FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Landless Rural Workers Confront Lula

Curitiba, Brazil.

Last week the Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) held its fifth National Congress in Brasília, the country’s capital. The power the MST has garnered throughout its 23 years was palpable, as more than 17,500 delegates from 24 states and almost 200 international guests marched to the Square of the Three Powers, situated between the buildings of the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of government. Marchers hung a huge banner in the square that read, “We accuse the three powers of impeding agrarian reform.”

In the minds of most MST members, President Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva and the Workers’ Party (PT) have failed to implement the radical economic and social reforms that were promised, especially agrarian reform. According to José Maria Tardin, who was elected the first mayor of the PT in the state of Paraná in 1989, and now works in the MST, “For the left, Lula is the biggest political tragedy in the history of Brazil.”

In a discussion with reporters, founder and national organizer of the MST João Pedro Stedile recalled that when Lula was elected in 2002 the MST hoped that Brazil would overturn many of the neoliberal policies imposed on the country by Washington and institutions like the International Monetary Fund. However, “nobody can say that Lula is implementing an alternative project. We cannot be so simplistic as to say that everything is Lula’s fault, but the Lula Government does not represent the working class, and is not on the left,” said Stedile. He pointed out that during Lula’s first four year mandate, the financial sector accumulated more capital that it did during the previous eight years under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

This public acknowledgement of the fracture in the MST’s historic alliance with Lula and the PT represents a major shift toward a more confrontational stance. One MST member reported that Lula requested to speak at the Congress, but was refused. Lula had previously turned down requests to meet with the MST since he was elected for a second term last October. Thursday’s march was important for the MST’s relationship with the rest of Brazilian society, as many urban Brazilians, also disillusioned, still believe the MST supports Lula.

The MST’s grievance with Lula is reflective of his failure to move to the left politically, unlike other leaders in Latin America, such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Not only has Lula not slowed the advance of foreign capital in Brazil, in many ways he is speeding it up, as for example, his recent promotion of Brazil’s ethanol production for export to the United States. In terms of geographic size, population and economic power, Brazil is the largest country in Latin America. As long as Brazil does not take on Washington’s neo-liberal policies, the region’s ability to consolidate its leftward shift will be impeded.

Increasing anger and hostility directed at the United States was also a major subject during the Congress. On route to Three Powers’ Square, the marchers passed the US embassy, where they deposited coffins with the names of countries including Iraq, Palestine, Haiti, and Afghanistan, and threw garbage onto the lawn of the embassy. François Houtart, Director of the TriContinental Center in Belgium declared, “Neoliberalism is in crisis, and the imperialism of the United States is in decline. Imperialism is losing, but it is still strong.” Houtart said that global capital is searching for “new frontiers of domination,” citing agricultural biotechnology, agribusiness and the privatization of public resources.

Juan Reardon, National Coordinator for the Friends of the MST, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., agreed with Houtart’s assessment. “Iraq is showing that the US military isn’t invincible,” he said. “The war in Iraq is calling into question the entire US military power structure.”

The Congress closed with a videotape message from Subcomandante Marcos of the Mexican Zapatista movement. He said the MST has “our affection and our respect, and also has our admirationWe feel fraternity for all of the organizations and people that struggle for land, because not one nation can be truly called sovereign if the land is not in the hands of those who work it. There can be no social justice as long as production is for the foreign thieves and not the workers.”

Marcos’ message highlighted the importance the MST has assumed in the growing global struggle against neoliberalism, especially in Latin America. Since its founding in 1984 it started organizing landless, poor rural families to non-violently occupy the unproductive lands of large landowners. The MST has also played a significant role in the organization of the international Via Campesina, a social movement active on four continents with over 150 organizations.

Indeed, despite the various challenges the MST faces in building an alternative project in Brazil, there were also many reasons for the Congress delegates to celebrate. The MST has pressured the government to settle over 370,000 families on land, and has also advanced significantly in the area of education, especially literacy for adults. With the slogan “Each and every Landless studying,” the MST has formed relationships with federal and state universities, and foreign governments such as Venezuela and Cuba, to increase popular education in literacy and medicine.

The MST is also in the vanguard in the adoption of agroecology and food sovereignty policies, both of which have been gaining increasing popularity in more progressive development circles since the early 2000s. As the movement has evolved, it has become increasingly aware of the need to reject industrialized agriculture, especially monoculture with the use of agrotoxins, and production of commodity crops for export. Agroecology is viewed as a way for people, especially the rural poor, to secure independence from multinational agribusiness corporations.

The Congress was also used as a forum for the MST to raise support for the Via Campesina’s occupation of the Syngenta corporation’s experimental site in the state of Paraná, which was taken over by the movement on March 14th, 2006 after the Brazilian government confirmed that Syngenta had illegally planted transgenic soy. The site is located within the protective boundaries of the Iguaçu National Park which was declared the Patrimony of Humanity by the United Nations in 1986. The social movements have joined forces with Governor Roberto Requião to expropriate these holdings of the agribusiness multinational.

In its final letter to Brazilian society, the MST declared that it will continue to “struggle so that all of the large landholdings are expropriated, with the properties of foreign capital and the banks being prioritized.” It will “combat multinational corporations, like Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, Bunge, ADM, Nestlé, Basf, Bayer, Aracruz and Stora Enso, that seek to control seeds and Brazilian agricultural production and commerce.”

ISABELLA KENFIELD is a CENSA Associate and journalist based in Curitiba, Brazil, writing about the social movements, agribusiness, agrarian conflicts and rural development.

 

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Norman Solomon
Kerry’s Endorsement of Biden Fits: Two Deceptive Supporters of the Iraq War
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
David Yearsley
Parasitic Sounds
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail