objetivos". MST page, [65]. Retrieved September 1, 2012
  5. ^ James, Deborah (2007). Gaining Ground? Rights and Property in South African Land Reform. New York, New York: Routledge Cavendish. pp. 148–149.  
  6. ^ About the MST on Accessed September 9, 2006.
  7. ^ Michael Moran,Geraint Parry, eds., Democracy and Democratization. London: Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0-415-09049-0, page 191; Arthur MacEwan, Neo-liberalism Or Democracy?: Economic Strategy, Markets, and Alternatives for the 21st Century. London: Zed Books, 1999, ISBN 1-85649-724-0, page 148
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  9. ^ Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. New York: Nation Books, 2011, ISBN 978-1-56858-600-7, p. 161
  10. ^ Michael Lipton, Land Reform in Developing Countries: Property Rights and Property Wrongs London: Routledge, 2009, ISBN 978-0-415-09667-6, p. 275 ; Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Between Underdevelopment and Revolution: A Latin American Perspective. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1981, p. 10; Carlos H. Waisman,Raanan Rein, eds., Spanish and Latin American Transitions to Democracy. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2006, ISBN 1-903900-73-5, pp. 156/157
  11. ^ Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, "The MST and Agrarian Reform in Brazil". Socialism and Democracy online, 51, Vol. 23, No.3, available at [66]
  12. ^ Carlos Ignacio Pinto. "A Lei de Terras de 1850". Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  13. ^ Robert M. Levine, John Crocitti, eds., The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8223-2258-7, p. 264
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  15. ^ Candace Slater, Trail of Miracles: Stories from a Pilgrimage in Northeast Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, ISBN 0-520-05306-0, p. 45
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  18. ^ Candace Slater, Stories on a String: The Brazilian Literatura de Cordel. University of California Press, 1982, ISBN 0-520-04154-2, page 210, footnote 10
  19. ^ Peter Burke, História e teoria social. São Paulo: UNESP, 2002, ISBN 85-7139-380-X , page 125
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  25. ^ Luiz Bezerra Neto, Sem-terra aprende e ensina: estudo sobre as práticas educativas do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais. Campinas, SP: Autores Associados, 1999, ISBN 85-85701-82-X, page 30
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  30. ^ Petras & Veltmeyer, Cardoso's Brazil, 18
  31. ^ Sándor Agócs, The troubled origins of the Italian Catholic labor movement, 1878–1914. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8143-1938-6, page 25; Scott Mainwaring, The Catholic Church and politics in Brazil, 1916–1985. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986, page 55
  32. ^ Charles C. Geisler & Gail Daneker, eds. Property and values: alternatives to public and private ownership. Washington DC: Island Press, 2000, ISBN 1-55963-766-8, page 31
  33. ^ Marieta de Moraes Ferreira, ed., João Goulart: entre a memória e a história, Rio de Janeiro: FGV , 2006, ISBN 85-225-0578-0 , page 74
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  35. ^ Albert Breton, ed., Environmental governance and decentralisation. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84720-398-4, page 52
  36. ^ Peter Rosset, Raj Patel, Michael Courville, Land Research Action Network, eds. Promised land: competing visions of agrarian reform. New York: Food First Books, ISBN 978-0-935028-28-7, page 266
  37. ^ For the text of the 1967 Constitution, see
  38. ^ Sonia Maria Ribeiro de Souza & Anthonio Thomaz Jr, "O Mst e a Mídia: O Fato e a Notícia". Scripta Nova, Vol. VI, no. 119 (45), 1st. August de 2002, available at [67]
  39. ^ Alfred P. Montero, Brazilian politics: reforming a democratic state in a changing world. Cambridge (U.K.): Polity Press, 2005, ISBN 0-7456-3361-7, page 87
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  42. ^ George Meszaros, Social Movements, Law and the Politics of Land Reform: Lessons from Brazil. London: Routledge, 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-47771-0 , page 21
  43. ^ Artur Zimerman, "Land and Violence in Brazil: A Fatal Combination". LASA paper, page 9. Available at [69]. Retrieved December the 20th.2011
  44. ^ Roberto Gargarela, "Tough on Punishment: Criminal Justice, Deliberation, and Legal Alienation". IN Samantha Besson, José Luis Martí, eds. Legal Republicanism: National and International Perspectives. Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-955916-9, page 168
  45. ^ Eugene Walker Gogol, The concept of Other in Latin American liberation. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, ISBN 0-7391-0331-8, page 311
  46. ^ Jan Rocha and Sue Branford. Cutting the Wire: The story of the landless movement in Brasil. 2002, Latin American Bureau, page 291
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  48. ^ Wilder Robles-Cameron, D. Phil. Thesis, University of Guelph. Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology, 2007: Peasant mobilization, land reform and agricultural co-operativism in Brazil. page 160. Available at [70]
  49. ^ Jayme Benvenuto Lima Jr., ed: Independence of Judges in Brazil. Recife: GAJOP/Bagaço, 2005, page 89. Available at [71]. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  50. ^ For example, in August 1999, State Higher Court's Judge Rui Portanova overruled the decision of a trial court granting a landowner's petition to evict the MST off his property. The judge offered as justification the following reasoning:
    Before applying a law, the judge must consider the social aspects of the case: the law's repercussions, its legitimacy and the clash of interests in tension. The [MST] are landless workers who want to grow produce in order to feed and enrich Brazil, amid this globalized, starving world ... However, Brazil turns her back on them, as the Executive offers money to the banks. The Legislative ... wants to make laws to forgive the debts of the large farmers. The press charges the MST with violence. Despite all that, the landless hope to plant and harvest with their hands, and for this they pray and sing. The Federal Constitution and Article 5 ... offers interpretive space in favor of the MST ... [I]n the terms of paragraph 23 of Article 5 of the Federal Constitution [that landed property must fulfill a social function], I suspended [the eviction.] (Decision #70000092288, Rui Portanova, State Court of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre)
  51. ^ Mendes condena ações de sem-terra em Pernambuco e São Paulo. G1 newssite, 25 February 2009, available at [72]
