[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Mon, 6 Nov 1995 20:30:23 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: IATP <iatp@igc.apc.org>
Subject: NAFTA & Inter-Am Trade Monitor 11-33

NAFTA & Inter-American Trade Monitor
Produced by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
November 3, 1995
Volume 2, Number 28

Agrarian Reform proposed to end violence

NAFTA & Inter-American Trade Monitor, Vol.1 n.28, 3 November 1995

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, facing increasing violence in the countryside, ordered his cabinet to make land reform a priority and called for help from the Catholic Church and opposition political leaders.

The Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Terra (MST), an organization of landless campesinos, says 4.8 million families -- 12 million people -- have no land. More than 1,000 campesinos have been assassinated in the past 10 years in the struggle for land. The August 10 police torture and execution of at least eight campesinos and a 13-year-old girl in Hacienda Santa Elena near Corumbiara in Rondonia focused national and international attention on Brazil's rural crisis.

During his 1994 presidential campaign, Cardoso promised agrarian reform and after his inauguration he proposed distributing 11,000 hectares of land to 280,000 families by 1998. To date, 17,000 families have received land. On September 28, Cardoso replaced the head of the government's National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) with his personal secretary, Francisco Grazziano, who said in 1994 that agrarian reform is a thing of the past, it belongs to the 1960s. The former head of INCRA, Brazilio de Araujo Neto, was a powerful landowner.

The MST calls the government plan inadequate and proposes that the government call in past-due debts of 1,276 major debts of the state-owned Bank of Brazil, claiming that most large debtors are large landowners who produce nothing on their land but use it to obtain rural credits that are never paid back. Rural landowners have organized to prevent enforcement of the provision in the 1988 Constitution that allows expropriation of unproductive lands.

Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has ordered investigation of reports that landholders in Paranapanema in western Sao Paulo state are arming themselves with automatic weapons. The National Confederation of Agriculture created a Commission for the Defense of Property in September, calling for resistance by landowners to threats of occupation of their property. MST has pledged to continue land occupations, in which about 85,000 families are currently involved. About 2,100 families occupy the disputed land in Paranapanema. The government owns the land, but large landholders have occupied it for decades.

According to a labor-based research institute, DIEESE, the richest half of Brazil's population controls 88 percent of national income, making Brazil first in the world in concentration of wealth. In rural Brazil, 10 percent of the farmers own 80 percent of arable land. But neither land distribution inequities nor rural violence are limited to Brazil.

Mining and oil drilling have driven native peoples from their lands in Sierra de la Perija in Venezuela, leading to killings of Indians by military and police. The Maroons of Suriname-- descendants of African slaves who escaped their colonial masters 350 years ago -- have been shot at by security officials for the Canadian-owned Golden Star mining company in recent months, according to local human rights organizations. In Paraguay, where 80 percent of the land is owned by five percent of the population, at least one person died in clashes between police and campesinos occupying land. The Paraguayan parliament responded by passing a new proposal for expropriation and distribution of land. In Honduras, where land occupations and clashes with police are on-going, three campesinos were killed by police in October and a campesino leader was assassinated by unknown persons.

Mario Osava, Fear of Social Unrest Revives Land Reform, INTERPRESS SERVICE, September 28, 1995; President Fernando Henrique Cardoso Makes Agrarian Reform a Priority to Stem Tide of Violence in Countryside, NOTISUR, October 6, 1995; Brazil President Pledges Land Reform, WEEKLY NEWS UPDATE ON THE AMERICAS, October 8, 1995; Brazilian Landowners Prepare to Fight Squatters, WEEKLY NEWS UPDATE ON THE AMERICAS, October 8, 1995; Pratap Chatterjee, Battles Over Land Spread Across Amazon Basin, INTERPRESS SERVICE, October 7, 1995; Cristhian Torres, Paraguay-Agriculture: Demands for Agrarian Reform, INTERPRESS SERVICE, September 15, 1995; Three Killed in Honduran Land Clash, WEEKLY NEWS UPDATE ON THE AMERICAS, October 29, 1995.