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Brazil’s MST Brings the Country to the Cities

Three years ago, 65 Brazilian families left the city to live out a new experience: cultivating and living off the land. Thus began the Dom Tomas Balduino Settlement in a rural area located just outside the city of São Paulo, in the southeastern state of the same name.

“I moved to a shelter and was unemployed with small children, and had just separated from my husband who only drank and never worked,” said Josiane Felix, 30, with four children.


“At the shelter, a friend told me they were rounding up people who were interested in living off the land. I went and listened to the stories of people involved in the land struggle. I decided to do it, since I really didn’t have anything, and it did not cost anything to try.”


Josiane’s story is the story of thousands of other Brazilians who have had to leave their lands, go to the city, and then find that they cannot get jobs and have no access to basic services.


One solution that seems to be working are settlements that are built on the outskirts of big urban centers, and that recruit families living in subhuman conditions.


To live with dignity off the land, having your own house and a little piece of ground: this is the invitation the MST (Landless Workers Movement) extends to those in the city who are excluded from everything.


“I participated in the formation, and then went to the encampment near Anhangüera highway, near the toll booth. Later, we came and occupied this land. Months later, the police showed up with their guns and sticks, and pulled us off the land. But we said, this land is ours, and we are not going to give up,” said Felix.


As the poet says, “We are made to shine.” But only those shine who don’t give up, persevere, who dream. Those who conquer fear, the guns and sticks of the police, the lies of the rich, the inertia and bad faith of those in the government.


“Today we are here. Already we have planted and harvested. Our children are healthy. We do not have the worries we had when we were in the city. Here we live the life that God has always wanted for us,” says Felix as her companions ready a “solidarity” lunch the settlement is sponsoring.


Antonio Ferreira Neto, another member of the settlement, showed his piece of land. He has planted manioc, sweet potato, and other produce the earth provides for those who take care of her.


“Here is my little corner, and over there is my house. Make yourselves at home. You who are guests are my friends. I’m going to pull up some manioc and sweet potatoes for you to take home,” he says happily.


If the government were to keep its promises of land reform and grant conditions favorable to a rural life, then thousands of Josianes and Antonios could also dream of and smile at a life lived off the land, sustaining their families and sharing with friends.


This material appeared originally in Portuguese in the newspaper Jornal Cantareira.

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