  52. ^ Folha de S.Paulo newssite, 22 November 2013, available at
  53. ^ MST tenta invadir STF em Brasília; PM usa bomba para dispersar manifestante. UOL newssite, February 12, 2014, available at [73]
  54. ^ Thomas William Merrick, Elza Berquó, National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Population and Demography. Panel on Fertility Determinants: The determinants of Brazil's recent rapid decline in fertility. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press, 1983, page 133
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  57. ^ Local mobilization of peasants dislocated by dam constructions being one of the main sources of grassroots rural mobilization in 1980s Southern Brazil, which would give rise to a national independent organization, the MAB- Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, or "Dam-slighted people's Movement"; cf. Franklin Daniel Rothman and Pamela E. Oliver, "From Local to Global: The Anti-Dam Movement in Southern Brazil". Mobilization: An International Journal, 1999, 4(1), available at [74]. Accessed November the 16th. 2011
  58. ^
  59. ^ Michel Duquette and others, Collective action and radicalism in Brazil: women, urban housing, and rural movements. University of Toronto Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8020-3907-3, pages 140/141
  60. ^ Gabriel A. Ondetti, Land, protest, and politics: the landless movement and the struggle for Agrarian Reform in Brazil. Pennsylvania State University, 2008, ISBN 978-0-271-03353-2, pages 67/69
  61. ^ Hank Johnston, Paul Almeida, eds.: Latin American social movements: globalization, democratization, and Transnational Networks. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7425-5332-3, Chapter 10
  62. ^ Magda Zanoni, Hugues Lamarche, eds. Agriculture et ruralité au Bréil: un autre modèle de developpement, Paris: Khartala, 2001, ISBN 2-84586-173-7, page 113
  63. ^ Marlene Grade & Idaleto Malvezzi Aued, "A busca de uma nova forma do agir humano: o MST e seu ato teleológico", Paper presented at the XIth. Congress of Sociedade Brasileira de Economia Política, Vitória, 2006; published at Textos e Debates (UFRR), Federal University of Roraima, Boa Vista-RR, v. I, p. 16-35, 2005..
  64. ^ Mauricio Augusto Font, Transforming Brazil: a reform era in perspective. Lanham, Ma: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, ISBN 0-8476-8355-9, page 94
  65. ^ Cf. the description offered by the Trotskyist review International Viewpoint, in the article by João Machado, "The two souls of the Lula government", March 2003 issue (IV348), available at [75]
  66. ^ Mauricio Augusto Font, Transforming Brazil, 89
  67. ^ Lee J. Alston, Gary D. Libecap, Bernardo Mueller, Titles, conflict, and land use, pages 61/62
  68. ^ a b c Gautney, Heather; Omar Dahbour; Ashley Dawson; Neil Smith (2009). Democracy, States, and the Struggle for Global Justice. New York, New York: Routledge Cavendish. pp. 244–245.  
  69. ^ Herbert Girardet, ed.Surviving the century: facing climate chaos and other global challenges. London: Earthscan, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84407-458-7, page 186
  70. ^ Lee J. Alston, Gary D. Libecap, Bernardo Mueller, Titles, conflict, and land use: the development of property rights and land reform on the Brazilian Amazon frontier . The University of Michigan Press, 1999, ISBN 0-472-11006-3, page 63
  71. ^ Anil Hira, Trevor W. Parfitt, Development projects for a new millennium. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2004, ISBN 0-275-97502-9, page 25
  72. ^ Magda Zanoni, Hugues Lamarche,eds. Agriculture et ruralité au Brésil: un autre modèle de développement. Paris: Karthala,2001, ISBN 2-84586-173-7, page 114
  73. ^ John Burdick, Legacies of liberation: the progressive Catholic Church in Brazil at the start of a new millennium. Ashgate, The University of Virginia Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-7546-1550-7, page 101; Lícia Soares de Souza, Utopies américaines au Québec et au Brésil. Québec, Presses de L'Université Laval, 2004, ISBN 2-7637-8075-X, page 120
  74. ^ Richard Feinberg,Carlos H. Waisman,Leon Zamosc, eds., Civil Society and Democracy in Latin America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, ISBN 1-4039-7228-1 , pages 156/157
  75. ^ Magda Zanoni & Hugues Lamarche, eds. Agriculture et ruralité au Brésil, page 165
  76. ^ Ben Selwyn, The Global Development Crisis. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, ISBN 978-0-7456-6014-1 , page 198
  77. ^ See homepage, English version
  78. ^ See managing NGO's Association of Friends of the Florestan Fernandes School site, [76]. Retrieved August 29, 2014
  79. ^ Cf. América Latina en Movimiento news website, January the 19th. 2005: "MST inaugura Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes", text available at [77]
  80. ^ Rainer Grassmann & Analia Amorim, "Tecnologias construtivas de baixo impacto ambiental, alto valor social e cultural". Undergraduate monograph, abridgment, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the São Paulo University site [78]. Retrieved October 5, 2014
  81. ^ Fernandes, Barnard Mancano. The Formation of the MST in Brazil. Editora Vozes, Petropolis 2000, page 78
  82. ^ Jan Rocha and Sue Branford. Cutting the Wire
  83. ^ Edward L. Cleary, Mobilizing for human rights in Latin America. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-56549-241-7, page 79
  84. ^ A Forbes magazine obituary of the recently deceased Veja boss, Media mogul Roberto Civita , described the magazine's content as "filled with bomb-throwers and in clear opposition to the Workers' Party government": Forbes May 27, 2013, [79]. Retrieved July 18, 2013
  85. ^ João Freire Filho,& Paulo Vaz, eds. Construções do Tempo e do Outro. Rio de Janeiro: MAUAD, 2006, ISBN 85-7478-205-X, page 80; on the derogatory stance taken by Veja on Brazilian mass movements and on the common people in general, see Daniel do Nascimento e Silva, "Identities forged in pain and violence: Nordeste's writing" - Paper Prepared for delivery at the 2010 Congress of the Latin American Studies, Toronto, October 6–9, 2010, available at [80]; on the magazine's harsh treatment of all MST issues, see Miguel Carter, "The landless rural workers' movement (MST) and democracy in Brazil", University of Oxford/Center of Brazilian Studies, Working Paper CBS-60-05, available at [81], specially footnote 47
  86. ^ "VEJA on-line". Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  87. ^ Veja, issue 1,286, 6 May 1993
  88. ^ Governo paga ações criminosas do MST, Veja site, 28th. August 2009, available at [82]
  89. ^ Como VEJA está depredando o jornalismo e a verdade. MST site, 12th. January 2010, available at [83]
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See also

