The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) published on Tuesday January 5 an annual report on the agrarian situation in Brazil in 2015. The Commission, set up by the Brazilian bishops in 1975 during the dictatorship, plays an important role in supporting land reform and the struggle of rural and indigenous communities to protect their rights.
The political and economic crisis in Congress led, according to the Commission, to applying conservative principles and funding cuts to rural social policies.
“The National Congress, with the largest conservative majority in recent decades, stayed at the service of the most powerful economic sectors which had provided massive funding for election campaigns… There was a worrying preponderance of the most conservative principles.
“For example, the worrying projects to foster outsourcing, the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility, restrictions on the designation of indigenous land, changes in the labelling of GM products, restrictions on the application of the Law of the Family, changes to the disarmament law, to legal ownership of the sub-soil… among other initiatives that mark a rightward change and a setback for social progress.”
The 50% cuts in the budget of the Ministry of Agrarian Development and of INCRA [National Institute for Settlement and Land Reform] prevented them from reaching their target of settling 30,000 families on the land in 2015.
“Social movements in rural areas questioned the data of MDA which claimed to have settled around 13,000 families of rural workers up to October, when only around 7,000 new families had been settled by that date. In any case the number is far short of the needs of squatter families in Brazil.”
Violence in rural areas in 2015 led, according to partial data from CPT, to 2015 being the year with the highest death toll since 2004: 49 peasant farmers, landless people and land reform settlers were murdered.
“A significant proportion of the conflicts occurring this year continue to be provoked by private owners, landowners, owners of large estates, big companies, mines, hydro-electric schemes, ports and other large infrastructure projects. This fact proves the existence of an excessively unequal competition for land and natural resources between private owners and peasant communities.”
The behaviour of state organisations towards peasants was also described by the Commission as alarming. “The violence used by the Brazilian state itself, by means of the police force, by investment in large development projects, by the actions of the Judiciary and by port authorities, by decrees which stall land designation and return confiscated lands, remains at alarming levels.”
The environmental crisis worsened. There was a 16% increase in clearances in Amazonia, and tragedies such as the one at Mariana in Minas Gerais [where a mine tailings dam ruptured on 5 November, causing at least 7 deaths, the destruction of hundreds of homes and serious pollution of the River Doce], made this one of the worst environmental disasters in history
“The state continues to move in the opposite direction to the world’s needs, preferring to further the interests of criminal companies who finance politicians and defend growth at all costs.”
In the same vein, Brazil continues to be the world’s largest consumer of agricultural poisons, permitting and authorizing the sale of products already banned in a number of other countries.
“While on the one hand, the regulators show flexibility in unleashing these products on our country, the inspection regimes are structured and financed precisely so as to be inoperative and to prevent support for the populations exposed to these products, omitting to determine the risks incurred by those who come into contact with them. “
CPT notes that the fight against slave labour also suffered setbacks, with the suspension of the Slave Labour Blacklist – following a preliminary ruling by the Supreme Federal Court (STF) on an application by large construction firms; and the application by the Ruralista parliamentary group to have the definition of slave labour revised.
“They allege that the present definition, embodied in Article 149 of the Penal Code – in effect since 2003 and internationally applauded – opens the door to exaggeration, arbitrariness and legal uncertainty.
“This claim is untrue, since the de facto shortage of active inspectors has reduced the number of cases pursued, finding conditions analogous to slavery in only one in seven of the establishments inspected, under the feeble argument that slave labour is only characterised by the total of violations discovered and not by verifying isolated infractions.”
Despite all these difficulties, the year 2015 saw a great number of struggles launched by peasants. The Commission highlights the women’s day mobilisation by Via Campesina, the march of the Margaridas [daisies], which mobilised thousands of peasant women throughout the country, as well as the widespread land-occupations which strengthened during the year.
Indigenous people throughout Brazil also carried out large demonstrations and turned Brasilia into one of their main battlefields in the fight against PEC215 [Constitutional Amendment which would enable landowners to block the registration of new indigenous land].
Beyond the protests, indigenous communities demanded respect, denounced the acts of violence of which they are victim, in innumerable national and international forums and tribunals, and demanded enforcement of the Constitution to prevent setbacks to or suppression of their rights.”
The CPT concludes its annual report observing that only by organising will peasants and rural workers manage to prevent the situation in 2015 from being extended into 2016.
“It is only by struggle that rural workers and social movements will avoid the clear trend for agrarian conflicts to become permanent. Peasant communities affected by this development model will continue to be challenged to assume for themselves the responsibility of resisting, which is their only hope of survival. The challenges are immense and rural people will need to hold their gaze and step forward with courage to advance their rights – as they have always done.”
Further information from CPT and the full report can be found here.
Summary of CPT report published by the Collective for International Projects of MST, Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement.
Translated from Portuguese for LAB by Mike Gatehouse