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Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST)

Protesta Y Propuesta: Lessons from Just Transformation, Ecological Justice, and the Fight for Self-Determination in Puerto Rico

By Brooke Anderson and Jovanna García Soto - Grassroots International and Movement Generation, February 2020

“De la Protesta a la Propuesta” (“From protest to proposal”). That’s the slogan that watershed protectors used when they successfully stopped open pit mining in the heart of Puerto Rico’s mountains then brought those same lands under community control. For those of us looking to build just transformation in place, we have much to learn from Puerto Rico’s social movements which are at once both visionary and oppositional, centering sovereignty and self-governance.

Just transformation, or just transition, is the work “to transition whole communities toward thriving economies that provide dignified, productive, and ecologically sustainable livelihoods that are governed directly by workers and communities.”

In the U.S., the term just transition was originally used by the labor movement to demand that with the phaseout of polluting industries, workers would be retrained and adequately compensated rather than bear yet another cost from working in that industry. Environmental justice communities on the fenceline of these polluting industries then built common cause with workers for a just transition that would not put the environmental or economic burden on workers or communities. In the U.S., the term has since further evolved to capture systemic transformation of the whole economy. While U.S. frontline groups often use the term just transition, some Puerto Rican social movements use the term just transformation—especially as a way to capture the necessity of achieving decolonization and sovereignty as part of any transition. As such, we’ll be using just transformation in this report, as well as other concepts such as self-determination and ecological justice.

Read the report (Link).

Brazil: MST asks for more Land Reform and for a stop in the criminalization of the Movement

By Staff - La Via Campesina, November 7, 2016

On Friday, November 4th, MST was on the criminalization spotlight. A violent action by the police, codename “Castra”, spanned three States, Paraná, São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul. The main target of the operation was to arrest and criminalize leaders from two camps held by militants in Central Paraná State. The camps are named “Dom Tomás Balduíno” and “Herdeiros da Luta pela Terra” (Land Struggle Heirs).

On a note, MST denounces a “surge in the repression of the struggle for land, dominated by the interests of agribussines allied to the violence of a State of Exception”.

“We remind the public that we have always acted in an organized and peaceful manner for the advancement of Land Reform. We reclaim the land for it’s social function and that it be destined to settling the 10.000 families that are currently camped in Paraná State.”

In São Paulo, 10 vehicles from the Civil Police broke into the National School Florestan Fernandes (ENFF), in the town of Guararema. Two militants were arrested.

According to the reports, police officers arrived at around 9:25 am, closed the school gate and jumped over the reception window,  taking shots aiming at sky. The shards of collected bullets prove that none of them were rubber, but lethal.

In Mato Grosso do Sul, three police vehicles with Paraná plates broke into CEPEGE, “Geral Garcia” Research Center and Professional School, in Sidrolândia. The police operation was searching for MST militants from Paraná that allegedly were there. The police remained there until approximately 9AM, when they left with no arrests. During the operation, police prohibited the use of mobile phones.

Militants that were in CEPEGE at the moment were performing cleaning and maintenance tasks.

Here is the full note:

More Land Reform and a stop to MST criminalization

Once more the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement is a victim of criminalization constructed by the repressive apparatus of the State of Paraná. The violent operation, codename “Castra”, took place this Friday, November 4th 2016, in Paraná - municipalities of Quedas do Iguaçu, Francisco Beltrão and Laranjeiras do Sul; and also in the States of São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul.

The aim of the operation is to capture and criminalize leaders from 'Dom Tomás Balduíno' and 'Herdeiros da Luta pela Terra' encampments, located in the central region of Paraná state. Until now 6 leaders were arrested and they are still looking for other workers, under several accusations, including criminal organization.

Since May 2014, approximately 3,000 encamped families are occupying areas that were before occuppied by Araupel Company. Those areas were illegally occupied by the company and because of that the Federal Court of Public Land declared that they belong to the Union, so they must be devoted for Agrarian Reform.

Araupel Company became a powerful economical and political empire by illegally occupying public land and constantly using violence against rural workers and peasants that occupy land, many times acting in collusion with the civilian and military police apparatus, they have even fund political campaigns of public authorities, like the one of the Chief of Staff of the Beto Richa's government, Valdir Rossoni.