[233] The fact that Dilma's choice for her second term was the notorious female landowner [229] As the first Dilma term came to an end, one could say that one of its hallmarks had been a clearly more conservative stance on the issue of land reform, and, therefore, a more limited maneuvering room for the MST.

By the way, during November 2014, amid the process of radicalization surrounding Roussef's reelection to a second term, an unannounced visit to Brazil of the Venezuelan Minister for Communities and Social Movements Elias Jaua - during which an information exchange agreement in the field of agroecology was struck between the Venezuelan government and the MST -created tension amid the conservative caucus in the Brazilian Congress, with Senator and landowner Ronaldo Caiado describing the agreement as "an arrangement between a high-placed representative of a foreign government and an unlawful entity, aimed at building a socialist society", to which the movement reacted by describing Caiado's reaction, in a note, as evidence to the fact that "conservative sectors are hostile to any form of grassroots participation [in the political process]".[228]

Roussef's ongoing first term years were generally taken by both political pundits and activists as lean years for land reform, and mainstream media considered the MST not only to have been "tamed" by two consecutive Workers' Party administrations, but also to have been emptied of mass support by the fact that steady economic growth and expanding employment had denied the movement its chief raison d'être. During 2013, only 110 occupations were attempted by the movement[224] and this year saw another all time low yearly number of only 159 families settled in plots for land reform ends. Which prompted MST National Coordinator João Paulo Rodrigues to state in an interview that the Federal Government dependency from agribusiness as a means for procuring hard currency through exports was to be taken as the chief reason for the Roussef administration having noy only failing in pushing land reform forward, "but , on the contrary, having gone backward in some instances".[225] In the same interview, Rodrigues described the only recent advances in land reform policies in Brazil came from programs such as National Program for School Meals (PNAE) and Food Catering Plan (PAA) - which busy themselves with buying foodstuffs from land reform plots for consumption at public schools and other government facilities - such plans, being, however, "entirely disproportionate to what is being offered [in terms of public monies, subsidized credits, etc.] to agribusiness". At the same time, João Pedro Stedile, elaborating on his recent views on the subject, stated that the only chance for land reform in Brazil would be by means of some kind of joint venture between small producers and urban working class consumers, as simple land distribution would be fated to fail, as in contemporary Venezuela - "where Hugo Chávez stockedpiled seven million hectares of nationalized landed property which remained unused for want of proper peasants".[226] What was generally felt among the Left basis of support to the PT government was that the vested interest of agribusiness in the plotting of development policies during the Lula and Roussef administrations was enough to hamper any attempt in the way of a more aggressive policy of expropriations and land reform as such.[227]

On April the 16th. 2012, a group of MST activists invaded and occupied the Brasília HQ building of the Ministry for Agrarian Development, as part of the movement's regular "Red April" campaign, a yearly nation-wide effort at achieving occupations, intended as remembrance of the April 1996 Eldorado dos Carajás Massacre anniversary.[220] Something that prompted Minister Pepe Vargas to declare that ongoing talks between the government and the MST were to be considered suspended for the duration of the Ministry's HQ occupation.[221] Coming after various expressions of land activists' dissatisfaction with the slowing up of official projects for land reform during the Roussef government (2011 seeing the lowest number of officially settled families in 16 years), the occupation could be seen as parts of the widespread accusations of "selling out" thrown at Ms. Roussef from the Workers' Party support basis.[222] In a late 2012 interview, João Pedro Stedile admitted that the movement had not benefited from the policies of both WP successive administrations, as such a coalition government could not politically act in behalf of general land reform, and that the MST's future perspectives depended on the political stance of the working class in general.[223]

Violent opposition - from State organs and/or private persons - to the movement's activities continues unabated as of today: e.g. on 16th. February 2012, 80 families were evicted from an occupation in Alagoas, at a farm rented to a sugarmill and awash in unpaid debts.[218] In the opinion of the female MST activist Janaina Stronzake, it is commonly assumed that there is a landowners' hit list directed against MST leaders, many of then having been actually killed, albeit some had their murders doctored to appear as accidents.[219] In April 2014, a Global Witness report stated that Brazil was "the most dangerous place to defend rights to land and the environment" , with at least 448 people being killed between 2002 and 2013 in disputes relating to defense of access to the land and environmental rights.[63] A more specific report for the Catholic Pastoral Land Commission, Land Conflicts in Brazil 2013, considers that land struggles accounted for 34 murders in Brazil during 2013, as against 36 in 2012.[64]

Nevertheless, the process of concentration of landed property in Brazil continues unabated: in 2006, according to the latest landed property census, the Gini index of land concentration stood at 0.854, while at the beginning of military regime, in 1967, it was at 0.836—meaning that land concentration actually increased.[212] The fact that current Brazilian economic policy—especially as far as foreign exchange is concerned—banks on the existence of trade surpluses generated by the agro-export sector means that "the correlation of forces moves against agrarian reform".[213] Also, with the resumption of sustained general economic growth rates during the Lula years, social demand for land reform -especially on the part of informal and/or underemployed urban workers that form most of the movements' later levies[214] might have been greatly diminished.[215] In a recent interview a member of the MST national caucus Joaquim Pinheiro declared that the recent increase in Welfare spending and employment levels had a "sobering" influence in Brazilian agrarian activism, but declared himself for government spending in social programs, adding that the MST feared people would become "hostages" to such programs.[216] Nevertheless, as of 2006 there existed, according to the MST, 150,000 families in the various movement's encampments, compared to 12,805 families in 1990.[217]

Although the MST wholeheartedly declared support for the candidacy of Dilma Roussef to the Presidency, her declarations after being elected offered the movement very qualified support: in a declaration on national broadcast in November 2010, she declared the land reform issue to be a question "of human rights", i.e., a purely humanitarian one.[208] Dilma's previous record as Chief of Staff to the Presidency was one of support for economic growth targets in variance with ecological as well as land reform concerns.[209] And actually, it was Dilma herself who, in a radio interview before her election, repeated the old conservative hope that economic growth in general could make Brazilian land issues recede into oblivion: "What we are doing is doing away with the real basis for the instabilities of the landless. They are losing reasons to fight".[210] Therefore the fact that one author described the MST's endorsement of Dilma as a choice for the "lesser evil".[211]

Present general situation

During the same period, the MST also repeatedly created roadblocks, blocking highways [202][203][204][205] and railroads,[206] which was part of a strategy of creating media events in order to call the general public's attention to landless workers' plight.[207]

