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
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.
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
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 Planthe first one was launched in the second
half of the 1980's by ex-President Sarneyis 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 email@example.com.