Sem Terra: Brazilian Landless Movement Comes To Boston FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 17:26:49 -0800 (PST)

=46WD via,,
Subject: Sem Terra in Boston
=46rom: Mark Laskey <>
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 18:43:57 EST


Rogerio, representing the Sem Terra Movement in Brazil, spoke at the
Jackson Mann School in Allston, on the evening of Friday, March 12. A
small but enthusiastic group, composed mostly of members of the local
Brazilian community, showed up to learn more of and lend support to the
struggle of their landless brothers and sisters in Brazil. Supported by
the PT, Boston(Workers Party of Brazil), and Global Exchange, the meeting
sought to bring attention to Sem Terra Movement(MST) and to help bring
activists together here in Boston.

With the help of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the
Brazilian government has created an economic policy which propagates
systematic expropriation of the land of small farmers. Under the auspices
of great economic reform, the government, in cooperation with the World
Bank, offers sizable loans and credit lines to many small farmers; but
there=EDs a catch. In the midst of an economic crisis due partly to intense
importation of goods, available at prices significantly lower than those
grown locally, small farmers find it impossible to pay back loans tagged
with incredible interest rates of 12-15%. The government and banks then
repossess the farmers' lands, and in turn sell it to large land-owners,
passing the farmers themselves off as lazy and leaving them landless,
without any source of sustenance. So far, some 400,000 small farmers and
their families have lost their land due to the economic policies of the
Brazilian government.

In order to move ahead with its plans of creating a Free Market Economy
and privatized industry (only the oil industry and national banks now
remain unprivatized), like that of the US, the government has had to
combat a great deal of resistance from the popular movement. They have
been able to do so in the urban areas of Brazil, focusing especially on
unions, intervening in labor disputes and prosecuting strike leaders
harshly. The state, however, has not been so successful in destroying the
social movements of the countryside, with which popular support has been
growing rapidly since 1995.

In order to combat the corporatization of their country, the Sem Terra
Movement has mobilized many thousands of rural workers to organize
themselves and occupy mills, factories and land which do not perform
their intended social function. According to the Brazilian constitution,
such land may be expropriated and put to use. To avoid expropriation,
land must maintain a certain level of productivity, respect labor as well
as environmental rights, and can=EDt be used to grow or process drug crops.
Members of the MST and their families organize and occupy such lands,
forcing the government to expropriate the land and give it back to the
people. So far, some 200,000 families, totaling one million people, have
received titles due to the action on the part of the MST, which has also
helped to create 400 workers associations, 7 workers co-ops and 75 small
industrial centers. Other achievements of the movement include an average
working wage of one-and-a-half times the minimum wage, better working
conditions, a steadily improving employment rate(now 22%, and may reach
30% by the year 2000), and a boost in education and health care. Rogerio
stressed that the MSTs immense strength is largely due to its push for
social programs.

In an effort to destroy the MST, the government first criminalized its
activities, the occupation of land and government buildings, which has
resulted in the arrests many MST leaders. The government has now
introduced a bill that will make the process of expropriation impossible,
and in an effort to divide workers, it continues to make life impossible
for small farmers. The Workers Party of Brazil has organized protests for
a World Bank committee to investigate the consequences of their own
actions, but past instances make it clear whose side the government is
on. In 1996, 150 military police opened fire on an MST group resulting in
the deaths of 19 workers.

Rogerio highlighted the effects of American national policies, such as
NAFTA, on the people of Brazil as their own government promotes similar
policies at home. He pointed out, however, that when such policies
cripple an economy, tripling the national debt, the current government
may not be able to continue smoothly for long, since the model for a Free
Market which they set, has completely failed.

The meeting concluded with big hugs and call for international
solidarity, followed by a gathering at local Cafe Brazil for food and
discussion about how we can aid the landless struggle and organize from
home. Two workers representing the Sem Terra Movement will be in town
again in early May.

Kenn Brown / WE DARE BE FREE


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