Brazil's Land Reformers Storming Through
 
(Note from WB: I hope that the reparationists, the "poor picked on" Mexicans, the winos, other down-and-outers and all the rest who don't-want-to-work-for-it- but-think-they-deserve-it, don't hear about this and come after ours here!  Boy..if this isn't a classic leftist, socialist one-worlder scheme, I never saw one! Betcha they aren't 'squatting' on any socialist's land. Oh, that's right -- socialists are so altruistic that they have already given all of theirs away...Say WOT?... Note: This is Brazilian domestic terrorism, is it not?)
 
April 13, 2004
 
By Carmen Gentile, UPI (United Press International) Latin America Correspondent
 
The Washington Times
 
 
To submit a Letter to the Editor: letters@washingtontimes.com
 

Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 13 (UPI) - Brazil's Landless Workers Movement is storming private farms and public lands throughout the country, seizing almost 60 tracts [of land] in the last few weeks.

According to a running count kept by Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper, the nation's agrarian reformers -- known locally as the MST -- have taken over 56 plots, and counting, dubbing their latest landgrab campaign "abril vermelho," or "Red April."

The MST has also clogged several highways with protesters and flaming roadblocks while delivering [its] message of reform.

The reformers struck again Tuesday when more than 400 farmers and laborers took over a farm in rural Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state, and the scene of 10 invasions in recent times.

One of the largest land-reform advocacy groups in the world, the group invades private or unused tracts to bring attention to their quest for greater equality of land distribution in Brazil.

The activists usually arrive on private lands carrying the bare essentials, such as tents and cooking materials, for their sometimes weeks- and months-long squats.

The farmers are usually not armed, though the scythes and machetes that  some wield create a menacing image. In 2003, there were several deaths and numerous injuries resulting from clashes among the MST, civil and federal police, and private security hired to guard farms.

Tension are likely to rise more later this week, which leads up to the eighth anniversary of the 1996 killing of 19 MST members during protests in the northern state of Para.

Earlier this month, MST national leader Joao Pedro Stedile promised to set Brazil "ablaze" with occupation protests, claiming that Brazilian leaders had not taken significant measures to meet their demands.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva countered Stedile's threat, saying there needs to be a negotiating process for real agrarian reform to happen and that it "won't be made by shouting."

Whether they are shouting or not, the MST is clearly sending a message to landowners and politicians alike by taking over land in 14 of Brazil's 26 states in one of their largest wide-scale actions in recent history.

Lula -- a working-class, left-leaning leader with historically strong ties to the MST -- has done little to impress the reform leaders since assuming office in January 2003.

Though he promised to do something about narrowing the land-ownership gap and distributing land to MST families, most of his attention has been focused on passing political and economic reform -- and in recent months the corruption scandal dogging his ruling Workers' Party.

In November, Lula promised to resettle some 355,000 families on their own tracts of land by 2006, the end of his term in office. And in March -- hoping to stem the tide of invasions witnessed in recent weeks -- he released more than half a million dollars to the group to purchase land for 115 member families.

However, the MST has made their demands clear, and the movement is expressing its growing frustration with Lula via their latest campaign.

The group has called for 1 million landless families to be settled in the next four years, and its officials have called the president's proposal for settlement "ridiculous" and insufficient in confronting Brazil's landlessness issue.

According to land ownership surveys, an estimated 20 percent of Brazilians own 90 percent of the land.

Meanwhile, state leaders are expressing their frustration with the MST's waves of land seizures. Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin said the campaign risks causing significant "economic anemia" in Brazil, which is already struggling with a sluggish economy.

Governor Ronaldo Lessa from the small northeastern state of Alogoas agrees with his Sao Paulo counterpart.

"Any foreign investor is going to be frightened off by what is happening," said Lessa. "There is nothing good about these invasions for the country."