Between September 27 and October 7, 2009, the MST occupied an orange plantation in Borebi, State of São Paulo, owned by orange juice multinational Cutrale, the said corporation claiming to have suffered losses worth R$1.2 million (roughly US$603,000) in damaged equipment, missing pesticide, destroyed crops and trees cut by MST activists.[198] The MST replied by declaring the farm to be government property, illegally embezzled by Cutrale, and that the occupation was intended as a protest against this state of affairs, the concomitant destruction being the work of provocateurs.[199]- such questioning of the formal legality of existing private property by denouncing landowers as helding land in adverse possession being one of the movement's main political tools.[200] The Cutrale plantation, Fazenda S. Henrique, was occupied by the MST four more times until 2013, and the multinational's property rights over it are being contested in court by the Federal Government, who alleges that the farm lands were set aside as part of a 1910 settlement projects for foreign immigrants, rights over it going afterward astray during the following century.[201]

In April 2006, the MST broke into the farm of Suzano Papel e Celulose, a large maker of paper products, in the state of Bahia, due to the farm having over six square kilometres devoted to eucalyptus growth.[194] Eucalyptus, a non-native plant, has been blamed for environmental degradation in Northeast Brazil,[195] as well as reducing the general availability of land for small production, in what is called by some "cornering" of said producers (encurralados pelo eucalipto).[196] In 2011, Veja described such activities as plain theft of eucalyptus wood, quoting an estimate from the state's military police that 3,000 people earned a living in Southern Bahia from this wood thieving.[197]

In 2008, a group of public attorneys from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, working jointly with the state's military (uniformed) police, elaborated a report charging the MST of working in collusion with various international terrorist groups - such a report being used in the State's courts, according to [193]

In late 2005, a parliamentary inquiry commission where landowner-friendly congressmen had a majority issued a report classifying the activities of the MST as "terrorist" and the movement itself as a criminal organization. The report, however, met with no support from the Workers' Party MPs in the commission, a senator ripping it up before TV cameras, saying that those who voted for it were "accomplices of murder, people who use slave labor, who embezzle land illegally".[188] Nevertheless, based on this report, a bill was presented in 2006 to the Chamber of Deputies by Congressman Abelardo Lupion (Democratas- Paraná), which proposed to consider "invading others' property with the end of pressuring the government" as a terrorist action and therefore as a heinous crime (a "heinous" crime being a felony, designed as such in a 1990 Brazilian law, whose suspects are ineligible for pretrial release).[189][190]

It is commonly assumed that the MST's activities are continuously surveyed by military intelligence.[185] Association by proxy between the MST and terrorist movements is assumed by various intelligence organs, Brazilian as well as foreign,[186] the MST itself being regarded as a source of "civil unrest".[187]

Lula's election to the presidency raised the hypothetical banner of active government support to land reform, to which conservative media reacted by means of increased efforts towards branding the MST's activities as felonies.[179] In May 2005, the MST was reported by the Veja magazine to have helped the State of São Paulo. The evidence offered by the magazine was a police phone tap recording depicting a conversation between PCC leaders during which one of the members of the gang said that he had "just talked with the leaders of the MST" who were going to "give instructions" to the gang [180] about the better way of staging what was to be the largest prisoners' relatives protest in Brazilian history, on April 18, 2005, with some 3,000 prisoners' relatives protesting against prevailing conditions in São Paulo State correctional facilities.[181] The MST "leaders" to which the tape refers were not named. No MST activist, actual or alleged, intervened in the taped conversations. The MST denied the link with a formal written statement implying the supposed evidence offered was only hearsay, supplied as an attempt to criminalize the movement.[182] In the wake of 9-11, much of Brazilian media showed a tendency to describe the MST as "terrorist" by lumping it together loosely with various historical and midiatic happenings[183] and thereby following an international post-9-11 trend of relegating any political movement seen as contradictory to existing globalization outside the boundaries of permissible political discourse.[184]

MST resumption of direct action: from 2005 on

Into a nutshell, however, as stated by a German author, in terms of land reform, what the Lula government did in general was to forward, year after year, a blueprint that was also regularly blockaded by regional agrarian elites.[178]

[177] The march was held to demand – among other things – that Brazil's President Lula implement his own limited agrarian reform plan rather than spend the project's budget on servicing the national debt [Ramos, 2005]. Several leaders of the MST met with President

After an exchange of barbs between Lula and Stedile over what the President saw as the unnecessary radicalization of the movement's demands,[168] the MST decided for a huge national demonstration: in May 2005, after a two week, 200-odd kilometer march from the city of Goiânia, nearly 13,000 landless workers arrived in their nation's capital, Brasilia. The MST march targeted the U.S. embassy and Brazilian Finance Ministry, rather than President Lula. While thousands of landless carried banners and scythes through the streets, a delegation of 50 held a three-hour meeting with Lula, who donned an MST cap for the cameras. During this session Lula recommitted to settling 430,000 families by the end of 2006 and agreed to allocate the necessary human and financial resources to accomplish this goal. He also committed to a range of related reforms, including an increase in the pool of lands available for redistribution [Ramos, 2005]. Later the Lula government would claim to have resettled 381,419 families between 2002 and 2006 - a claim that was disputed by the MST.[169] The movement claimed that the numbers had been doctored by the inclusion of people already living in areas (national forests and other managed areas of environmental protection, as well as other already existing settlements) where their presence had only been legally acknowledged by the government.[170] The MST also criticised Lula's administration to call mere land redistribution by means of handing out of small plots land reform, when it was simply a form of welfarism (assistencialismo) unable to change the productive system.[171]

In June 2003, the MST also occupied the pesticides[164] - in spite of enhanced economic activity.[165] Monsanto was later targeted by MST leader Stedile as one of the ten transnational companies controlling virtually the whole of international agrarian production and commodities trading.[166] Another similar episode happened in 2006, when the MST occupied a research station in Paraná owned by Swiss corporation Syngenta, which had produced GMO contamination in the area of the Iguaçu National Park. After a bitter confrontation over the existence of the station (which included easing of previous restrictions by the Lula government to allow Syngenta to continue GMO research), the premises were transferred to the Paraná State government and converted into an agroecology research center.[167]

The beginning of the Lula government was regarded by the MST as the beginning of a Left and therefore friendly government, the movement deciding to shun occupations of public buildings in favor of actions directed solely towards private landed states, in a second wave of occupations from 2003 onwards.[158] However, the increasingly conservative positions taken by the government, including a low profile stance on land reform (out of a promised grand total of 430,000 resettled families, Lula had managed to actually settle a mere 60,000 in the first two years of his administration,[159] actually less than what had been achieved by Cardoso during his first term[160]) decided the movement to change stance already in early 2004, when it began to occupy, again, public buildings and Banco do Brasil agencies.

