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Brazil: MST attacks Dilma

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João Pedro Stédile gave the interview to Roldão Arruda, from the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. It can be read in Portuguese here. It has been translated by LAB.

João Pedro Stédile

“Dilma government has been taken over by second-rate bureaucrats”, says João Pedro Stédile
Interview by Roldão Arruda in his blog

Roldão Arruda: According to official figures, less agrarian reform was achieved in 2011 than in any of the previous 16 years. Why?

João Pedro Stédile: There are several reasons. First, agribusiness is on the offensive. With the international crisis, billions of dollars have come to Brazil in search of land, sugar mills, commodities. This means that the price of land has gone up, which means that landowners are less willing to sell land at the prices paid for agrarian reform. Second, the Dilma government still hasn’t understood the importance of — and need for — agrarian reform as a social programme, one that produces healthy food and plays a key role in solving the problem of rural poverty. The third factor is the judiciary.

Roldão Arruda: Why the judiciary?

João Pedro Stédile: The judiciary is impregnated with the ideology of the latifúndio (landed estate). There are 193 cases of land, which it has been decided will be purchased for agrarian reform, stuck in the judiciary. In all, there are over 900,000 hectares of land that could have been used for agrarian reform but are stuck there.

Roldão Arruda: The federal government has frozen almost 70% of the running costs of INCRA (the agrarian reform institute), precisely in the month of April, when the MST carries out most of its demonstrations and actions. What do you think of that?

João Pedro Stédile: At the very least, it’s political stupidity, together with incompetence. We have 160,000 families in camps, waiting for land. In all her speeches, the president says that it’s a priority for her to combat poverty, to provide education. While she is saying this, the bureaucrats in the ministries of agrarian development and education are freezing the money going to INCRA and to Pronera – the country’s only rural educational programme. The Dilma government has been taken over by second-rate bureaucrats, people who don’t understand anything about people and are freezing all the social projects. They don’t understand that the budgets for agrarian reform and education shouldn’t be considered as running costs.

Roldão Arruda: Do you think the decision will be overturned?

João Pedro Stédile: I hope that the government feels ashamed and changes its mind immediately. The funny thing is that this only happens with programmes for the poor. With funding for companies to build dams, for paying the interest on domestic debt — which is a real outrage – the funding is never stopped. I also hope that our president finds some courage and changes this stupid policy of having to run a primary surplus on the budget, a policy that no developed country in the world has any more and that means that more than 30% of our budget goes on interest payments to the banks.

Roldão Arruda: You talk about creating more settlements. But the president says she is more interested in improving existing settlements.

João Pedro Stédile: The president is being poorly advised. In fact, she has realised this and has changed her Minister of Agrarian Development. Improving the settlements is one thing, indeed it is a debt that should be paid. But it is quite another thing to forcibly purchase land to solve the problem of families who have no land, who are overexploited. Mixing the two is like saying to the homeless: we will only build new homes, once we have improved the homes that already exist!

Roldão Arruda: What about existing settlements?

João Pedro Stédile: They are also abandoned. There is a shortage of 180,000 homes. Only 10% of them have access to rural credit. The technical assistance programme is a joke, because it doesn’t reach the families. The best policy for the settlements would be to strengthen CONAB (Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento), to turn it into a big company that buys food produced in the settlements and on family farms. But the budget for such purchases is still around R$300 million per year. If Conab had a budget of R$1 billion, there would be a big leap in production, because settlers could grow crops, knowing that all their production would be purchased.

Roldão Arruda: To be able to govern and to achieve its political project, the government has made more concessions to the.bancada ruralista [the group in Congress linked to right-wing landowners — LAB]. What do you think of this?

João Pedro Stédile: There is a difference between the will of the president and the nature of her government, which is a coalition government, a political front of different interests, sometimes even antagonistic interests. In this context, the ruling classes, through their political groups, will increasingly impose their agenda on the government and try to take it hostage.

Roldão Arruda: And what about the PT?

João Pedro Stédile: There is a difference between Dilma’s government and the PT. I think the PT should be more pro-active, have a project for the country and be autonomous from government. Only then can it act in society, organise workers, mobilise and push for structural change. The problem is that the PT has become a party of government, and is concerned with jobs and sucking up to the government, failing in its role as a political party.

Roldão Arruda: It seems that the MST has lost some of its capacity to mobilise as a result of economic growth and the creation more jobs.

João Pedro Stédile: Of course, there is more employment and there has been a modest redistribution of income in favour of workers. But that does not mean that the structural problems of the concentration of land ownership and wealth have been resolved. Brazil remains a country that is very unequal and unfair. And in rural areas the only way to build a model of agricultural production geared to the domestic market, with economic and social development, is through the democratisation of property, with the strengthening of agro-industries, cooperatives and family farms, that practise agroecology.

Roldão Arruda: What about the difficulty of mobilising people?

João Pedro Stédile: We are still in a period of historic decline of the mass movement and with no structural changes. And that is what affects mobilisation in the country and in the city. The last general strike was in 1988, but not even then were the problems of the urban working class resolved. At some point, however, we will enter a new historical period with the resumption of mass mobilisations.

Roldão Arruda: The demonstrations of April 16 were also intended to commemorate the massacre in Eldorado dos Carajás in 1996. How are the trials going to punish those responsible?

João Pedro Stédile: This is another outrage, another demonstration of the complicity of the judiciary with the landowners. Nineteen people were killed in 1996. It took six years for the judiciary to hold a trial by jury and then “miraculously” the people behind the crimes and the 154 police officers who had committed criminal offences were acquitted. Only two military police commanders were sentenced, each to over 200 years in prison. They appealed, were given bail – and are still on bail until today. Recently, on March 28, the unsuspecting Justice Minister, Gilmar Mendes, revoked their bail and decided that the two should await the outcome of their appeal in jail. Nineteen days have passed and the order still hasn’t reached Belém. If they had been poor, they would have been arrested on the very same day.