Major Changes in the Countryside Opens the Perspective of the MST to Reposition Itself in the Struggle
By Luiz Felipe Albuquerque
Agriculture has undergone a major transformation in Brazil over the past 10 years, with the advancement of the agribusiness model. This model is based on: the production of monocultures on large estates; in an alliance of capitalist farmers, transnational corporations and financial capital; a mechanization that promotes expelling families from the countryside; and in an excessive use poisons, the agro-toxins.
These changes effect transformations in the material base of agriculture, which poses new challenges for movements that struggle for agrarian reform and peasant and family farming. "The dynamics of the struggle has changed a lot and it also requires us to review the entire process. The situation in the 1980s was one process. Today is completely different and more complex. The class enemy is much more powerful, "says a member of the National Coordination of the MST, Elemar do Nascimento Cezimbra.
In this interview, Elemar assesses Agrarian Reform under the Dilma [Rousseff, president of Brazil] government, the necessary advances for the MST and the outlook for the next period. Compare:
What's the current situation of agrarian reform?
In terms of areas of expropriation, the balance was extremely negative. No area was expropriated under the Dilma government. Measures to develop the settlements did not advance. The program for agro-industry [small, rural based agricultural industry], the negotiation of debt and technical assistance even had some advances, but the policy as a whole is extremely negative. The government was triumphant in the logic of agribusiness.
This model insists on maintaining the invisibility of the peasantry throughout Brazil and all the contradictions it creates, without taking into account all the cultural, educational and social complexity in the countryside.
Did the government have capacity to do more?
The government could have other policies. Not because there is a correlation of unfavorable forces that was not able to have some progress. The advances that we recognize that happened in recent years are due to our struggle. But agribusiness has made a very strong counter-offensive and the government surrendered very quickly.
The government responded promptly to all of the demands of agribusiness, like the setback on the issue of the Forestry Code and the release of GMOs. The government shares this view of development, one-way, based on the landowners and agribusiness.
It is not the vision of the huge number of peasants who could potentially end up in the slums if they cannot stay in the countryside. This is the result of this model. The counterpoint
of non-implementation of land reform is unruly violence and the militarization of the outskirts of Rio de January. The government does not look at this other aspect. Does it not hear what is being said by many intellectuals? It is a deaf government.
And what is the reason for this position of the government?
First, alliances. But the government itself has argued that these alliances, with centrists and agribusiness sectors, would not prevent it from working with two visions of agriculture, agribusiness and family agriculture. However, what arises from the state structure for agribusiness, the large projects and large transnational projects, is immeasurably greater than that intended for small-scale agriculture, which is largely in the majority. There are almost 5 million families of small and medium farmers, beyond the landless, who are not benefited by these policies.
This alliance seems strange at first, coming from a sector that has a trajectory from the popular left. But that's why under the Lula and Dilma governments agribusiness has been advanced as never before in the history of this country, because there was a joining. When they were the opposition, these forces barred a lot of things. Now no one bars. It was very easy to pass the GMO’s. Now they are taking the same positions with the issue of the Forestry Code. The government increased the number of loans for agribusiness, which is also gaining a lot of other benefits. It is also a government that was excited by this logic that Brazil is an agricultural vocation by its very nature.
From the beginning, the Dilma government never indicated it would invest in creating new settlements, but would give priority to the strengthening of existing ones. How do you assess this position?
The government fulfilled, to the letter, the idea of not investing in the creation of new settlements. So much so that no area was expropriated. There were even more than 100 cases of expropriations that were already ready and on the table of President Dilma, but she sent them back. This is shocking to those who expected a breakthrough of a government with a more popular character. The whole structure of the state, when it comes to people's interests, is stuck. The government does little to streamline and accelerate. Policies to improve the settlements were very timid. They made little headway.
Our struggles were able to add some points, putting some resources for one thing or another, but so far not become reality - at least quickly as expected and that was possible. If we compare the budget of the previous governments with the current government in relation to land reform, we see a large decrease. That is, a State which does not help much in a government with little desire to meet these social sectors.
In this context, what assessment of activities of the Movement?
