MST Arrives in Brasilia

May 17, 2005

The MST arrived in Brasilia to meet with Lula and government officials about their demands for land reform. Though conflict with police that injured landless marchers and police officers overshadowed media coverage, the march managed to assert the urgency of land reform while animating MST members throughout. The March has also helped the MST guarantee its future through the heavy participation of MST youth in the 17-day long spirited and educational journey.

Read below a report from Reuters. The MST and other perspective on March outcomes and protest clashes will soon follow.

Brazil landless march ends in clashes, 50 injured
18 May 2005 05:58:40 GMT
Source: Reuters /

(Updates number of activist injuries, adds government comment)

By Andrew Hay and Tiago Pariz

BRASILIA, Brazil, May 17 (Reuters) - A 17-day protest march by 12,000 Brazilian landless peasants ended in violence on Tuesday as activists fought with police and demanded faster government land resettlement to cut rural poverty.

Over 50 people were injured as mounted riot police charged into demonstrators at the end of the 150-mile (238-km) march to pressure President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to meet land reform promises.

The clashes occurred as leaders of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) met with Lula and said they reached a deal to boost reform spending. Government officials denied any accord.

Over 30 MST activists and 20 paramilitary police suffered bruises and broken bones after protesters tried to cross a police line at Congress. Mounted officers made repeated baton charges in the worst protest violence seen in Brasilia in years.

"They just came at us without provocation," said MST activist Gabriel Silveira as he staggered on the grass before Congress, complaining of a blow to his shoulder by police.

Police Maj. Nevitton Pereira Junior said two officers could lose their sight after being speared in the face by bamboo poles. He showed welts where he said he had been beaten.

MST leaders have threatened to increase the pace of land occupations, and could drop traditional support for Lula if he fails to meet a promise to settle 430,000 families by 2006.

He is nowhere near the election pledge after focusing on market-driven economic policies and big farm producers to achieve steady growth needed to cut poverty.

MST leaders left the Lula meeting telling reporters he agreed to free up nearly half the land reform spending he froze in 2005, or about 700 million reais ($282 million), and hire 1300 new land reform agents to speed settlement of families.

Agrarian Reform Minister Miguel Rossetto said the meeting had been "positive" but the government had made no deal and it would give its proposals to the MST on Wednesday.

MST leaders showed no sign of easing up on farm invasions that worry foreign investors and can cause political headaches for Lula as the opposition accuses him of being soft on "crime".

"With the energy of this march we have to raise occupations even higher, with this energy we have to attack economic policy," MST leader Joao Pedro Stedile told cheering activists near Congress as police looked on.

Since Lula's Workers Party moved away from its leftist roots the MST has lost its most powerful political backer.

With such support gone, 44 percent of the 2005 land reform budget has been frozen to help the government hit a high budget surplus goal meant to cut debt. The government says it may settle as few as 160,000 families by the end of this year.

The MST invades ranches to press the government to purchase and resettle unused land. The end goal is to cut deep land inequality where 1 percent of Brazil's 180 million people controls 45 percent of its farmland.

Leaders of Brazil's peasant movements said they still backed Lula but could discuss ending support for his 2006 re-election campaign unless he spends more on landless settlement.

"When we get to the election period we are going to discuss this," said Romario Rossetto, a national coordinator of the Via Campesino movement which represents small farmers.

Earlier in the day, crowds of peasants burned fast-food wrappers and other rubbish outside the U.S. Embassy to protest against what they called U.S. imperialism.

The MST has strengthened relations with populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and given support to his plans to counter a U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas, as its relations with Lula have weakened.

"Bush, get your hands off Venezuela, Colombia and Iraq," shouted MST leader Maria de Jesus as activists waved Venezuelan flags at lines of police guarding the U.S. embassy.