Grassroots Land Reform in Brazil

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Aug 8 17:00:32 BST 2003

Now It Is Time: the MST and Grassroots Land Reform in Brazil

OAKLAND, CA - August 5 - A new report based on a just-released book by the
think tank Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy shows how,
in a country burdened with oppressive poverty, the landless workers
movement--Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra (MST)--rose from the
poorest of the poor to form the most important grassroots organization in
Brazil--and indeed in all of Latin America.
Saying "enough," to a history of landlessness and poverty, the MST, who
have inspired articles in media from Time magazine to The Wall Street
Journal, confronted persecution and assassination to take charge of their
own destiny. By successfully occupying and farming idle land, the MST has
forced the Brazilian government to award more than 20 million acres of
agricultural land to over 350 thousand MST families since the movement's
founding in 1984.
"By occupying the idle land of wealthy absentee landlords, the MST have
carved out livelihoods and vastly improved the quality of education and
health care available to their families," said Professor Angus Wright who
with Professor Wendy Wolford wrote the report. "They have achieved these
gains by successfully challenging the institutions and some of the most
powerful people of Brazil, a nation of 175 million people and one of the
world's ten largest economies."
According to the report, land grabbing by wealthy landholders has long
stifled economic development and trapped millions in poverty. In response,
Brazil enacted laws requiring that land "serve its social function" and the
government promised redistribution to poor families. But these reforms were
never enforced because of the tremendous power wealthy landholders held
over the government.
"Faced with an intransigent government fencing for the landlords, the rural
landless decided the best way to achieve land reform is to occupy the
land," said Wright. "This forced the government to act on its 'social
function' principle and hand over the land to the rural workers. Now
significant agrarian reform has begun and is spreading throughout Brazil."
Through its work and its growth, the MST has seen its influence extend
beyond the debate over land reform, gaining considerable political power
and helping to elect the former labor leader Luis Inácio ("Lula") da Silva
as President of Brazil. Yet the MST feel much work needs to be done, and
see more equitable access to land as a first step toward a more just and
egalitarian Brazilian society.
To read the report, please visit:
HTML Version or  PDF Version
For information on the full book, 'To Inherit the Earth: The Landless
Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil', click here.

AUGUST 5, 2003
6:27 PM

CONTACT: Food First
Nick Parker 
(510) 654-4400 ext. 229
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