[11/30/06] Reuters Reports: Violent land clashes up in Brazil under Lula

Violent land clashes up in Brazil under Lula: report
November 30th, 2006

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Violent clashes over land increased during Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's first term, disappointing rights groups that hoped the former union leader would alleviate rural tensions, a report issued on Thursday said.

The report by 30 local human rights groups said 1,690 violent land disputes took place in Brazil this year. That represented an 83 percent increase over 2002, when Lula was first elected president on a platform of social justice and robust economic growth.

Killings in the countryside were commonplace the last four years, the report said. At least 73 peasants were murdered in clashes over land since Lula took office, although the number of killings fell slightly this year in comparison with 2005.

"The numbers are shameful," said Joao Paulo Rodrigues, a leader of the Landless Peasants Movement, or MST, Brazil's largest social movement.

"The Lula government has not lived up to expectations when it comes to bringing justice to the countryside," said Rodrigues, whose group often occupies large plantations and public buildings to pressure the government to grant land titles to peasant families.

Squabbles over land have long been common in Brazil, which is larger than the continental United States. Millions of Brazilians live in poverty but 1 percent of the population owns almost half the land, according to official data.

The report, which is published annually, criticized the Lula administration for not doing more to stop the violence. It also said the government failed to live up to its promise to distribute more land to peasant families.

Instead, it said the president favored big agribusiness interests over the poor, his traditional support base. The government says it is trying to strike a balance, encouraging both large-scale and family farming.

The report praised the government for taking steps to crack down on forced labor but said the practice continued to thrive in parts of the country and even in large cities like Sao Paulo, where thousands of Bolivian immigrants work in slave-like conditions in clandestine clothing factories.

It also said police brutality remained a major problem throughout the country, especially in crime-ridden cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It said authorities have not done enough to rein in so-called death squads, or groups of rogue police officers that roam cities killing suspected criminals.

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Brazil peasants resume land grabs after election
November 22nd, 2006

BRASILIA, Brazil, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Hundreds of farmers faced off with marching landless workers on a rural highway in southern Brazil on Wednesday as days of protests by one of Latin America's largest leftist movements threatened to erupt into violence.

Police stepped in to keep the two angry groups about 500 meters (550 yards) apart, said Antonio Jair da Silva, the commander of Brazil's federal highway police near Sao Gabriel in the southern farmland state of Rio Grande do Sul.

"There were some tense moments, but the police are there in the middle, making sure fighting doesn't break out," said da Silva, adding that a judge will most likely order the highway cleared before the end of the day.

Brazil's landless workers movement, or MST, has staged more than a dozen marches and land grabs across the country in recent days to pressure the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to speed up land reform.

The wave of protests is the first since Lula was re-elected to a second term in October. Parts of Lula's left-wing Workers' Party have close ties to the MST, which laid low during the campaign so as not to hurt his candidacy.

The MST frequently occupies privately owned farms to push for land reform in Brazil, where 1 percent of the population owns almost half the land. Such actions have alarmed big landowners and the business community.

In the northeastern state of Pernambuco, MST members occupied three properties for the second time this week because a government agency called Incra failed to settle them on the land as promised, an MST spokeswoman in Pernambuco said. The settlers are now setting up camps on the land, she added.

MST spokeswoman Maria Mello said that the protests were not orchestrated nationwide. Still, she said more than a dozen protests took place in at least six of Brazil's 24 states, especially in Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Sul.

Da Silva, the police officer, said 200 to 300 MST marchers were headed for a 13,000-hectare (32,120 acres) cattle ranch in Rio Grande do Sul when local farmers blocked their way.

MST president Joao Pedro Stedile told Reuters in August that Lula had failed to keep his promise to settle nearly half a million landless families in his first term. Stedile pledged to step up the pace of land grabs if Lula were to win four more years.

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