Brazil’s Agrarian Reform: From 240,000 Lula “Settled,” Half Had Land Already

Brazilian small farmer At the end of January, the Brazilian federal government announced that it had achieved a "record" for agrarian reform: 381,000 rural workers without land have been settled during Lula's first presidential term (2003-2006).

However, an analysis of the documents from the MDA (Ministry of Agrarian Development) shows that the federal government inflated its numbers by using families that were already living on settlements that were created and have been maintained by state governments, or living on managed forest reserves, or on national forests, or even on settlements that have been established for years, some dating back to the Getúlio Vargas presidency in the 1940s.

At the request of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, the Brazilian government sent in 2006 a CD with 7,800 pages that lists 243,000 settlers in the period from 2003-2005, classified by the year they were settled, the states in which they may be found, and the model of the project. It was the first time in the last few years that the government released these data.

Of the 243,000 people that the government said to have settled between 2003 to 2005 (the data does not include 2006), more than half – 127,000 (or 52%) – were created during Lula's presidency. Of this parcel, 56,300 come from state (as opposed to federal) settlements or managed forest reserves.

The remaining 48% – nearly 115,000 were created by past governments.

At least 2,121 people "settled" by the Lula government were actually from projects created during the military dictatorship; 10,425 are from projects created during the eras of presidents João Figueiredo (1979-1985), and José Sarney (1985-1990); another 73,093 were from the 90's; and 29,156 were from last years of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso presidency (1995-2002).

Barra do Corda

The Barra do Corda settlement (Maranhão), for example, was created during the Estado Novo (New State) of Getúlio Vargas (1937-1945). According to the 1959 edition of the Encyclopedia of Brazilian Municipalities, this colony was founded in 1942.

In this settlement, more than half a century later, the Lula government was said to have settled 942 people in 2005 and 44 in 2004. However, according to the regional offices, not one family has been settled there by Incra (the federal agency in charge of agrarian reform) in the last ten years.

"I have been working here for 32 years. When I arrived, the settlement was already here," explained João Marvão Mendes, a agricultural technician for Incra. And these 986 people "settled" by the Lula government? "The people living here now have been here for years. We began having title to this property beginning in 1975," said Mendes.

There are other examples like Barra do Corda in all the other states. One can find the most examples in the state of Mato Grosso. Of the 23,945 people that the government said it settled between 2003 and 2004, 71% are from projects beginning from the 70's up until 2002.

Lago Grande

The documents reveal that the biggest rural settlement of the Lula government is the Lago Grande project, with 4,362 people. But, in all actuality, it is simply a reorganizing of a large land-holding situation. The families themselves have been there for a century, according to the president of the rural workers union of Monte Alegre (Pará), José da Costa Alves.

"This region has been inhabited for more than 100 years. These are occupied areas that the folks from Incra are just now beginning to regularize," said Alves.

Up until last week, the families have received nothing from Incra. They have only given their names to be registered. But even so, they have became "settlers" of the government in 2005. Shortly, each should receive US$ 1,250 in credit for general support, and another US$ 2,500 for housing and land title.

João Pedro Stédile, of the national coordination for the MST, critiques government policies in this area.

"Performance during these four years is pathetic. It seems that 50% of all families that have been settled are in the Amazon area. But these in truth are colonization projects, the majority on public lands. These projects do not affect fundamentally large land-holdings, they do not contribute to de-concentrating the land. These projects are not agrarian reform."

The release of mixed data in a single package of "settlers" also happened during the FHC government. Then the government included in the count of "settlers" those who will receive or have received government credit for construction and remodeling of homes, or those who will be able to access lines of credit.

In 2002, the FHC government released archives with agrarian reform data for seven years of the presidential term. However, these documents did not mention what years the various settlements were formed.

Upon being questioned about the numbers as analyzed by the Folha, the MDA and Incra both said the numbers meet the requirements of the Second National Plan of Agrarian Reform.

Source: Folha de S. Paulo and Brazil Justice Net

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