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Cutting the Wire: The MST in Brazil



by Jan Rocha and Sue Branford

ISBN-10: 1899365516

Paperback, 5th July 2002

Price: £14.99 Available from:

Access to land is one of the key issues for developing countries – and Brazil has one of the most inequitable land distributions in the world, with vast tracts of land held by often absentee landowners. Meanwhile thousands of peasants live in marginal lands in cities and rural areas.

The Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) has proved a huge success with the disenfranchised rural and urban poor in Brazil – becoming one of the largest social movements in the world. This is the first account in English of the origins, history, and current challenges faced by Brazil’s poor majority. The authors have travelled the vast expanse of the country to record the words and actions of hundreds of activists who have taken their lives into their own hands.

Cutting the Wire is how the MST describe the act of occupying the land, the cornerstone of their movement. It is the baptism of fire for the militant, an essential part of their identity and it plays a key role in the mistica, the moment of collective ritual that kicks off all MST events.

“We have always been told that agrarian reform is a good idea in principle, but the conjuntura, or present moment, isn’t right,” said Monica, an MST leader. “Well, we’ll make the conjuntura right”. The activists become subjects of their own history and by doing so they turn their world upside down.Cutting the Wire is their story, told in their own words, in vivid first-hand accounts of a continuing struggle.

What the Reviewers Say

“This is the fullest account of what is probably the most ambitious social movement in contemporary Latin America – essential reading for anyone interested in that continent.”

Eric Hobsbawm

“Cutting the Wire documents a struggle which will resonate with campaigners and activists all over the world. It will become essential reading for anyone hoping to understand where the new politics came from and how it works”
George Monbiot 

About the Authors

Jan Rocha is a freelance journalist who has covered Brazil for the Guardian and the BBC. She is the author of Murder in the Rainforest and Brazil in Focus (both Latin America Bureau).

Sue Branford is a journalist who reports regularly from Brazil for BBC radio.

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