We highlight that this action is part of a continuous process of persecution and violence that MST has been facing in several states and in Parana. On April 7th, 2016, in the land illegally occupied by Araupel Company the families organized in the Dom Tomas Balduíno encampment were victims of an ambush made by the Military Police and security personnel hired by the company. In the attack, were there more than 120 gunshots, Vilmar Bordim and Leomar Orback were executed, there were also countless people bullet wounded. In the same large state in 1997, gunmen hired by Araupel killed in another ambush two Landless Movement workers. Both cases remain unpunished.

We denounce the escalation on violence and repression against the struggle for land, where agribusiness interests associated with the violence of the State of Exception predominate.

We remember that we always act in an organized and pacific way so the Agrarian Reform advances. We demand that the land fulfills its social function and that it is destined for the settlement of the 10,000 families encamped in Paraná.

We keep fighting for our rights and we join those who fight for education, health, housing, more rights and more democracy.

Struggle and build Popular Agrarian Reform.

Curitiba, November 4th, 2016.

An International Farmers Alliance Links Climate Change to Industrial Agriculture

By La Via Campesina - In These Times, November 17, 2015

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agriculture is responsible for a major portion of the increase of greenhouse gases. Not all agriculture has the same impact, however—the vast majority of the effect comes from the post WWII industrial agricultural system.

This system—an agricultural model based on capital concentration, high fossil energy consumption, overproduction, consumerism and trade liberalization—has put our planet’s ecosystems at risk and pushed human communities toward disaster. 

Industrialized countries and the industrialization of agriculture are the biggest contributors to global warming, but it is farmers and rural communities—especially in developing countries—that are among the first to suffer from climate change. Changing weather patterns bring unknown pests along with unusual droughts, floods and storms, destroying crops, farmlands, farmstock and farmer’s houses. Moreover, plants, animal species and marine life are threatened or disappearing at an unprecedented pace due to the combined effects of warming and industrial exploitation. It is estimated that by 2080, Latin America will likely see a 24.3 percent decline agricultural yields, Asia 19.3 percent and Africa 27.5 percent. Life at large is endangered by the decreasing availability of fresh water resources. By 2050 an estimated 4 billion people will live in highly water-stressed environments.

In tropical regions, global warming is likely to lead to a serious decline in agricultural production and to the acceleration of the desertification of farmland. On the other hand, vast regions of Russia and Canada will turn into cropland for the first time in human history. Yet it is still unknown how these regions will be able to grow crops. Farmers have to adjust to these changes by adapting their seeds and usual production systems to an unpredictable situation.

What is expected is that millions of farmers will be displaced from the land. Such shifting is regarded by industry as a business opportunity to increase food exports and imports, when the reality is that hunger and dependency will only increase around the world.

Via Campesina, a transcontinental movement bringing together of small farmers and producers, asserts that it is time to radically change the industrial way to produce, transform, trade and consume food and agricultural products. We believe that sustainable small-scale farming and local food consumption will help reverse the devastation and support millions of farming families. Agriculture can also cool down the earth by using farming practices that store CO2 and reduce the use of energy on farms.

A call for solidarity against forced evictions of MST members in northern Brazil

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 13, 2017

An aggressive attack is being waged against landless farmers in the northern state of Pará, Brazil, according to a statement released by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) on Tuesday.

According to members of Brazil’s largest social movement, large-scale landowners along with local judicial authorities, media outlets and the Brazilian military police are targeting MST encampments throughout the country.

Occupants living in 20 encampments located in the northern State of Pará are preparing for a planned eviction on Wednesday, which activists warn will force more than 2000 families into precarious living conditions.

Meanwhile, leading up to Wednesday’s forced eviction, unarmed families and individuals living in the MST’s Hugo Chavez encampment site, were reportedly shot at on Monday by private security officials.

The recent violence takes place as the Brazilian government continues to peruse regressive land ownership laws, which have resulted in devastating consequences on landless and displaced agricultural workers.

