CPI of the MST: context and diagnosis of the Brazilian agrarian situation
José Geraldo de Sousa Junior is a professor at the Faculty of Law and former dean of the University of Brasília (UnB)
On 05/30/2023, in the deliberative file of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) – CPI-MST, application no. 34/2023 of Deputy Nilto Tatto (PT-SP), also subscribed by deputies Camila Jara (PT-MS), Gleisi Hoffmann (PT-PR), João Daniel (PT-SE), Marcon (PT-RS), Padre João (PT-MG), Paulão (PT-AL), Valmir Assunção (PT-BA), who requested that a meeting be held to contextualize and present a diagnosis of the Brazilian agrarian situation, requesting, therefore, that I be invited as a speaker.
Still pending deliberation, PSOL's request, signed by deputies Sâmia Bomfim (SP) and Talíria Petrone (RJ) who, based on article 58 of the Federal Constitution and article 36 of the Internal Regulations of the Chamber of Deputies, ask for the meeting at the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, with the objective of discussing the role of the Federal Constitution of 1988 and the agrarian question, with an invitation to the following specialists: in addition to also indicating to me, due to my qualifications as Full Professor at the University of Brasília, former director of the Faculty of Law at UnB and former dean of the same institution; puts me in the best company, also recommending my university colleague Ela Wiecko, a retired member of the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, where she served as Federal Prosecutor for Citizens' Rights, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Republic and Vice-President of the Superior Council of the MPF and jurist Pedro Serrano, Professor of Constitutional Law and General Theory of Law at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.
Already in this request, the request is for a public hearing to be held, on the grounds that the “CPI becomes aware of information, technical notes, research and academic studies on the agrarian issue in the country, with the objective of providing a better elucidation of the aspects technical and legal aspects of the issues that will be dealt with during the work” of the Commission.
For the authors of the application “The invited jurists can contribute on the fundamental aspects and principles of the Federal Constitution and the agrarian question in our country. It is essential that this CPI listen to specialists in the Constitutional field in order to outline the best scenario for its work”.
Now, on June 14, based on these assumptions, the session was installed for the testimony I gave to the CPI. I must say, at the outset, that the invitation not only honors me but gives continuity to a commitment to participate in the legislative process, an experience that I began to live at the time of the National Constituent Assembly, between 1987 and 1988 when it was established for the first time this dialogue between parliamentary representation and active citizenship, in the process itself. I remember then representing the Brazilian Commission on Justice and Peace, of the CNBB, as a speaker at a public hearing at the 12th meeting of the Subcommittee on Political Rights and Individual Guarantees of the Commission on Sovereignty and the Rights of Man and Woman, on 30 April 1987, with the theme “The social construction of citizenship: instruments of Direct Participation and Popular Initiatives as Guarantees of Citizenship”.
For Eneida Vinhaes Bello Dultra and Sabrina Durigon Marques, authors of the essay “The Legislative Invites Professor José Geraldo de Sousa Jr: Weaving the Democratic Thread of Critical Legal Training in the Space of Politics,” (in Direito.UnB Revista de Direito da Universidade de Brasília , volume 6, number 2, May-August 2022: Law Found on the Street: Contributions to the Critical Theory of Law, p. 295-310),
In that very important moment of consolidation of democracy in Brazil, he made an emphatic defense for the right to conquer citizenship, not restricted only to the defense of certain rights, but which are embodied in struggles for the constitution of a social subject, which emerges and emancipates itself consciously from its own forces.
The essay then goes through a long series of participations, in the Chamber, in the Senate or in mixed commissions, in which the authors find a vector that they call the promotion of “dialogue between the Academy and [the] Legislative Power as a way of affirming the relevance of democracy both for political action and in the legal formation defended as an instrument of freedom [obtaining as a result] a common thread that carries democratic values through the uncontested defense of active citizenship and the support of the collective subject of rights that emerges and conducts the process of transformation in pursuit of social justice”.