The Lula government and the 2005 March for Agrarian Reform

In the view of Marxist authors as Petras and Veltmeyer, such a stance would reflect the incapacity of a heterogeneous coalition of rural people to engage in a broad anti-systemic coalition which would include the urban working classes.[152] Shunning this Marxist paradigm, other authors see in the rhetoric of the MST the reflection of an ideological struggle, not for taking power, but for recognizance, for "reconstituting the diversity of rural Brazil".[153] This struggle for recognizance - despite its being couched in fiery radical rhetoric - is seen by some as "indeed relevant for the democratization of 'rural society', but [it does] not entail political motivations destined to promote ruptures".[154] In even more blunt terms, a recent academic paper asserts that the ideology of the MST, connected as it is in practice with the landlesss' concrete needs for making out a living in the countryside, is above all an edible ideology.[155] A recent German handbook describes the MST as a mere pressure group, unable to exert actual political power.[156] Other authors, however, mantain that the interest of the MST in maximize its members' everyday participation in the running of their own affairs is enough to describe the movement as "socialist" in a broad sense.[157]

According even to a Leftist scholar like James Petras, the MST is undoubtedly a modernizing social movement, in that his main goal is to convert fallow states into viable units producing a marketable surplus - "to occupy, resist and produce", as the movement's own motto goes.[147] It is also not a movement with a clear-cut anti-capitalist stance, as what it seeks is to "create a land reform based on small individual property-owners".[148] As far as its steads are concerned, the movement has adopted a mostly private enterprise-friendly stance: with the monies it has procured, it has financed machanization, processing enterprises, livestock breeding, as well as granting access to additional credit sources.[149] Some even see the movement's aims as "quite limited" as in practice it tends to merely provide a chance for some people "to interact with the [ruling] capitalist economy"[150] by means of a kind of "guerrilla capitalism", aimed at ensuring that smaller producers associations carve a share of the market for agrarian produce as against the competition of mammoth agribusiness trusts.[151]

Others, however, say that, instead of expressing the "decline" of the peasantry, the MST, developing as it was in Brazil, a country where agriculture since colonial times was tied to commodity production, expresses the absence of a proper peasantry[145] and has as its social basis a rural working class striving at granting a toehold in the field of capitalist production. As remarked by non-specialist foreign onlookers, the MST's tagging of the landless as "rural workers" - i.e. proletarians in the Marxist sense - appears sometimes more as a purely ideological branding than anything else.[146]

This supposedly opposition to capitalist modernity on the part of the movement[142] has led authors to ascertain that the MST activities express, in a way, the decline of a traditional peasantry, and its desire of restoring traditional communal rights.[143] - which would the difference between the MST and a movement for the preservation of such communal rights as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.[144]

Ideological foundations of MST's later activism

In a certain way, the MST's activities somewhat filled the void left by the decline of the organized labor movement in the wake of Cardoso's neoliberal policies.[139] Therefore the fact that the movement has taken steps in order to strike alliances with urban based struggles, specially those connected to housing issues.[140] In João Pedro Stedile's words at the time, the concrete struggle for land reform would "unfold" in the countryside, but only to be eventually decided in the city, where "political power for structural change" resides.[141]

Opposedly, MST leaders emphasized at the time and since that their practical activity was a response to the existence of a host of destitutes whose prospects of obtaining productive, continuous employment in conventional labor markets was bleak, as admitted even by President Cardoso, who during a 1996 interview, said: "I'm not to say that my government will be of the excluded, for that it cannot be ... I don't know how many excluded there will be".[135] Around the same time (2002) João Pedro Stedile admitted that in plotting the movement's politics, one had to keep in mind "that there are a great many lumpens in the country areas".[136] - something that in his view should not be held against the working class character of the movement, as a great number of Brazilian rural working class had been "absorbed" into the outer periphery of the urban proletariat.[137] Such a view is shared by some academic authors, who argue for the fact that, behind its avowedly "peasant" character, the MST, as far as class politics is concerned, is mostly a semi proletarian movement, congregating people trying to eke out a living, in the absence of formal wage employment, out of a range of activities across a whole section of the social division of labour.[138]

In the words of an American scholar, notwithstanding its efforts in actual resettlement, the issue evaded by the Cardoso government was precisely that of contesting the hitherto ruling mode of agricultural development: concentrated, mechanized, latifundia-friendly commodity production - as well as the larger injustices produced by it.[132] In his own words, what Cardoso could not stomach about the MST was what he saw not as a struggle for land reform, but against the capitalist system as such.[133] Therefore the fact that Cardoso's administration tried to set on its feet various "alternative", tamer social movements which were supposed to pressure for land reform on purely negotiated terms, such as the Movement of Landless Producers (Movimento dos Agricultores Sem Terra, or MAST), organized on a local basis in the São Paulo State, around the trade union central Syndical Social Democracy, or SDS.[134]

As far as concrete measures were concerned, Cardoso's stance towards land reform was divided: at the same time it took steps to accelerate public acquisitions of land for settlement and increased taxes on unused land, it also forbade public inspection of invaded land - thereby precluding future expropriation - and the disbursement of public funds to people involved in such invasions.[129] Cardoso's chief land reform project, supported by a World Bank US$90 million loan, was addressed to individuals who had previous experience in farming and a maximum yearly income of US$15,000, and who were granted a loan of up to US$40,000 if they could associate with other rural producers in order to buy land from a willingly landholder[130] - a land reform programme that catered primarily for substantial small farmers, as opposed to the MST's traditional constituency, the rural poor. Cardoso's project, Cédula da Terra ("landcard") actually offered also previously landless people the opportunity to buy land - but then, only after a negotiated process in which land would be bought directly from landowners.[131]

In fact, although Cardoso offered lipservice to agrarian reform in general, he also described the movement as "a threat to democracy".[124] Cardoso also compared the MST's demands for subsidized credit, that had led to the 1998 occupation of various bank premises in the State of Paraná by activists, to someone "who enters a bank as a robber".[125] In a memoir written after his term, Cardoso expressed sympathy for land reform, stating that "were I not President, I would probably out marching with them", but also that "the image of mobs [sic] taking over privately owned farms would chase away investment, both local and foreign".[126] Cardoso, himself, however, never branded the MST as terrorist - a step taken by his Minister of Agricultural Development, who even hypothesized about an invasion of Argentine from the North by the movement as a form of blackmailing the Brazilian government into action.[127] In July 1997, Cardoso' Chief of Military Household (Chefe da Casa Militar, i.a. a general comptroller over all issues regarding the military and police forces as armed civil servants) expressed concern about the participation of MST activists in the then ongoing police officers' strikes, as part of a supposed plot to "destabilize" the military.[128]