During the administration of the unelected Brazilian President Michel Temer, the MST has witnessed increased levels of state violence and criminalization against members of their movement

In light of the escalating violence and repression, we are issuing a call of international solidarity! So, please feel free to send us a short video or statement in support of the MST!

La Via Campesina International condemns Marcinho’s murder and demands that the culprits be brought to justice!

By staff - La Via Campesina, February 5, 2018

La Via Campesina strongly condemns the murder of comrade Márcio Matos (Marcinho) leader of the MST in the state of Bahia in Brazil, on January 24, outside his home, in the Boa Sorte camp, in Iramaia falling in the Chapada Diamantina region.

Marcinho, 33, who was a prominent MST leader in the peasant struggle in Bahia, was murdered in front of his son with three gun shots to his head. The death of Marcinho is adding to a long list of peasant leaders and social activists, many of them members of the MST, who have been killed for their tireless struggle to reclaim and take land for the dispossessed families and the landless.

Criminalisation of the peasant movements and social struggles, followed by attacks, arrests and imprisonment including the murder of the peasant leaders and human rights defenders are now widespread. These are part of a violent and repressive policy, which aims to contain the movement for an agrarian and popular reform that can put agriculture at the service of the people instead of turning it into a tool to generate profits for a handful of corporations.

In this backdrop, La Via Campesina strongly condemns the murder of Marcinho and demands that the perpetrators be brought to trial. We urge all members of La Via Campesina to be aware of this call for justice for Marcinho and his family, since the crimes against peasant leaders and social activists are taking place in an environment of impunity and violence promoted by the criminal State.

Finally, we extend to MST – our sister organization, an unconditional solidarity and we place ourselves at your disposal to support your of struggle for justice for Marcinho and his family. That the murder of Marcinho serve to inspire us and to strength our commitment to continue fighting for the rights of the peasants and against this system of death and violence.

For Marcinho, not just a minute of silence but a whole life of struggle!

Building post-capitalist futures

By various - Transnational Institute - June 2018

Over several sunny days in June 2018, a diverse group of 60 activists and researchers from 30 countries convened for a multi-day meeting to discuss the collective building of post-capitalist futures. The meeting provided the opportunity for a rich exchange of perspectives and experiences, as well as deep discussion and debate. The goal of the meeting was not to achieve consensus both an impossible and unnecessary endeavour but rather to stimulate mutual learning, challenge one another and advance analyses.

One session of the meeting – Transformative Cities – was held not as a closed discussion but as a public event attended by 300 people at which prominent activists and academics engaged with municipal leaders and politicians on the role cities can play in building post-capitalist futures.

In line with the meeting, this report does not intend to advance one line of analysis, but rather summarise some of the key ideas and issues discussed and debated (not necessarily in the order they were articulated). To summarise necessarily means to leave things out. It would be impossible to fully capture the incredible richness of the discussion that took place, but hopefully this report provides a valuable sketch.

Read the report (PDF).

The MST and the Fight to Change the Brazilian Power Structure

Gilmar Mauro interviewed by Brian Mier - The Bullet, September 15, 2017

During the 1960s, legend has it that governor José Sarney sat down at a table with a group of cattle-ranching cronies and aerial photographs of Maranhão state, in Northeastern Brazil. They marked boundaries on the photos with pencil and divided up the land. In the decades that followed, these ranchers committed what Brazilians call grilhagem, altering documentation to illegally appropriate land. Sarney and his henchmen fenced off millions of hectares of land, then either kicked out the peasants who were living there, forcing them into mud hut settlements between the road and the fences, or keeping them on as labourers, often paying them with vouchers for use at their own stores and patrolling the grounds with armed guards so that no one can escape. Under Sarney’s control, Maranhão state was deforested, and roughly half of its majority Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population migrated to big cities in the Southeast, some of which, like São Paulo, saw their populations increase fivefold over a period of a few decades.

