[4/1/05] MST Update #87: "Why is Agrarian Reform Necessary?", 3 Landless Workers Jailed in Parana, Anti Iraq Way Protests

*The MST distributes biweekly updates that FMST-US volunteers translate and make available. Please read the latest below.*

This MST Update #87 from April 1, 2005 includes:

1. FEATURE ARTICLE: Why do we need agrarian reform?

2. Three Landless Workers Remain Imprisoned without Justification in Paraná
3. Nonviolent Marches Mark the Second Anniversary of the Iraq War

1. FEATURE ARTICLE: Why do we need agrarian reform?

Dear friends of the MST,

Brazil has serious economic and social problems that result from the inequality in land ownership and the way agricultural production is organized.

Land reform proceeds at a slow pace in our country. Today there are 200 thousand landless families camped under tents made of black plastic sheeting, alongside unproductive estates (latifúndios), and there are 4.6 million landless families living in a situation of extreme abandonment. The policy of Land Reform has been criticized, including by the United Nations in a recent report about housing conditions in Brazil.

According to the National Plan for Land Reform laid out by the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), there are 55 thousand rural properties (making up 120 thousand hectares or 300 thousand acres) classified as unproductive. These lands should, by law, be expropriated and immediately handed over to the families of workers.

But the elite landowners of Brazil sought strategies to prevent the advancement of land reform. Through the influence of the elite landowners over the courts, many rural workers have been imprisoned. In the media, the constant attacks on the social movements and systematic propaganda favorable to agribusiness have been aimed at inhibiting our struggle. At the same time, the conservative wing of the national congress instituted a parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPMI) that was charged with investigating rural violence. Its role has been to try to discredit the MST in public opinion, creating factoids about the movement’s financial resources.

In 2003 as a result, 14 thousand families were settled and in 2004, not even 50 thousand were settled. The initial government proposal, established after a march to Brasilia with thousands of men and women workers from rural social movements, was to settle 430 thousand in three years, with priority given to families in encampments.

We began 2005 with the cut of R$2 billion in the MDA budget, which had been predicted to be R$3.4 billion. The money saved was used once again to guarantee the payment of interest on the external debt. And more than 66% of rural workers remain without access to credit and farm subsidies. The agrarian bourgeoisie, allied with the transnational corporations, built up the story about the success of agribusiness and continues doing this within the government, despite the weakness of this year’s soy harvest. The Minister of Agriculture, the representative of the agrarian bourgeoisie, quickly succeeded in renegotiating the debts of the large soy producers of the Central-West region with the Bank of Brazil, valued at R$6 billion.

The landowners who benefit, along with international financial capital, continue trying to convince Brazilian society that the agricultural model developed by them is collaborating with the political economy on dedicating itself to export. Agribusiness is shown as a synonym for modernity, but the properties larger than one thousand hectares employ only 600 thousand wage workers and possess only 5% of the national fleet of tractors. And in a universe of 5 million owners, fewer than 1% of the total, around 26 thousand, are owners of 46% of the land. The 300 largest farm properties total an area equal to the states of Paraná and São Paulo together.

Even in a country that has the highest rate of land concentration, the small properties employ 13 million family workers and more than 1 million wage workers and hold 52% of the national fleet of tractors. In all farm products, the small property has production indexes higher than those of the large properties. A few examples: in milk production, the small farms have 71.5% of the total and the large properties only 1.9%. In hog raising, the rural workers are responsible for 87.1% and the large estates only 1.7%. In coffee, the small properties produce 70% of all production.

Faced with this situation, we have been mobilizing for 20 years to demand a more dignified life for the rural workers and we adopted various forms of struggle, among them marches. On April 17, a worldwide day of struggle for land, we will begin a National March for Land Reform with 10 thousand workers.

For the MST, Land Reform must come along with agribusiness, education, and new farm technology that respects the environment. This is the quickest and cheapest way for the government to create 3 million jobs in the countryside. The only choice for the poor is to organize themselves and struggle for their rights that are guaranteed in the Federal Constitution of Brazil.


A warm embrace,

National Secretariat of the MST


2. Three Landless Workers Remain Imprisoned without Justification in Paraná

For more than eight months, three landless workers have been arbitrarily imprisoned in the public jail of Guarapuava, in the central region of Paraná. The court and the police treat these workers as highly dangerous criminals, preventing visits from friends and families. Besides this, the fact of them not constituting a risk to public safety or the proceeding of the case against them, means that keeping them in jail is an affront to the Federal Constitution. In March, the Social Movements Coordinating Committee launched a campaign to free the MST political prisoners who are held in Paraná, with committees in Curitiba, Guarapuava, São Paulo and Brasília.

3. Nonviolent Marches Mark the Second Anniversary of the Iraq War

While U.S. President George Bush repeats that the war was “just