Such a change in strategy could also have corresponded to a perceived shift in government's stances as during the late 1990s and early 2000 various spokespersons for the Cardoso government tended to consider that Brazil had no need for land reform, that small property was non-competitive, unlikely to raise personal incomes in rural areas[121] and therefore a foolhardy alternative to politics that emphasized creation of skilled wage-labor positions, as the expansion of general employment levels would eventually cause the land reform issue to "recede" into the background.[122] The MST's actions where branded by Cardoso as aiming at a throwback to an archaic agrarian past, and therefore at variance with "modernity" - "one of the enabling myths of the neoliberal discourse".[123]

Throughout the early 2000s, in addition to the incidents described above and to various episodes of occupying derelict farms and public buildings, the MST occupied functioning facilities owned by large corporations whose activities it considers to be at variance with the principle of the social function of property. On March 8, 2005, the MST invaded a [115] Or, in the words of an anonymous activist: "our struggle is not only to win the land ... we are building a new way of life".[116] Such a new trend had been developing since the movement's 2000 national congress, which concerned itself chiefly with the perceived threat offered by transnational corporations (Brazilian or foreign) to both small property in general as well as to Brazilian national food sovereignty,[117] specially in the field of intellectual property.[118] It was this principle that led to the July 2000 MST's attacking of a ship in Recife containing GM maize from Argentina.[119] And indeed, from 2000 on, much of the movement's activism consisted in symbolic acts directed against multinational corporations as "a symbol of the intervention politics of the big monopolies operating in Brazil".[120]

In 2005, two police officers who were working under cover in the investigation of cargo truck robberies in the vicinity of an MST stead in the state of Pernambuco were assaulted by criminals, one being shot dead, and another tortured, something that raised suspicions about whether the perpetrators were MST members or not.[114]

In 2002, the MST occupied the family business farm of then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso [108] in the state of Minas Gerais, in a move which was publicly condemned by then Left opposition leader Lula[109] and other preeminent members of the PT Party.[110][111] The farm was damaged and looted in the occupation. Damage included the destruction of a combine harvester, a tractor and several pieces of furniture.[112] The MST members also drank the entire stock of alcoholic beverages at the farm. Overall, 16 leaders of the MST were charged with theft, vandalism, trespassing, resisting arrest and for holding others in captivity.[113]

In a notorious example, during the 1996 incident usually called Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, 19 MST members were gunned down (another 69 wounded) by police while they were blocking a state road in Pará.[106] In 1997 alone, similar confrontations with police and landowners' thugs accounted for two dozen internationally acknowledged deaths.[107]

In the long history of violent land conflicts in Brazil, the emergence of the MST and its consolidation as the most prominent land reform movement acting in Brazil during the 1990s has led to what has been called a first "wave" of MST-led occupations (1995–1999),[105] and with it the movement's involvement in various episodes of bloody clashes and ensuing conflicting claims, where government authorities, landowners and the MST charge each other for being responsible for the eventual deaths, maimings and property damages.

Violent confrontations: the Cardoso years

In 2005, the MST partnered with the Federal Government of World Social Forum.[104]

The increased importance of the technicians and experts within the MST has led some sections of the movement to strive to develop and diffuse technology suitable with a model of seed to distribute through MST. Various other experiments in reforestation, taming of native species and medicinal uses of plant life have been carried around the MST settlements.[103]

Sustainable agriculture

In general, the relation of mainstream media towards the MST has been ambiguous: 1990s media tended to support the goal of land reform in general and to present it under a sympathetic light. One ready example is provided by the fact that, between 1996 and 1997, TV Globo broadcast the telenovela O Rei do Gado ("The cattle baron"), where a beautiful female sem terra, played by actress Patricia Pillar, fell in love with a male landowner.[94] In the same telenovela, the wake of the fictive Senator Caxias, killed while defending an MST occupation, offered the opportunity for two real senators from the Workers' Party, Eduardo Suplicy and Benedita da Silva, to make cameo appearances as themselves praising their fictive colleague's agenda.[95] The same media, however, tends to disavow what it sees as the MST's violent methods[96] - a trend that became more marked as the movement gathered strength.[97] While not outrightly disavowing the movement's struggle for land reform as such, it has been noted that Brazilian media assumes a moralizing instance towards the MST: "to deplore the invasion of productive land, the MST's irrationality and lack of responsibility, the ill-using of distributed land parcels and to argue for the existence of alternate peaceful solutions".[98]

This report was only an episode in a long history of mutual and very bitter animosity between the MST and Veja: already in 1993, the magazine described the MST as "a peasant organization of leninist character" and charged its leaders and activists with faking a homeless condition.[87] This accusatory stance only raised pitch throughout the years: in February 2009, one finds the magazine opposing public support to the "criminal" activities of the movement[88] and the MST in turn, for instance, charging the magazine, a year later, with "vandalizing" both journalism and truth itself.[89] In one of its latest mentions to the MST, Veja calls it outrightly "a criminal mob".[90] In early 2014, after an attempt MST invasion of the STF building, Veja , through one of its columnists, described the movement as "playing leader to a non-existing cause".[91] This case-history in journalistic mud-slinging has justified the writing of at least two academic monographs wholly dedicated to it.[92][93]

The role of the MST as a grassroots organization engaged in "charter schools" activity has attracted considerable attention from the Brazilian press, much of it accusatory. In an issue of the magazine Veja, Brazil's largest (and commonly known for its unrestrained hostility [84] against social grassroots movements in general[85]) dated September 8, 2004, titled "The MST's Madrassas", journalist Monica Weinberg tells about her visits to two of the MST's schools in the Southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. In her report, the MST is said to be "indoctrinating" children between the ages of 7 and 14 - a conclusion she reached after following a quote from the MST publication "Education Notebook, no. 8" stating that one of the MST's goals for the children that attend classes in the movement's premises is to "develop class and revolutionary conscience". According Ms. Weinberg's report, children in the MST schools were also shown what the journalist calls propaganda films, and were allegedly taught that genetically modified products contain "poison" and told not to eat margarine which might contain GMO soybean. Ms. Weinberg considered that the Brazilian authorities had no control over most of the schools, and that they did not follow the national mandatory curriculum set forth by the Ministry of Education which calls for "pluralism of ideas" and "tolerance". Weinberg's report eventually concluded by stating that the "preaching" of "Marxism" in the MST schools was to be considered as analogous to the preaching of radical Islam found in Middle-Eastern Madrassas.[86]

