This article was originally published by Mongabay on 28 July 2017.

  • This week, Brazil’s internationally recognized Landless Workers Movement (MST) launched a coordinated protest against corruption, with thousands of its members occupying six farms affiliated with government officials and Brazil’s wealthy elite.
  • Farms were occupied by hundreds of protesting landless families in the states of Mato Grosso, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná and Minas Gerais.
  • One occupation occurred on a soy farm owned by the Amaggi Group and affiliated with Brazilian agriculture minister Blairo Maggi. Another occurred on the farm of João Baptista Lima Filho, a close friend of President Temer. Both Lima Filho and Temer are under investigation for alleged corruption.
  • At present, neither federal nor state authorities have made any known moves to end the occupations.
MST occupation of Ricardo Teixeira’s farm in Piraí, Rio de Janeiro on July 25, 2017. Photo: Mídia NINJA

In a large scale, well coordinated protest in six states, more than 2,000 rural families, members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), occupied six farms belonging to some of the nation’s top politicians and the wealthy elite in the early hours of Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

With a straight-to-the-point slogan — Corrupt ones, give us back our lands! — the movement demands a resurgence of agrarian reform in the country and the removal of Michel Temer from the presidency. Temer’s policies, according to his critics, heavily favor the interests of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby that helped bring him to power in 2016.

João Pedro Stédile, one of the movement’s founders, stated in a video that the “MST has taken the decision to begin occupying the lands of corrupt ones. This bourgeoisie is so unashamed that they steal public money and invest it on lands, as if they were farmers.”

On its website, the MST declared that: “the landowners who hold these areas are accused of acts of corruption, such as money laundering, illicit favoritism, and fraud.” The site went on to say: “It is clear the relationship of large agribusiness companies with bribe schemes, ‘purchase’ of politicians, money laundering and even involvement with drug trafficking. The latest case, in which a plane full of cocaine was identified taking off from a property of the Minister of Agriculture, King of Soy, Blairo Maggi, exposes the promiscuous relations undertaken by agribusiness.”

An MST banner demanding agrarian reform and protesting corruption at Ricardo Teixeira’s farm in Piraí, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Mídia NINJA

 

 

Ricardo Teixeira, former Brazilian Football Confederation chairman and member of the FIFA executive committee. In 2015, Teixeira was indicted in the United States for racketeering, conspiracy and corruption. Teixeira is also accused of illegally diverting millions of euros from Brazilian football games. Photo: Marcello Casal jr./Agência Brasil

The organization was referring to a plane intercepted last June by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) carrying 1,439 pounds of cocaine in Goiás state. Based on the testimony of the aircraft pilot, FAB reported that the twin engine plane had taken off from a farm that belongs to the Amaggi Group, the giant agribusiness consortium belonging to the Maggi family. However, after analyzing the GPS of the smuggler’s aircraft, the Federal Police rejected that assertion and FAB retracted the statement.

Of the six MST occupied farms this week, one belongs to the Amaggi Group and the Maggi family, a 1,183 acre (479 hectares) farm along the BR-163 highway in Mato Grosso state. According to MST, about 1,000 families are at the SM02-B soy plantation. In April, it was announced that Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi would be investigated for corruption by the federal Supreme Court (STF).

In a response to the occupation, Amaggi Group stated: “At the moment, the company is concerned about the physical integrity of the 17 employees and family members residing on the farm and is taking the necessary measures to ensure their safety. At the same time, it is seeking legal means to reestablish order in its productive unit.” Blairo Maggi did not immediately respond to Mongabay’s request for comment.

About 1,500 families in Mato Grosso are waiting agrarian reform, according to MST.

The MST, in a protest against corruption, has occupied six farms of Brazil’s elite. Photo: MST_Flickr

 

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi. An Amaggi Group farm was one of those occupied by MST protesters this week. In April, it was announced that Blairo Maggi would be investigated for corruption by the federal Supreme Court (STF). Photo: Senado Federal via Visualhunt / CC BY

Located west of São Paulo, the Esmeralda farm was invaded by 800 landless farmers on Tuesday. This is the second time MST has occupied this property (the first was in 2016). According to the organization, much of the farm was established through land theft. The man claiming ownership of the property is João Baptista Lima Filho, a longtime friend of President Temer.

In May, Lima Filho became the target of the Lava Jato corruption investigation when he was accused in the JBS meat processing scandal, which has also implicated Temer. Two JBS executives have stated that Lima Filho, a retired military man, received about US $300,000 from JBS during Temer’s 2014 presidential campaign.

An unflattering representation on the MST website of João Baptista Lima Filho, a longtime friend of president Temer under investigation for possible corruption. Lima Filho’s Esmeralda farm was invaded by 800 landless farmers this week. Photo: MST

Another occupation occurred this week in Piraí, 55 miles from the city of Rio de Janeiro, on the Santa Rosa farm. This ranch, with its 500 head of cattle, is owned by Ricardo Teixeira, former Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) chairman and member of the FIFA executive committee. The property was occupied by more than 300 rural families, according to MST.

In 2015, Teixeira was indicted in the United States for racketeering, conspiracy and corruption. On Monday, Brazil’s federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) asked courts in Spain to forward to them the results of an investigation done by Spanish authorities into Teixeira’s alleged illegal activities which include racketeering and money laundering. Teixeira and former Barcelona football president Sandro Rossell are accused of illegally diverting millions of euros from Brazilian football games.

In Teresina, Piauí, along the BR-316 highway, senator Ciro Nogueira’s Junco’s farm was occupied by about 200 families. MST estimates that the farm covers 4,447 acres (1,800 hectares). Nogueira told the press that the property belongs to his mother. In April, Brazil’s supreme court announced that Nogueira was one of 24 senators under investigation for corruption.

Businessman, and one of Brazil’s wealthiest citizens, Eike Batista (in white T-shirt) after his testimony on corruption charges at Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro on January 31, 2017. On Wednesday, 200 families occupied a farm in São Joaquim de Bicas, Minas Gerais, that belongs to the MMX company owned by Batista. Photo:Fernando Frazão / Agência Brasil

Another farm was invaded by 300 families in Alto Paraíso, Paraná state. It is owned by the Lupus Group, producer of pet foods and livestock feed. According to MST, “in 2007 the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) inspected the area and concluded, with technical reports, that the farm was unproductive for not fulfilling its social purpose, which is the proper use of the natural resources and the preservation of the environment, so it should be expropriated for agrarian reform purposes.”

On Wednesday, 200 families occupied a farm in São Joaquim de Bicas, Minas Gerais, that belongs to the MMX company. In judicial recovery, MMX is owned by former billionaire Eike Batista, under house arrest for corruption and money laundering crimes.

To date, federal and state officials have made no publicized moves to end the occupations. In Piraí, police cars were sent to Lima Filho’s farm on the first day of the occupation. So far, there has been no known conflict.

 

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