The case of José Sarney, who would become the president of Brazil (1985-90) and three-time Senate President, is just one chapter in the 500-year-old story of how large rural landholders dominate Brazilian political and economic life, which is represented today in the largest political caucus in the Brazilian Congress, the ruralistas, whose majority recently voted to throw out massive corruption charges against current President Michel Temer.[1]

Unlike other former European colonies in the Americas, Brazil has never implemented agrarian reform. With the world’s most unequal land division, three per cent of the population owns approximately 2/3 of the arable land.[2] When former president João Goulart attempted to enact agrarian reform in 1964, he was thrown out of office in a U.S.-backed military coup.[3] As the resultant dictatorship approached its end in the early 1980s, a new peasant-based social movement arose in Rio Grande do Sul state, called the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Worker’s Movement, MST). Incorporating theories from liberation theology and intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci into practice, landless rural workers organized in groups to occupy fields of stolen land, resist eviction (sometimes fatally), and farm.[4] Using an innovative organizational structure of upwards and downwards democratic accountability through voluntary assemblies at the family, village, regional, state and national levels, the MST quickly spread across the country and now operates in all 26 Brazilian states, with “Friends of the MST” groups operating worldwide.

Although it has yet to reach its goal of enacting agrarian reform and building a socialist society, there are currently 400,000 families living and farming in MST agrarian reform villages across the county and the movement has successfully pressured the government to create a series of innovative policies, such as the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Food Acquisition Program/PAA), ratified by former President Lula, which requires all public schools and hospitals in rural areas to purchase all food for their meal programs at subsidized prices from local family farmers.

The MST has a gender-balanced national directorate of 52 individuals, with two people elected periodically in each of its 26 state assemblies. Gilmar Mauro is a member of the national directorate, representing the state of São Paulo. I caught up with him at the MST national secretariat in São Paulo on August 25th, 2017, to talk about the current political context and its ramifications for small farmers.

Transforming Society as Capitalism Crumbles: Lessons from Brazil’s Peasant Movement

By Rafael Soriano and Débora Nunes - In These Times, September 14, 2017

Brazil is facing a profound political and economic crisis since a coup d’etat overturned Dilma Roussef’s government in March of 2016. The new government is unrolling austerity policies that are eroding working families’ political gains by dismantling labor protections and social services and unleashing human rights abuses, including escalating assassinations of peasants and indigenous people. This political context—which shares characteristics with the U.S. climate under Donald Trump—is defined by a crisis of capitalism that resurfaced with the economic meltdown in the Global North that was initiated in 2008. 

Rafael Soriano, a member of MST’s Communications Collective, discussed this political climate with Débora Nunes, member of the National Directory of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, widely known by its Portuguese acronym MST. This social movement of peasants, rural workers and landless families reclaims land rights and struggles for a genuine agrarian reform that would benefit all Brazilians—and strives for deep social and political transformation.

In this interview, Nunes reflects on the danger and potential of this current moment, highlighting opportunities to build alternatives to capitalism as the current economic system flounders. Nunes underscores that people in Brazil “have great challenges to face the coup and its consequences,” and it is necessary to “better communicate and organize the masses."

Brazil: Assessment After 6th MST Congress

By Itelvina Massioli - Radio Mundo Real, February 20, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A two-and-a-half year process of work which resulted in a meeting with several thousand Brazilian peasants; “a process that didn’t start now, and that won´t end here,” said Itelvina Massioli, national leader of the peoples´ struggle for land, agrarian reform and food sovereignty, in interview with Real World Radio after the 6th Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).

During the interview, the leader stated that this congress “managed to mark the beginning of a new stage in our struggle for land and our class struggle in general.”  “The balance is very, very positive”, said Itelvina.

An increasingly important role for women

In the past years, the feminist agenda, specifically peasant and popular feminism, has been strongly established within Latin American peasant movements. This has come hand in hand with peasant women taking on more political roles. “We can speak of an advance in the political prominence of landless women in the building of the movement of the past 30 years, but especially on the political struggle, on the struggle for land and agrarian reform,” said the leader.

On the congress, Itelvina said that their participation was not limited to a matter of numbers: “We ensured strong participation by women from all states, not just in terms of percentages. We led the process and the development of the congress, where many of our women friends intervened at the different tables and moments of our congress”.

The Fine Print I:

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