This is the first contextual guideline that I seek to establish. There are 35 years of maturation of a constitutional program that places democracy and social justice at its core, especially in the legislative process, in all dimensions of this process, from preparatory procedures, in the work of commissions and in the final deliberative moment. To depart from this process is to betray the Constitution and the Project for Society. That is why it is said (as Professor Marilena Chauí does) that democracy is not just a form of government, it is a form of society and takes place through the mediation of subjects who institutionalize political and legal action. Democracy and rights, which are not quantities of artifacts arranged on normative shelves, but problematic, tense, conflicting relationships, legitimized by the principles that animate politics, the constitution and rights, while promoting justice and emancipation.
The second contextual guideline is that it is necessary to recognize the subjects who move the democratic process and the realization of rights. In a system of intense democratic action, these subjects are mainly collective and are part of social movements. My consideration in this context derives from my academic practice in conjunction with the social, through inseparable action, as defined in the Constitution (art. 207) of teaching, research and extension.
At a time of worsening violence against indigenous peoples and their territories and on conflicts in the countryside, but also when a democratic turn takes place in Brazil, with the return of popularly based, participatory and radically democratic governance, it is all the more necessary that the living democratic forces are open to the elaboration of social and public policies that can use these studies to guide these policies.
Five centuries have already passed, but the seminal work by Alberto Passos Guimarães “Quatro Séculos de Latifundio”, published in 1963, followed by “A Crise Agrária” (1978) and “As Classes Dangerosas: Rural and Urban Banditry” (1982), it is also fundamental to understand the tense reality of the Brazilian countryside, the configuration of large estates and the concentration of land in Brazil and the struggle and protagonism of the peasant movement, currently with the outstanding performance of the MST - Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, to organize itself and propose a political and social project for the country.
The ongoing CPI cannot be one of the faces of this confrontation. Even if it presents itself as a more sophisticated face because it softens its forcefulness under the appearance of legislative oversight. With Renata Carolina Corrêa Vieira, we show in an article in Le Monde Diplomatique, published on 07/18/2019 – The social function of property: cornerstone of the Citizen Constitution (https://diplomatique.org.br/a-funcao-social- of-property-corner-stone-of-the-citizen-constitution/), the malice of legislative proposals that, despite their unfeasibility, try to reduce the scope of the realization of the principle of the social function of property, with deliberative movements in Parliament to favor the privatization of what was already placed outside of commerce. It turns, with renewed artifices, in legislative measures, to invoke the thesis of private property as an absolute right, in a context of dystopian reality, in which strictly business mentalities affirm the “sacredness” to withdraw from the bosom of society rights historically conquered by social struggles.
The brutal and bloody face in the line of colonialism that marks the oligarchic process, which characterizes our economic, social and political formation is enough: the criminalization of social demands (with the intention of typifying the forms of struggle in the list of the crime of terrorism) and the legal return to armament that equips urban and rural militias in the service of property and large estates.
In an article I published in a column that I kept for years in Sindjus Magazine (Union of Judiciary and Public Prosecution Service Employees in Brasilia (Sixteenth Edition, No. 50, 2008, page 5 – Hoes or Flowers?) The temptation to criminalize the MST, I alluded to this emollient action that the justice system itself promotes.
With that title I was referring to the dilemma posed in an article by the Attorney General of Justice of Rio Grande do Sul, published in Zero Hora, a printed edition of the 2nd of July of that year, in which it seeks to temporize the vehement reaction to civil actions triggered by the Public Ministry against certain MST encampments (Serraria and Jandir, among others), in RS, and which were seen as a concerted strategy to postulate the extinction or illegality of an important social movement.
What was most evident from observation is the difficulty in recognizing the emancipatory reach of social demands. In several states, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, in an apparent violation of the principle of the natural prosecutor, insisted on proposing public civil actions, due to the fact that INCRA and federal universities had signed a technical cooperation term aimed at implementing undergraduate courses in Law aimed at beneficiaries of the agrarian reform, within the parameters of the Pronera system (National Rural Education Program).
In the unusual terms of the MP's argument:
It is known that the habitat of the legal professional, in any of its aspects, is the urban environment, as it is in this locality where the other operators of the legal science are found. Even if he comes to sponsor a claim titled by a citizen who lives in the most distant rural area, he will address his demand to a body of the Judiciary Power, not found in rural areas.
