The Rural Landless Workers Movement Of Brazil

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The Rural Landless Workers Movement Of Brazil Essay, Research Paper The Rural Landless Workers Movement of Brazil: New Direction in a Time of Crisis The MST, or the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra ( the Rural Landless Workers Movement) is the largest social movement in South America, with about 5000,000 supporters (Epstein 2). Under the slogan of “Ocupar, Resistir, Produzir” (”Occupy, Resist, Produce”), the MST uses non-violent civil disobedience to pressure the government to speed up agrarian reform and close the gap between the rich and the poor. The goal of the MST is to provide land to the millions of landless peasants who can cultivate and subsist on what appears to be a highly disproportionate amount of unproductive and under utilized land. The

current economic crisis in Brazil could translate to more support for the MST movement and signal a change in the percentage of land use and landless workers as they currently stand. The tradition of Brazil’s unequal distribution of land dates back to early colonial times. Between 1534 and 1536, the king of Portugal set up a system of land distribution through which he divided the territory of Brazil into 12 captaincies drawn from the coastline of Brazil to the line established by the Treaty of Tordesillas that separated Spanish from Portuguese land claims. The captaincies were given to those who were in favor of the crown and who agreed to send back one sixth of any accrued revenue to the crown. This was in response to a perceived need to occupy the territory to prevent French

and Dutch from occupying the land and claiming it for their countries. This was the beginning of the tradition of single owners possessing large tracts of land, sometimes as large as small European countries, and this tradition continues in modern Brazil. The MST carries out its non-violent protest in a unique and, fairly often, successful manner. It’s modus operandi is to organize land invasions by occupying up to 2000 people at a time on idle government or private lands that are often being held by wealthy land owners as tax shelters or as ways to garner government subsidies. Essentially, the land is unused, unproductive and, in the eyes of the MST, should not be tied up in the hands of the oligarchy. Once the squatters establish a camp on the edge of the land in an

acampamento (encampment), the MST petitions the government to begin the process of distributing land to the squatters. The handing over of land to the squatters involves the government’s responsibility to compensate the landowner for the loss of the land. In the 14 years since the MST began, it has settled 200,000 families on 17 million acres of forcibly taken land, a figure unprecedented in Brazilian history (Epstein 13). Currently, there are about 50,000 families camped outside of idle plantations and tracts of unproductive land awaiting land grants (Epstein 3). During land occupation squatters begin to plant and grow crops on which they subsist, to “produce,” to show the government that they are using the once idle land productively. Ideally, at this stage, there is

little resistance from the landowner and much cooperation and efficiency on the part of the government, and the squatters might generally receive 60 acres of land per family if there is little opposition by the original landowner. Frequently, however, the landowner tries to forcefully remove the squatters from the land using hired, armed gunmen, or sometimes police, to flush the squatters out. If they are forced off they often return to “resist” again. This process of resistance often turns bloody, with the squatters occasionally having return to the same land again and again and defend themselves against armed gunmen controlled by the landowner or sometimes, it has been speculated, by the government itself. Despite the non-violent efforts of the squatters, over 1000