Media coverage

The MST formed its education sector in Rio Grande do Sul in 1986, a year after its first national convention.[81] By 2001, about 150,000 children were enrolled in 1,200 primary and secondary schools in its settlements and camps. The schools employ 3,800 teachers, many of them MST-trained. The movement has trained 1,200 educators who run courses for 25,000 young people and adults. It trains primary-school teachers in most states, and has set up partnerships with international agencies, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, as well with the Catholic Church. It reached agreement with seven institutions of higher education in different regions to provide degree courses in education for MST teachers.[82] Some scholars agree that these MST communal schools tend to be markedly better than its conventional counterparts in rural communities, in both quantitative and qualitative terms.[83]

According to the MST, it has taught over 50,000 landless workers to read and write between 2002 and 2005. The MST also owns a Popular University of Social Movements (PUSM)[77]- also called Florestan Fernandes School (FFS), from its campus in Guararema, São Paulo, named for the Marxist scholar Florestan Fernandes - which offers various classes on the secondary (i.e., high school) level in a variety of fields: its first graduating class received its degrees in Specialized Rural Education and Development in 2005. These 53 graduates had participated in five stages of specialization, each of which lasted 20 days. In total, they spent 600 hours in study and class. Along with the Specialization Course, a partnership with the University of Brasília, the Government and Via Campesina, over 40 agreements were developed with Federal, State and Community Colleges to hold an array of courses such as Pedagogy, History, and Agronomy, as well as technical courses for different skill levels.[78] The FFS building was erected by means mostly of voluntary labor performed by work brigades employing soil cement bricks made at the school.[79] The late Oscar Niemeyer designed a project for the Auditorium Building intended to be part of the school's complex. Further expansion of the school complex through use of sustainable, low environmental impact is being considered.[80]


The MST has widened the scope of their movement by organizing more than just encampments and occupations of large farms. They have invaded the headquarters of public and multinational institutions. Their actions began to include fighting to eliminate fields of genetically modified crops and carrying out marches, hunger strikes and other political actions. The MST also cooperates with a number of rural worker movements and urban movements in other areas of Brazil. The MST also continues to remain in touch with broader international organizations and movements that support and embrace the same cause.[74] The MST congregates not only landless workers strictu sensu - that is to say rural workers or people recently evicted from the land - but also urban jobless and homeless people who want to make a living by working in the land, therefore its affinity with movements concerned with urban and housing reform.[75] The squatters' movement MTST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem teto - Homeless Workers' Movement) is commonly seem as an offshoot of the MST.[76]

MST was further influenced to be a movement of anti-hierarchical stance through the teachings of Paulo Freire. After working with poor communities in the rural Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Freire observed that aspects of traditional classroom structures, such as teachers being more powerful than the students, were hindering the potential for success in adults participating in adult literacy programs. He determined that the students' individual abilities to independently learn and absorb information were severely stalled due to their passive positions in the classroom. His teachings were used to encourage the activists to break passive dependence on oppressive social conditions and become engaged in active modes of behavior and condition. In the mid-1980s the MST created a new infrastructure for the movement directly guided by liberation theology and Freirian pedagogy. They did not elect leaders so as to not create hierarchies and to prevent corrupt leadership.[68]

The landless claim to have found institutional support in the Catholic Church through their teachings of social justice and equality, as embodied in the activities of Catholic Base Committees (Comissões Eclesiais de Base, or CEBs for short) which in general advocate liberation theology and more specifically anti-hierarchical social relations. This theology, as a radicalized re-reading of an already existing social doctrine of the Church (described above) became the basis of the MST's founding ideologies and organizational structure.[68] The loss of influence of progressives in the later Catholic Church, however, has reduced the closeness of the relationship between the MST and the Church as such.[73]

The MST is an ideologically eclectic rural movement of hundreds of thousands of landless peasants (and some who live in small cities) striving to achieve land reform in Brazil. The MST has been inspired since its inception by liberation theology, Marxism, the Cuban Revolution, and a variety of other leftist ideologies. That flexible mix of a discourse including "marxist concepts, popular religion, communal practices, citizenship principles and radical democracy", has increased the movement's power of attraction[72]


The MST is not a political party and has no formal leadership other than a dispersed group of some 15 leaders, whose public appearances are scarce. This secretive mood allows for minimizing risks of arrest[70] and also for preserving a grassroots, decentralized organizational model. This is regarded as an important strategy by the MST, in that it allows the movement to maintain an ongoing and direct flow of communication between member-families and their representatives. Coordinators are aware of the realities faced by member-families and are encouraged to discuss important issues with said families. This organizational blueprint seeks, in a way to empower people politically by having them acting "in the way they see fit, true to local context".[71] To assist with communication between Coordinators and member-families, and as an attempt to democratize the media, the MST produces the Jornal Sem Terra and the MST Informa.

The MST is organized entirely, from the grassroots level up to the State and National Coordinating Bodies, into collective units that make decisions through discussion, reflection and consensus. This non-hierarchical pattern of organization, reflecting Liberation Theology & Freirean pedagogy influences, was also dictated by the actual need to avoid clear-cut leaderships that could be bought off or assassinated.[68] The basic organizational unit, representing 10 to 15 families living in either an MST encampment or MST settlement ("encampment" standing for a non-legally recognized occupation, "settlement" for an already recognized one)[69] is known as a 'Nucleo de Base' in Portuguese. A Nucleo de Base is responsible for addressing the issues faced by the member-families, and members elect two representatives, one woman and one man, to represent them at settlement/encampment meetings. These same elected representatives attend regional meetings, where they elect regional representatives who then vote for members of the State Coordinating Body of the MST. In total, there are 400 members of the MST's State Coordinating Bodies (around 20 per state) and 60 members of the MST's National Coordinating Body (around 2 per state). Every MST family participates in a Nucleo de Base, and this represents roughly 475,000 families, or 1.5 million people. João Pedro Stédile, economist and author of texts on land reform in Brazil, is a member of the MST's National Coordinating Body.

