[11/25/05] MST Informa #103 - In Question: The Need for Land Reform in Brazil!

Dear Friends of the MST,

In the last few days, the Congressional Committee of Inquiry on Land Issues was center stage on the national scene. There are two antagonistic sides in this confusion of information: on one side are the defenders of the implementation of Land Reform as a mechanism for national development. On the opposite side, the Congressmen tied to the Rural Democratic Union (UDR), agribusiness, and rural violence.

The accusations made by Congressmen on the right are related to the use of public funds. We emphasize that the MST, as a social movement, has no legal power to access public funds. The families in the rural settlements enjoy partnerships with groups committed to Land Reform. Among these numerous groups, some have agreements with the National Association of Farm Cooperation (ANCA), the National Confederation of Land Reform Cooperatives (CONCRAB) and the Technical Institute for Training and Research on Land Reform (ITERRA), which are being investigated. The MST is proud of the work carried out by these groups, which are capable and serious in their treatment of public matters. They help to fight illiteracy, build alternative health resources in rural areas and work to preserve the environment, among other initiatives. They develop rural life in practice, turning the countryside into a good place to live. They are partners and autonomous groups that respond with their actions and financial flows. Its history shows that the MST is a movement independent of any political party, NGO, group, union, or church and will maintain this independence as a political principle.

Our schools were also attacked in the report of the right-wingers, ignoring the advances won by the men and women rural workers: 60,000 landless have been taught to read and write in just the last two years. To place yourself against them is to place yourself against the cultural advancement of the people. This is exactly what the elite desire: for the rural poor to have no knowledge in order not to feel the chains that bind them, keeping them in ignorance.
The MST is in favor of transparency in the administration of all public funds and we support the investigations, regardless of who is involved. We do not agree about the use of the Commission on Land Issues as a stage for ideological struggle and attempts to criminalize the Movement. What is in question in this CMPI on Land is the necessity and importance of carrying out Land Reform in Brazil, indispensable for the consolidation of democracy and social justice.

We share below the special interview granted by Deputy João Alfredo (PSOL-CE), reporter of the Commission on Land Issues, who appointed the main questions raised by the Commission in two years of work. For him, “the first solution (for the question of land) is that the government has to fulfill its goal‿. The report was read in the Commission on Tuesday, November 22, when congressmen on the right asked to see it.

Did the Commission correspond to its initial proposals?

João Alfredo: I have always said that the challenges of this Commission on Land Issues and of this report were immense. First of all for handling the land question, that has not been resolved in Brazil for five centuries. The Commission would have to analyze our whole history and the size of the country. This is an immense challenge for two years.

Secondly, for the passion, interests, struggles, and debates on the land question. If Land Reform never happened in our country it’s because the strength of the large landowners was very great. To look at this question is to view an open wound: that of the concentration of land in the hands of the few. Today, 1.6% of the landowners have almost 50% of the properties in all of Brazil. It is the violence of the concentration of land, which added to physical violence, victimized almost 1,400 workers, lawyers, unionists, and religious in the last few years. Of these cases, only 70 were verified.

Besides the deaths, we also have impunity. In the period in which the Commission was working, we had the death of Sister Dorothy Stang, who gave testimony in the Commission and at that time told about the situation of extreme tension in Altamira (PA), where Anapu is located. We had the death of two inspectors from the Labor Ministry who were looking into the problem of slave labor in Unaí (MG) and the slaughter of Felisburgo (MG). Already at the end of the report, there were more deaths in Pernambuco and in Pará. It’s a very great challenge, even more in a Commission where the right-wing ruralists are in the majority and continue to invert the goal of the Commission to reach the social movements.

I tried to be faithful to the goals of the Commission, which were: 1. to diagnose the land issue, 2. to analyze the processes of Land Reform that had already taken place in Brazil and the problem of violence in the countryside and 3. the solutions for all of this. The land problem in Brazil is not an accounting problem, either of the MST or of the ruralist groups. Even when these received in the last few years $R 1 billion, while the groups linked to the workers received $R41 million. That’s not it. It’s a question of the root of the problem: of understanding the problem of land concentration, of land grabs, of knowing if there is land for Land Reform and that there is a demand of more than 3 million people for this. And we need to say that the governments did not have the political will to carry out Land Reform. The Cardoso government that expropriated much less than it bragged about, invested in a market-based Land Reform through farm credits, abandoning the settlements.

Many suggestions were given in the report. What were the most important?

J.A.: If we identify the main problems as land concentration, land grabs, rural violence, and slave labor, we can point to solutions. The first solution is for the government to fulfill its goal. There is less than a year until the end of the government’s term and only 45% of the settlement goals were fulfilled. This is very low. And more seriously: in next year’s budget, the funds for the payment of expropriations were cut by 40%. It’s also necessary to fulfill the goals in the other areas. On the question of giving titles to good-faith possessions of up to 100 hectares, only 1% was fulfilled. From the point of view of geo-referencing, which is carrying out registration for the problem of illegal occupancy after land grabs, especially in Pará, only 1% was fulfilled. The strengthening of INCRA is related to this.
We want to change the laws to make the expropriation process speedier, by changing the productivity indexes and the time periods for the expropriation transaction. If we look at the problem of land grabbing, a correction is needed in the notary offices, which are full of corruption, and we need the approval of a proposal for a constitutional amendment to make the notary offices a state function in Brazil.

On the question of rural violence, there are evidently proposals for indictments, such as that of the president of the Democratic Rural Union, which has initiated the formation of private militias, as well as other ruralist leading groups. A task force of the federal police is necessary to disband all these private militias and disarm them. We also need to set up agrarian hearings and mediation commissions in the states and we need changes in the legislation so that in collective conflicts the judges cannot return land that has been expropriated without first going to the site along with the prosecuting attorney. And the owner has to prove the social function of his land. This is fundamental because the evictions in the countryside are a source of more violence.

In regards to impunity, we want to approve agrarian judgeships within the Federal court system and work on the construction of a Court for Land Issues, just as there is for Labor. It will be a specialized court from the judge, to the courts for those who have been evicted, expropriations, collective questions linked to conflicts over land, possession and execution of Land Reform, the federal Court of Accounts, and also for 10 states that received concrete proposals.

We want to create in the Chamber of Deputies a Commission on Land Reform and Rural Justice because these questions of Land Reform and rural conflicts have no space in the commissions. Either they are handled in the Agriculture Commission, which is dominated by the right-wing landowners and ends up focusing on the interests of agribusiness or in the Commission on Human Rights, together with other topics related to this problem. We think that the land question is so important that it deserves its own commission.


National Secretariat of the MST

NOTE: The Full Text of João Alfredo's Report (in Potuguese) can be accessed by visiting:

News Briefs

Killers of Sister Dorothy will go on trial in December

Vitalmiro Bastos Moura, o Bida, Regivaldo Pereira Galvão e Rayfran Neves Sales, accussed of assassinating Sister Dorothy Stang in February 2005 will go on trial December 9 and 10. To send messages demanding justice in this crime, write to cptpa@conectus.com.br