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Brazzil - Land - May 2004

Green May to Fight Red April in Brazil

Brazil's National Agrarian Reform Plan launched by Brazilian
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last November, aims to
generate 2 million jobs by 2006, with the settlement of 530
thousand families. The forecast for 2004 is to settle 115
thousand families. Last year, only 46,000 families were settled.

Deigma Turazi


Picture At the beginning of April, one of the leaders of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST) threatened a series of protests nationwide that would result in a "Red April," (red is the color of the MST) and create a "hell" for the government.

The MST protests turned out to be property invasions. Over the last 30 days some 100 rural properties in 17 states, including Brazil's southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, have been invaded by 28,000 landless families carrying their ubiquitous red banners.

Now, in response, 350 farmers who belong to 15 rural associations in Rio Grande do Sul are promising a "Green May," in opposition to the property invasions. According to Gedeão Pereira, the MST "hates the green Rio Grande do Sul, a breadbasket of abundance and hope."

The Green May movement will monitor MST activities in the state, "not only in May, but for as long is necessary," says Pereira, with the objective of heading off property invasions. There is a real possibility that this confrontation could turn violent.

During the month of April, the state hardest hit by the MST property invasions was Pernambuco, where 8,275 landless families were involved. In Bahia, 4,360 landless families invaded various properties. The numbers are from groups connected to the MST: the National Forum for Land Reform and Justice in the Countryside (an umbrella organization), which houses over 40 groups, such as the Catholic church and its Pastoral da Terra Commission (CPT), the National Confederation of Workers in Agriculture (Contag) and Small Farmer Movement (MPA).

MST Challenges Landowners

The executive secretary of the forum, Gilberto Portes de Oliveira, and the president of the CPT, Dom Tomas Balduino, say they do not intend to just stand by and cross their arms if landowners carry out their threat to halt the MST.

"We challenge these landowners to go public and show their faces so people can see who they are. They are responsible for the assassinations of rural workers, slave labor and the generalized violence that exists in the countryside," says Oliveira.

Balduino, a Catholic priest who was the bishop of Goiás Velho, says the MST should immediately report aggression and violence to the Ministry of Justice, especially the formation of militias and weapons stockpiles on farms.

"These criminals want to hide in the shadows. How are the landless workers supposed to face machine guns? With slingshots? When these people talk about a "Green May," they are talking about the green hedges around their property that they have filled with hired gunmen armed to the teeth," said Balduino.

Landowners in Rio Grande do Sul have planned a march beginning on May 18. It will go from São Gabriel to Porto Alegre (the state capital), where, on May 25, there will be a demonstration at the state Agricultural Federation.

As this tug-of-war continues, the government sticks to its own goals. Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto, says that the promise to settle 530,000 rural worker families by the end of the Lula administration in 2006 will be kept.

"We have a project. We are working on achieving the targets in that project in order to resolve a social problem with social solutions. We are convinced we will be able to achieve our targets. We are working for peace and social justice in the countryside," said the Minister.

According to Rossetto, it is perfectly possible for the campaign promise made by Lula to implement the II Land Reform Plan to become reality. "But this is not going to occur in an authoritarian atmosphere. This country is a democracy. We have solid institutions at the local, state and federal levels. We are quite capable of dealing with any illegal activities," said Rossetto.

Two Million Jobs

The II National Agrarian Reform Plan, launched by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last November, aims to generate 2 million jobs by 2006, with the settlement of 530 thousand families. The forecast for 2004 is to settle 115 thousand families.

Last year, according to the current Administration, budget restrictions imposed by the previous Administration permitted the settlement of only 36 thousand families through land expropriation and 10 thousand through the land credit program.

The latter mechanism allows the purchase of additional areas to append to land that has already been acquired by the beneficiaries. This year, through March 31, 11,093 families have been settled.

The Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto, is optimistic about the implementation of the plan, which is not limited to the concession of land. "The plan establishes guidelines, concepts, and absolutely clear goals. We conceived a thorough agrarian reform, much broader and qualitatively larger than the physical space occupied by the landless families that have been settled.

"Our reform areas should possess productive quality (the capacity to generate surpluses to guarantee income), social quality, and environmental quality," he said, recalling that, to be successful, the effort will require the participation of the federal, state, and municipal governments.

Coordinated by Professor Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, a specialist on land issues and former Federal Deputy from the PT (Workers' Party), the federal government's agrarian reform plan was formulated by a team which also counted on the participation of university professors and 40 employees of the National Agrarian Reform Institute (Incra) and the Ministry of Agrarian Development.

The plan presents 11 goals, including the regularization of another 500 thousand families, who will be granted definitive property titles by 2006. This would raise the total number of families benefited during President Lula's four-year mandate to 1.030 million.

According to data from the Incra, 373,220 families were settled between 1995 and 1999; 150,138 families between 1985 and 1994; and 166,189 thousand families between 1970 and 1984. Since, by statistical criteria, each nuclear family contains five people, 2.650 million people will be settled in the next two years.

The difference attributed by the government to this II Plan—the first one was launched in the second half of the 1980's by ex-President Sarney—is that it is not restricted to installing people on the land. According to Minister Rossetto, the plan intends to create dignified conditions for the settlers, combining other social advantages "with legal rules that all should accept."

These programs include the concession of agricultural credit in a less bureaucratic and speedier manner; technical assistance; the creation of cooperatives and agro-industries; and the provision of necessary infrastructure (water and electricity), "as a way to create a setting of peace with social justice in the Brazilian countryside."

Consequently, he informs, the internal norms of the Ministry and the Incra, an organ which will hold public examinations to hire 366 university graduates this year, are being restructured. The continuous reduction of qualified staff, together with the shortage of financial resources, is one of the barriers to the consolidation of agrarian reform.

8,989 people worked for the Incra in 1985. There are 5,521 at present, and the situation is expected to worsen with the retirement of 2,198 employees in the next two years, according to technical studies made by the organ.

Another contributing factor to guarantee the application of the plan is the announcement made by President Lula on April 1st that the budget of the Ministry of Agrarian Development will increase from its current US$ 477 million (R$ 1.4 billion) to US$ 580 million (R$ 1.7 billion) by December.

Deigma Turazi works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.

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