Organizational structure

It must be kept in mind that, from the 1980s until today, the MST hasn't enjoyed a monopoly of land occupations, many of which are carried out by a host of grassroots organizations (dissidents from the MST, trade unions, informal coalitions of land workers); however, it is the MST who is by far the most organized group dealing in occupations, enjoying political leverage enough to turn occupation into formal expropriation for public purposes: already in 1995, out of 198 occupations carried out, only 89 (45%) were organized by the MST, but these included 20,500 (65%) out of the grand total of 31,400 families involved.[67]

During much of the 1980s, the MST faced political competition from the National Confederacy of Agrarian Workers' (CONTAG), heir to the 1960s Peasant Leagues, who sought to address the issue of land reform strictly by legal means, by favoring trade unionism and striving after wrestling concessions from bosses to rural workers. However, the more aggressive tactics of the MST in striving for access to the land allowed it to gather a capital of political legitimacy that soon outshone CONTAG, which limited itself to tradeunionism in the strictest sense, acting until today as a rural branch to the trade union central CUT .[65] Contrariwise, MST eventually all but monopolized political attention as overall rural workers' representative.[66]

The MST was officially founded in January 1984, during a National Encounter of landless workers in Pastoral Land Commission, which provided support and infrastructure.[64]

Albeit Curió enforced the blockade ruthlessly,[62] most of the landless refused his offer of resettlement on the Amazonian frontier, eventually pressuring the Military Government into expropriating nearby lands for the purposes of agrarian reform.[60] The Encruzilhada Natalino episode set a pattern, as most of the subsequent early development of the MST was to concern exactly areas of Southern Brazil where, in the absence of an open frontier, an ideological appeal at an alternate foundation for access to the land - other than formal private property - was developed as a response to the growing difficulties posed by agribusiness to the reproduction of family farming.[61] The MST also developed then what was to be its chief modus operandi: its organizing around local, concrete struggles of a specific demographic group.[62]

Between late 1980 and early 1981, over 6,000 landless families established an encampment on a portion of land located between three unproductive estates in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. These families included a core formed by part of 600 households that had previously been expropriated and dislocated in 1974 from neighbouring Passo Real for the construction of a hydroelectric dam.[57] This first group was later joined by an additional 300 (or, according to other sources, over 1,000) households which had been evicted by FUNAI from the Kaingang Indian Reservation in Nonoai, where they had been renting plots since 1968.[58] Local mobilization of the Passo Real and Nonoai people had already achieved some land distribution on non-Indian land, followed by demobilization. It was those who had not received land from these claims, joined by others, and led by leaders from the already existing regional movement MASTER (Rio Grande do Sul landless farmers' movement), who eventually came to compose the 1980/1981 encampment.[59] The location became known as the Encruzilhada Natalino. With the support of civil society, including the progressive branch of the Catholic Church, the families resisted a blockade imposed by military force. Enforcement of the blockade was entrusted by the government to the Army Colonel Sebastião Curió, at the time already notorious for his past experience in counter-insurgency during the Araguaia Guerrilla .

The smashing of the peasant leagues in the wake of the 1964 coup opened the way for a process of commercialization of agriculture and ensuing landed property concentration that proceeded unabated throughout the military dictatorship and expressed itself in an absolute decline of the rural population during the 1970s.[54] In the mid-1980s, out of a grand total of 370 million hectares of farm land, 285 million hectares (77%) were held by latifundia.[55] The redemocratization process during the 1980s, however, allowed for grassroots movements to pursue their own interests[56] as against the state and the ruling classes, and it is into this framework that the emergence of the MST fits.

Monument by Oscar Niemeyer dedicated to the MST.


The MST identifies what it believes to be unproductive rural land that does not meet its social function and occupies it, through a strategy of continuous and massive occupations throughout the entire national territory,[45] afterwards moving to ascertain the legality of the occupations. The MST is represented in these activities by public interest legal counsel, including their own lawyers, sons and daughters of MST families, as well as organizations such as Terra de Direitos, a human rights organization of civil society co-founded by Darci Frigo, the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award Laureate.[46] The courts might eventually issue a warrant requiring the occupiers' families to leave, or to refuse the landowners' request and allow the families to stay and engage provisionally in subsistence farming until the federal agency responsible for agrarian reform, Brazil's National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian reform (INCRA), is able to determine if the occupied property is, indeed, unproductive. The MST's legal activity bases itself on the idea that, since property rights are in a continuous process of social construction, engaging in litigation and trying to striking sympathies among members of the judiciary are essential to the legitimacy of the movement and to have its claims for citizenship granted.[47] Traditionally, Brazilian courts tend to side with the landowners and charge MST members with offences quoted by some as "frivolous and bizarre";[48] for instance, in the particular case of a 2004 land occupation in Pernambuco, a judge issued an order of arrest for various MST members by describing them as highly dangerous criminals.[49] Nevertheless, there are also many cases of individual judges who have shown themselves sympathetic to the movement.[50] Brazilian higher courts have usually regarded the MST with reserve: in February 2009, for instance, the then President of the Brazilian Supreme Court, Gilmar Mendes, declared the MST to engage in "illicit" activities, opposed granting of public monies to it, and supported an "adequate" judicial response towards land occupation.[51] Oppositely, the MST's leadership has in various occasions charged the STF as a whole as consistently hostile to the movement: in late 2013, it described the court as "lackeying to the ruling class" and "working for years against the working class and social movements".[52] This checkered relationship eventually came to a head on February 12, 2014, when a session of the court was suspended after an attempted invasion of the court's building in Brasilia by a group of MST activists, who were contained by the police with rubber bullets and tear gas.[53]

In a recent Brazilian law handbook, the author argues that land reform, as understood in the 1988 Constitution's text, in one of the various "compromises" on which constitutional law has consistently evaded taking a clear stance, therefore the fact that one could argue for or against the MST without leaving the framework of the Constitution.[40] Therefore, in the absence of a clear commitment of the government to land reform as a binding legal and policy goal, which precludes the possibility of the movement engaging in Public-interest litigation,[41] concrete proceedings for land reform are left to the initiative of the social movements concerned, thorough legal procedures that are onerous and time consuming- highlighting what a recent author calls "the highly problematic and ideologically driven nature of the Brazilian justice system".[42] Therefore the incentive for all parts concerned to resort to more "informal" means: "while the large landowners try to evacuate squatters from their land, squatters might use violence to force institutional intervention favoring them with the land expropriation afterwards [..] violence is mandatory for both sides to achieve their goals".[43] Something that raises controversies about the dubious legality of the MST's actions, as the movement tries to ensure social justice by itself.[44]

[39] UDR lobbying over the constitutional text is believed to have watered down the "social interest" principle as far as concrete enforcement was at stake.[38]

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