Marina dos Santos, of the Brazilian Landless Movement’s (MST) National Coordinating Body, discusses the Movement’s recent actions in this interview:
In March, the MST conducted land occupations in 17 states. Why?
Though the mainstream media would like the public to think these occupations are the result of agitation by our national leadership, this is not the case. Instead, the mobilizations across the country represent an understanding by MST families, that we have reached the government’s final year in office without any of our problems being solved.
There are families who have been living under black plastic tents for 5, 6 years, who see no solutions presented for the problems they continue to face. Another issue is the economic policy of the government, with the high taxes and the like.
The government has not contributed to the strengthening of family-based farming, which is responsible for providing food to the Brazilian people. The economic model being implemented leaves no money for social programs, and for this reason, there are insufficient resources for implementing Agrarian reform.
Also, we continue to question the social function of land with regards to the Federal Constitution. We reiterate our demand that several considerations be made before land is declared productive.
For example, its relationship to the environment, the use of slave-labor by landowners, and whether or not the land produces food and fiber for the population. The updating of the productivity indices is another issue. The government continues to use indices from 1975 and has not fulfilled its commitment to update.
In addition, the MST has over 120,000 families currently living in roadside encampments, and the government has not advanced the settlement process for these families. To summarize, the recent land occupations have to do with all of the above: the settlement of families, the updating of the productivity indices and the economic model, which has stalled efforts towards Agrarian Reform.
Updating the productivity indices and the settling of MST families were some of the demands made during the National March for Agrarian Reform, which took place in 2005. Were your other demands met?
Some commitments were fulfilled, but very little was accomplished. We advanced in the areas of education, allowing us to better educate our members and prepare for a better future. With regard to the Agrarian Question, nothing has been resolved.
Will the mobilizations continue in April?
Certainly. Many of our people will be leaving the countryside to join urban workers throughout the country. They will be holding vigils and insisting upon trails for those responsible for the El Dorado dos Carajás Massacre, in which 19 MST members were shot dead during a peaceful march.
2006 marks the ten-year anniversary of the massacre. The scenario in which we find ourselves today continues to be one of impunity, where the crimes of the latifúndio (large estate) continue to go unpunished. We will also join with urban workers in the fight for an increase in the minimum wage, with mass demonstrations planned for May the 1st.
How does the MST view the departure of ex-Minister Antonio Palocci?
Since Palocci probably best represents the continuation of the economic policies of the previous government (President Fernando Henrique Cardoso), we think the switch is important. However, in no way are we going to manifest ourselves behind any particular new Minister.
That is the government’s problem. We believe that the president has been held hostage by the economic order imposed before his arrival. This could represent an opportunity to modify the policies of high taxes and exports.
Those benefiting most from the current model are the transnational corporations and a few national enterprises. Who knows, maybe some changes will allow for social questions to be addressed and the Brazilian peoples’ problems to be solved – the reason for which President Lula was elected.
The above interview is available in its original form in Portuguese at the MST site: http://www.mst.org.br/biblioteca/entrevistas/marina.htm