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Brazil: pressure for agrarian reform


Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, has replaced the minister for agrarian development after protests from Brazil’s social movements that the number of families given land as part of the agrarian reform programme in 2011 was the lowest in 16 years. Last year only 22,021 families received land. The record for resettlement was in 2006, when 136,358 received land.

A problem last year was a delay in the appointment of senior staff to the agrarian reform agency, INCRA, after Dilma took office in January. The national director was not appointed until March and the regional directors were not in place until September. As a result, the first expropriation decree was not signed until December. This is probably an indication of the lack of priority agrarian reform has for Dilma. In Lula’s second term the government emphasis shifted from expropriation to improving the conditions of the land reform settlements, and this emphasis has been strengthened under Dilma. There are also some indications that the strong Brazilian economy has reduced the demand among poor city-dwellers for rural small-holdings.

The new minister, Pepe Vargas (PT), said, ‘We want to maintain the quality of the settlements and speed up the processes,’ but also reflected the emphasis on quality: ‘INCRA has been working to new guidelines, which I think are correct, for settlements with quality… The process is slower until the land has the conditions needed for production: the people in the settlements need roads, access to water, electricity and a house to live in.’

Sr Vargas’s attitude towards the social movements appears to be guarded: ‘We won’t criminalise the social movements, but we also want the dialogue to be within the parameters of our democratic constitution. We will treat these movements with respect, but within the law.’

One example of the pressure from the social movements that led to the change of ministers was the manifesto launched by a broad range of organisations on 28 February in Brasília, reproduced below.


1) The deepening of dependent capitalism in rural areas, based on the expansion of agribusiness, produces negative impacts on the lives of rural, forest and river communities, preventing the fulfillment of social and environmental function of land and agrarian reform, promoting exclusion and violence, impacting negatively in the cities, exacerbating the external dependence and degradation of natural resources.

2) Brazil is going through a process of reprimarization of the economy based on the production and export of agricultural and non-agricultural commodities (mining), which is unable to fund and promote sustainable and coherent development and meet the needs of the Brazilian people.

3) Agribusiness represents a covenant of power of the hegemonic social classes, with strong support from the Brazilian State, based on finance capital and capital accumulation, commercialization of the goods of nature, generating land concentration and foreign ownership, food contamination by pesticides, environmental destruction, exclusion and violence in the countryside, and the criminalization of movements, leadership and social struggles.

4) The current crisis is global and systemic and, in times of crisis, capital seeks traditional solutions affecting workers even more, with the increased exploitation of labor (including slave labor), over-exploitation and concentration of goods and natural resources (reprimarization ), flexible rights and investment in exclusionary and predatory technology.

5) In the current crisis, Brazil as a country rich in soil, water, natural resources and biodiversity, attracts speculative capital and agro-exporters, thus exacerbating the negative impacts on indigenous peoples and territories, quilombolas, traditional communities and family farmers. Externally, Brazil could become the lever of the neo-colonizing project, expanding this model to other countries, especially in Latin America and Africa.

6) The neo-developmental thinking focuses on production and profit, defended by the right and sectors of the left, excludes and comes as a hindrance to indigenous peoples, quilombolistas and peasants. The preference of the Brazilian government for the neo-developmental project, centered on large projects and export of commodities, aggravates the situation of exclusion and violence.

As a result it does not address structural issues and does not place agrarian reform at the center of the political agenda, generating strong dissatisfaction among the rural social organizations, despite small advances on peripheral issues.

These are the central reasons that led the rural social organizations to join in a national process to articulate the struggle. While recognizing their political diversity, the organizations understand the importance of building unity, on the basis of knowledge, maturity and respect for differences, seeking real achievements for the rural, forest and river communities.

Accordingly we, rural organizations, fight for development with a focus on sustainability and food and territorial sovereignty, based on four central themes:

a) Comprehensive and high-quality Agrarian Reform that assures the territorial rights of indigenous peoples, quilombistas and traditional communities, the land and livelihoods and affirmation of the socio-cultural identity of peoples fighting foreign control of land, and the establishment of limits of land ownership in Brazil.

b) Rural development with the distribution of income and wealth and an end to inequality;

c) Production and access to healthy food and environmental conservation, establishing processes to ensure the transition to agro-ecology.

d) Guarantees for and expansion of social and cultural rights that allow the quality of life, including rural succession and retention of youth in the countryside.

Brasilia, February 28, 2012.

APIB – Associação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil)


CIMI – Conselho Indigenista Missionário (Indigenous Missionary Council)

CPT – Comissão Pastoral da Terra (Pastoral Land Commission)

CONTAG – Confederação Nacional de Trabalhadores na Agricultura (National Confederation of Agricultural Workers)

FETRAF – Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura Familiar (National Confederation of Workers Family Agriculture)

MAB – Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams)

MCP – Movimento Camponês Popular (Popular Peasant Movement)

MMC – Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas (Movement of Peasant Women)

MPA – Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores (Movement of Small Farmers)

MST – Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Movement of Landless Rural Workers)

Via Campesina Brazil

Translation by Friends of the MST, edited and abbreviated by LAB

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