Our organization already has nearly 30 years. Brazil is going through a situation of great transformations in the countryside. Global financial capital came very heavy in Brazil in recent years. All this causes many changes. The MST is now in a phase to reposition itself in this scenario of class struggle.
For this, we will regroup, recover and redirect forces in several respects. This is the great debate that we are preparing for our 6th National Congress. We are making an assessment, trying to understand this complex environment with all its implications, within the framework of the left in Brazil and the decline of the mass struggle.
All this also affects our struggle, because it is a part of that whole and suffer the effects of what happens in society. We must move forward and refer to an organization of struggle. Even when the movement was created, for example, it took six years of connections. The movement began in 1979 and the first Congress took place only in 1985.
Now almost 30 years later, we must advance to meet the changes that the country has. We're already had four years of discussions and we will continue this debate for two more years. At the same time, we will continue struggling.
What are the challenges of the Movement in the coming period?
After 30 years, the MST has a massive presence in this country. We are in 1,200 municipalities [like counties in the US]. Our first task in the struggle is to look inward to our settlements. We have to reorganize to point to a different perspective of agriculture, a new project in our settlements. We want to produce food, taking into account the environment, to have another relationship to society, to rebuild rural communities, to develop the perspective that working in the rural areas has a place, yes, in the history of development of this country and a place that cannot be empty of people.
In addition to organizing our house, we have to look at our surroundings: dialogue with neighboring communities, with the municipalities. Deepen connections with the working class, with other organizations, and joint international allies.
This can never be abandoned. From what the Movement has already won, we will have to restart. In 1985, we had almost nothing. The settlements were beginning. Today we have over 1 million people in the base. More than 500,000 families. There is a whole model that was built. And all that remains.
Is it time to take a leap of quality?
In this dynamic transformation, there are times that require leaps of quality. The MST is at this time. The dynamics of the struggle has changed a lot and it also requires us to review the entire process. The conjuncture of the 1980s was one. Today is completely different and more complex. The class enemy is much more powerful. This requires an MST-based work much stronger. And here we have to talk, listen, knowing the demands and organize ourselves to respond to them, which derives from a series of other changes.
What does the movement need to do to deepen this process?
First, take this debate to our entire base. We need to move the groundwork for greater strength in the next period. The membership will have to study, understand and deepen this moment in this debate. It is the first task that is already being done. Our base will have to understand this new era and how we must position ourselves within that context.
While doing the groundwork, let us also reorganize. We also have to follow, with more quality, staff training. What is the mind and style of the militant that we need in this new period? If we have not trained people we cannot lead the struggle. Leaders have to lead by sticking to the base and being well prepared for this new situation. The struggle for land continues.
We have to better develop with our base the idea that the classical agrarian reform, based solely on land distribution, is outdated. The perspective is to resume with more force the occupation of lands and estates.
And the basic work in the settlements?
We have to further discuss the type of settlement that we want, taking into account the organization, agro-ecology, technical assistance, cooperation and agricultural based industry. And we are pressing the government to make more investments.
We have a vision of a developed peasant; advanced, seeking a cooperation that is not an end in itself but a means. This is another challenge. We have to develop the settlements seeking a social purpose in the class struggle, the prospect of a deeper transformation. All these are means, mechanisms and instruments for this larger perspective, the prospect of an equal and just society. Whoever loses this vision is lost. These tasks are great, but we have to move forward.
What is the role of youth in this debate?
We need to make a strong argument about what we want with our children and our youth. What is their place and how to get involved? It is work that we will resume with more force. The sector of gender, women's issues, is also another point. We have to accelerate the participation of women at the base, with greater effectiveness, clarity and intentionality.
We have to set goals, learn to organize ourselves with less spontaneity. Next to our vision of an equal and just society, we have to plot strategy and guidelines. Trace actions and evaluate them. Planned work is very difficult in a peasant organization, but we have to organize.
This quality is not only political and ideological, but also technical and administrative. Organize well the resources, enabling finance and qualify the relationship with the state. We have to work seriously on the side of self-sustenance, with much more effectiveness so we are able to position ourselves more strongly in the next period.