The recent sharp increase in activity by Brazil’s Landless Rural Worker Movement (MST), as part of its regular annual Red April invasions to protest the landownership situation in Brazil, is all about getting the issue into the presidential election debate, says Clifford Welch, a history teacher at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).
“They just want to make sure their agenda gets on the agenda of the presidential candidates,” says Welch.
So far this month, traditionally a month of MST activity because it is the anniversary of a massacre of rural workers by police (April 1996), there have been 68 invasions of rural properties (double the number of invasions last year), along with the occupation of government buildings, most of them housing the agency that oversees land reform, the National Institute of Settlement and Land Reform (“Colonização e Reforma Agrária” – Incra)
Agrarian reform in English has a broad meaning that goes beyond land reform to improved farming methods and productivity. One of the serious shortcomings of land reform in Brazil is that neither the government or the MST have ever managed to combine land and agrarian reform.
Another red button issue as far as the MST is concerned and landowner farmers, as well is an update of “productivity indexes.” In Brazil, if a piece of land is not productive as per a productivity index it can be confiscated for land reform – that is, given to landless rural workers. The last time the index was modified was in 1976, which is why the MST is upset.
April 21st, a national holiday in Brazil, celebrating Tiradentes Day, a leader of a failed independence movement, MST militants joined protest groups representing former slaves, Afro-Brazilians and Indians in calling for a serious discussion of the land problem in Brazil.
All these groups were part of a huge protest demonstration in the center of São Paulo. One of the MST directors, Gilmar Mauro, reflecting a shift in the MST position, declared that land reform is not just about ownership, but “the role of the land, natural resources and food… We want to see farmers growing food that is good for people’s health, strong family farms and the protection of the environment.”
The P-SOL presidential candidate, Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, speaking at the MST rally declared that land reform was a serious matter that should be a part of all political platforms and the absence of other presidential candidates at the rally showed they were not involved in the important issue of landownership in Brazil.
Sampaio said that his party considered it one of the principal issues. “This is a Brazilian theme song. It is the most important issue in the country,” he declared.