squatters in Brazil get boost From Soap Opera and CD FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 3 Feb 1998 15:07:03 -0800 (PST)

=46WD   Jack Epstein, Special to The Christian Science Monitor   Feb 3, 1998


SAO PAULO, BRAZIL -- Nearly 13 years ago, actor Paulo Betti took his place
among thousands of landless farmers squatting on a private ranch in the
state of Rio Grande do Sul.

"I went to give them credibility in the public's eye and make it harder for
the police to attack," he says. Mr. Betti thus became one of the first
Brazilian celebrities to pick up the red, white, and green banner of the
Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), a grass-roots organization founded
in 1984 to speed up agrarian reform by invading large holdings.

Since then, he has been joined by popular samba singers, filmmakers, and
pop stars. "They are fundamental for our program because they reach the
public's soul," MST cofounder Jo=E3o Pedro Stedile said of his movement's
trendy backers.

Since its inception, the MST has successfully settled 200,000 landless
families on 17 million acres of forcibly sequestered land. As the
movement's ranks have grown to more than half a million members, so has the
status of its artistic support.

                            One actor took his role as a crusading
                            senator so seriously that he lectured
                            President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on
                            agrarian reform.

Last April, samba superstar Chico Buarque released a CD about the MST,
which was marketed alongside a photo essay book by a renowned photographer.
Terra (Land) is sold in 30 nations and is expected to earn $2 million for
the movement's coffers. A few months later, about 20 of Brazil's most
famous folk singers joined for a "We Are the World"-style recording session
in support of MST leader Jose Rainha, who many believe was wrongly
convicted last summer of a landowner's murder.

In Brazil, the richest 20 percent of the population owns 88 percent of
land, while the poorest 40 percent holds only 1 percent. According to the
MST, Brazil has 195 million acres of fallow land, some 62 percent of its
arable territory, which is often used for speculation and tax write-offs.

This skewed distribution is the major reason for rural violence that has
resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,000 people since 1985, according to the
Roman Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission.

And while the participation of artists in the landless struggle hasn't cut
back noticeably on the bloodshed, it has added some significant markers to
Brazilian culture.

After police gunned down 19 MST activists in 1996 in the state of Par=E1,
Oscar Niemeyer - the architect who designed Brazil's capital - built a
monument on the site of the massacre. Last year, four documentaries were
filmed about the MST, including "Rose's Dream" by award-winning director
Tete Moraes.

But it's television, specifically the wildly popular soap operas, that have
given the movement its most powerful support. In 1996 and '97, Benedito Rui
Barbosa's protest against the unfair distribution of land - "Cattle King" -
became one of the nation's most successful shows ever and sparked threats
from landowners to sue Mr. Barbosa.

Actor Carlos Vereza, who played a crusading senator, took his role so
seriously that he lectured President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on agrarian
reform when Mr. Cardoso visited the set. " 'Cattle King' was a vehicle to
bring the land question to a national forum," says Barbosa. "And its high
ratings - thank God - meant viewers were rooting for the landless."

In the meantime, some MST leaders are becoming celebrities in their own
right. Mr. Stedile and Mr. Rainha have been invited to parade at next
month's carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Rainha, who is free while awaiting a
new trial, hobnobbed with Danielle Mitterand, the widow of the former
=46rench president, after receiving a human rights award in Paris in Decembe=


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