landless workers loot food in rural Brazil: no sin, says Church

Tom Boland (
Tue, 5 May 1998 21:04:07 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  05/04/98 - Associated Press


Brazil - The anger and despair were etched on Waldacir de
Souza's face as he held his 7-month-old daughter and pointed
halfheartedly to a piece of sunbaked land that used to feed his

Mr. Souza, one of an estimated 10 million Brazilians facing
starvation from a devastating drought, said he would do anything
to save his family.

"I'll loot to survive," he said defiantly.

He won't be alone.

The Catholic Church has said that looting to stave off hunger is
neither a crime nor a sin.

And the Landless Rural Workers Movement, better known by its
Portuguese initials MST, has endorsed looting as a tactic to
pressure the government for aid.

"We are going to make sure that no one starves to death because
more than 1,100 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. "This means
anything is valid to force the government to take action - protest
rallies, occupation of government buildings and, if necessary, the
looting of warehouses and supermarkets."

Mr. Amorin said that a wave of looting could sweep the northeast
within the next few days.

Since its modest beginnings in 1984, the MST has grown into a
major political group, rapidly expanding its influence beyond
landless peasants.

The movement has gained national and international attention
with its successful invasions of land to pressure the government
to make land reforms.

"And we plan to be just as successful in getting the government
to do something about the drought," Mr. Amorin said.

Mr. Amorin says the group also plans to tackle issues of health,
education, basic sanitation and the homeless.

The government, responding to the threat of looting and
widespread hunger, has started to distribute 1 million emergency
food baskets in 1,236 cities and towns hardest hit by the

The estimated $123 million relief program also will finance
emergency work projects through which drought victims can
earn money building roads, dams and bridges.

Droughts affect this region every few years, but this year's
dryness has been exacerbated by El Nino, a phenomenon that
occurs every two to seven years, affecting weather patterns

In 1992, Mr. Souza and 29 other landless peasant families
occupied about 1,500 acres belonging to the city of Arcoverde.

Over the years, he planted, harvested and fed his family. He even
managed to sell part of his crop.

But this year, the rains didn't come and his corn and bean crops
wilted and died on his parched land.


ARCHIVES  <>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <> or email Tom <>