Brazil landless march ends in clashes

Gerrard Winstanley evnuk at
Wed May 18 11:57:55 BST 2005

"Bush, get your hands off Venezuela, Colombia and Iraq," shouted MST 
leader Maria de Jesus as activists waved Venezuelan flags at lines of 
police guarding the U.S. embassy.

1. Brazil landless march ends in clashes - Reuters
2. In pictures: Life on a landless camp in Brazil - BBC

MST English:
MST Portuguese:

1. Brazil landless march ends in clashes

Wed May 18, 2005 7:00 AM BST

By Andrew Hay and Tiago Pariz

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - A 17-day protest march by 12,000 
Brazilian landless peasants ended in violence on Tuesday as activists 
fought with police and demanded faster government land resettlement to 
cut rural poverty.

Over 50 people were injured as mounted riot police charged into 
demonstrators at the end of the 150-mile (238-km) march to pressure 
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to meet land reform promises.

The clashes occurred as leaders of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) 
met with Lula and said they reached a deal to boost reform spending. 
Government officials denied any accord.

Over 30 MST activists and 20 paramilitary police suffered bruises and 
broken bones after protesters tried to cross a police line at 
Congress. Mounted officers made repeated baton charges in the worst 
protest violence seen in Brasilia in years.

"They just came at us without provocation," said MST activist Gabriel 
Silveira as he staggered on the grass before Congress, complaining of 
a blow to his shoulder by police.

Police Maj. Nevitton Pereira Junior said two officers could lose their 
sight after being speared in the face by bamboo poles. He showed welts 
where he said he had been beaten.

MST leaders have threatened to increase the pace of land occupations, 
and could drop traditional support for Lula if he fails to meet a 
promise to settle 430,000 families by 2006.

He is nowhere near the election pledge after focusing on market-driven 
economic policies and big farm producers to achieve steady growth 
needed to cut poverty.

MST leaders left the Lula meeting telling reporters he agreed to free 
up nearly half the land reform spending he froze in 2005, or about 700 
million reais (154 million pounds), and hire 1300 new land reform 
agents to speed settlement of families.

Agrarian Reform Minister Miguel Rossetto said the meeting had been 
"positive" but the government had made no deal and it would give its 
proposals to the MST on Wednesday.

MST leaders showed no sign of easing up on farm invasions that worry 
foreign investors and can cause political headaches for Lula as the 
opposition accuses him of being soft on "crime".

"With the energy of this march we have to raise occupations even 
higher, with this energy we have to attack economic policy," MST 
leader Joao Pedro Stedile told cheering activists near Congress as 
police looked on.

Since Lula's Workers Party moved away from its leftist roots the MST 
has lost its most powerful political backer.

With such support gone, 44 percent of the 2005 land reform budget has 
been frozen to help the government hit a high budget surplus goal 
meant to cut debt. The government says it may settle as few as 160,000 
families by the end of this year.

The MST invades ranches to press the government to purchase and 
resettle unused land. The end goal is to cut deep land inequality 
where 1 percent of Brazil's 180 million people controls 45 percent of 
its farmland.

Leaders of Brazil's peasant movements said they still backed Lula but 
could discuss ending support for his 2006 re-election campaign unless 
he spends more on landless settlement.

"When we get to the election period we are going to discuss this," 
said Romario Rossetto, a national coordinator of the Via Campesino 
movement which represents small farmers.

Earlier in the day, crowds of peasants burned fast-food wrappers and 
other rubbish outside the U.S. Embassy to protest against what they 
called U.S. imperialism.

The MST has strengthened relations with populist Venezuelan President 
Hugo Chavez, and given support to his plans to counter a U.S.-backed 
Free Trade Area of the Americas, as its relations with Lula have 

"Bush, get your hands off Venezuela, Colombia and Iraq," shouted MST 
leader Maria de Jesus as activists waved Venezuelan flags at lines of 
police guarding the U.S. embassy.

2. In pictures: Life on a landless camp in Brazil - 
Unmissable new MST picture gallery

As thousands of activists from Brazil's landless movement, the MST, 
converge on Brasilia demanding land reform, we look at life on a 
landless camp.

The MST offers poor Brazilians the chance to fight for a plot of land. 
Brazil is one of the world's most unequal societies, with 40% of the 
population sharing just 8% of the wealth. 

Here, a woman lies unconscious in an Amazonian town. Passers-by step 
over her until MST staff arrive to help. 

By Dan Baron Cohen and Manuela Souza

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