The fact is that, although, under theoretical consideration, the forms of collective action of a contesting, solidary and propositional nature of social movements are recognized as legitimate, the dialectic of their multiple social practices is not necessarily seen, in terms of politics, as commitment to the community to build a democratic public sphere, within which emancipatory projects are defined, sensitive to cultural diversity and social justice. On the contrary, the conflicting expression of this dialectic has led, in general, to a depoliticized reaction, from which the Public Ministry, the Judiciary and even the Legislature are not immune, opening themselves up to the temptation to respond in a way that lacks solidarity and even criminalizes to these practices.
In its movements, it is part of the main agendas that seek to take the development and well-being of countries and peoples seriously.
On a recent Day for Women and Rural Workers (in July 2020), Cardinal Michael Czerny, secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development Service, sent a letter on behalf of Pope Francis that greets the landless families who continue to carry out solidarity actions in Brazil. The reason was the Pope’s recognition of the MST for having distributed more than 2,500 tons of food in the fight against Covid-19 and hunger in Brazil, an action seen with “joy for the beautiful gesture of food distribution that the families of the Agrarian Reform in Brazil are carrying out in these times of Covid-19.”
I return to the Pope. Its pastoral action is based on a theological perspective of universalization and not capitalization of the goods of life – the Theology of the three Ts: Land, Roof and Work, and on the confidence that without interlocution with social movements there is no democracy or justice. The Pope says (Address of the Holy Father Francis to the participants of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, published on the website of the Holy See, 28-10-2014):
“Popular movements express the urgent need to revitalize our democracies, so often hijacked by countless factors. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the protagonist participation of the great majorities, and this protagonism exceeds the logical procedures of formal democracy. The perspective of a world of lasting peace and justice requires us to overcome paternalistic assistance, it requires us to create new forms of participation that include popular movements and animate local, national and international government structures with that torrent of moral energy that arises from the incorporation of the excluded in the construction of a common destiny. And this with a constructive spirit, without resentment, with love.
I accompany you wholeheartedly on this path. Let's say it together from the heart: no family without a home, no farmer without land, no worker without rights, no person without the dignity that work gives.”
The MST is certainly a conflict, but it is also a project. And authentic design. From everything we have heard and on everything we have reflected on, in a theoretical-political accumulation, even with the contribution of Congress, it is enough to see that this is the fifth Parliamentary Commission established to go to the root of this theme, there are many injunctions of this project that do not reduce to a mobilizing action for agrarian reform, but which opens up a complex agenda of a complete project for society.
With unique nuances. Tomorrow I promote, as one of the organizers/authors, the launch of a book entitled O Direito Achado na Rua (The Right Found in the Street). Collective subjects already mentioned: only struggle guarantees the rights of the people! The whole book deals with this thought-provoking theme, which is the installation of an active subjectivity inscribed in social movements so well studied by the sociologist Alain Tourraine, who has just passed away and to whom I pay homage. In the book, I highlight the essay “The Day the Collective Subject of Law Occupied the Stock Exchange: the Unusual Meeting between the CVM and the MST.” The author, Diego Vedovatto, a young academic from the graduate program in Law at UnB, who was born in a settlement in Rio Grande do Sul, with rigorous epistemological contributions, describes and analyzes the “unusual meeting” between the Comissão de Valores Mobiliários (Securities and Exchange Commission) (CVM) and the Landless Rural Workers Movement – MST, during the issuance of the first credit title in the form of Agribusiness Receivables Certificate – CRA, open to the general public on the Brazilian stock exchange, by cooperatives made up of landless farmers and based in agrarian reform settlements.
The Academy takes this topic seriously. The Congress, which was constituted by the founding power of the social movements that gave it its shape and constitutive reach, could also be the promoter of the valorization of an emancipatory action program that characterizes the MST and that garnered it almost universal recognition. Of course, the MST is conflict, but I insist, it is also a project. As the Public Prosecutor Marcelo Goulart said in a recent interview, in this project it is not only agrarian reform that is at stake, as it is one of the main forms of emancipation of the working people, but also the democratization of access to land and economic production and ecologically sustainable in the countryside, and what is most basic for everyone: sovereignty and food security
(*) José Geraldo de Sousa Junior is a professor at the Faculty of Law and former dean of the University of Brasília (UnB)