Between January and December 2004, Brazil’s Federal Government expropriated enough area to settle approximately 25,000 landless families. The goal had been 115,000 families, with 75,000 of those to be settled on land expropriated specifically for agrarian reform.
The Minister of Agrarian Development admits that this year, just as in 2003, the goal will not be met. As of December 20th, 68,300 families have been settled.
The government expropriated 389 properties in 2004, resulting in a total of 875,700 hectares, according to Presidential Decrees published in the “official” state newspaper.
According to INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) statistics, each family settled received a 35 hectare lot, on average.
The expropriation of an area takes, on average, between 5 months and a year, depending on the duration of each of the phases; for example, opening a case, dividing the area into lots, and selecting the families.
The process can be further delayed in the event that the landowner contests the expropriation. The land is paid for through Agrarian Reform Bonds (Títulos da Dívida Agrária), and the owner paid in cash.
It is likely, however, that an area expropriated in August or September will not become a settlement until the following year – which is called the “stock” of the land.
Between August 1st and December 31st, 2004, the government expropriated 450,000 hectares (51% of the total), versus 143,800 during the same period in 2003.
In 2004, 49% of the area expropriated was in the Legal Amazon (the northern states, in addition to Maranhão and Mato Grosso), a practice condemned by the Workers’ Party (PT) because of the lack of basic infrastructure (water, electricity, sewage) in those areas.
The demand for land has been minimal in those nine states; of the 316 land invasions between January and November, 2004, 17 (5%) occurred in the region.
Access to Land
In addition to the expropriations, the government considers as “settled” families living on public land, those settled through state projects and those living on vacant lots from previous settlements.
According to the Minister, families settled through market-based land reform are also counted in the 75,000 total.
Expropriation, however, is cited as the primary way to obtain land in the National Agrarian Reform Plan (Plano Nacional de Reforma Agraria) of November 2003. The MST (Landless Workers’ Movement, or MST) holds the same position.
“The essence of agrarian reform is the government’s capacity to democratize access to land. And, there is a single way to democratize access: through expropriation,” affirmed João Pedro Stedile, of the National Coordination of the MST.
“If the government does not prioritize this tool, we will end up with the same results as the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, where the government carried out isolated expropriations, without an overarching policy of agrarian reform,” Stedile concluded.
What President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration needs to do at this point is “salvage the framework proposed in the National Agrarian Reform Plan,” including determining regional priorities, like the sugar cane region in the Northeast and the cattle-raising region of the Center-West.
With regard to the total land expropriated in 2004, Stedile commented, “The statistic proves what we have been warning the government about for a long time. Agrarian reform happens at a turtle’s pace, both in terms of quantity and quality of land.
“The government is still indebted to us based on the terms of the agreement signed in 2003, that promised to settle 400,000 new families by 2006, prioritizing those who currently suffer in makeshift housing, using canvas tarps as shelter.”
To reach the 2004 goal, Lula promised a 1.7 billion reais (US$ 630 million) supplement to Agrarian Development, but only 700 million reais (US$ 260) was appropriated.
Landless Workers Movement
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