Brazil: thousands protest Bush, “agrofuels”

On March 8, thousands of Brazilians marched to celebrate women’s day and protest the visit to Brazil of US president George W. Bush, scheduled to begin that evening. The largest march took place in Sao Paulo, with more than 10,000 people participating (as many as 20,000, according to some reports). When a few demonstrators sat down to block the street, riot police sought to disperse the crowd with a barrage of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Chaos ensued as the demonstrators, including many families with children, tried to escape. About 20 people were injured. Some demonstrators responded by throwing rocks at police; several agents were among those injured. Four demonstrators were detained; they were freed late that same night. (Indymedia Brasil, March 9; Reuters, March 8)

In Rio de Janeiro, nearly 60 demonstrators (according to Reuters) marched to the US consulate. Protesters threw red paint on the building’s facade, and destroyed several large front windows with rocks and sticks. (Reuters, March 8; Noticias Terra, March 8) In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, landless campesinos protested in front of the US embassy. (Noticias Terra, March 8)

In Sao Luis, capital of Maranhao state in northern Brazil, hundreds of women from social movements including the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) marched to the governor’s palace, where they were met by Maranhao governor Jackson Lago from the Democratic Labor Party (PDT). The marchers brought an effigy of Bush with a noose around its neck; they gave the rope to Lago, who carried out the symbolic hanging while wearing an MST cap given to him by the marchers. After Lago left, demonstrators burned the Bush effigy. (Reuters, March 8; Agencia Estado, March 8; Maranhao government website, March 8 from Assecom)

Some 1,500 people marched against Bush in Belem, capital of Para state. The march was organized by the National Confederation of Struggles (Conlutas) in conjunction with the local social movements. A popular chant at the march was: “Out, out, out of here now. Bush out of Iraq, and Lula out of Haiti.” (Noticias Terra, March 8) In Mato Grosso state, more than 200 women from the Via Campesina, an international peasant alliance, and the MST marched 8 kilometers from the offices of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) to the center of Cuiaba. The MST has been occupying the local INCRA offices since Feb. 25 to demand acceleration of land reform in Mato Grosso. (MST, March 8) In Recife, capital of Pernambuco state, agents of the state Military Police (PM) violently attacked some 200 protesters who marched against Bush and rallied at the Associacao Avicola de Pernambuco (Avipe, the Pernambuco Poultry Association), an agribusiness that uses transgenic grains. Two police agents and one protester were reported injured. Three protesters were arrested; two of them were released later, but the third remained in custody. (MST, March 9; Agencia Estado via Yahoo! Brasil Noticias, March 8) In Vitoria, capital of Espirito Santo state, as many as 1,000 women marched for an end to violence and to defend indigenous territories, “quilombola” communities (autonomous Afro-Brazilian territories escaped slaves established in past centuries), campesino land rights and social and environmental justice. (MST, March 9)

Nearly 300 people, mostly from the union movement, marched in Curitiba, capital of Parana state. About 100 students marched in Teresina, capital of Piaui state in northeastern Brazil. Hundreds marched in Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. In Maceio, capital of Alagoas state, teachers in the 49th day of a strike joined landless rural women in marching against Bush and demanding the impeachment of state governor Teotonio Vilela Filho of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). (Noticias Terra, March 8)

Bush arrived in Sao Paulo on the evening of March 8 for a visit of less than 24 hours. He held meetings with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on March 9 before leaving for Uruguay that evening. Bush used his South America trip to promote a plan for the region to increase its production of ethanol, an alcohol made from grain, to meet US fuel needs. Sao Paulo governor Jose Serra complained on March 9 that Bush’s plan was a marketing move, while the US refuses to reduce tariffs on biofuels like ethanol. According to Serra, biofuels currently face tariffs of over 100% of the price per liter. (Noticias Terra, March 9)

In a Mar. 7 statement, the National Secretariat of the MST blasted the “biofuels” campaign being promoted by Bush on his Latin American trip as a threat to food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture. The MST, which sent a delegation to the World Forum on Food Sovereignty held Feb. 23-27 in the African nation of Mali, said campesino groups around the world are united against the push for “agrofuels.” MST members at the March 8 women’s protests in Brazil carried banners reading: “Struggle for Food Sovereignty, Against Agribusiness.”

“We can’t call this program ‘biofuels’ or much less ‘biodiesel,'” said the MST. “The expression ‘bio’ relates to energy and life.” According to the MST, the agrofuels plan is the result of an alliance of three major sectors of international capital: oil companies; transnational agribusiness corporations; and automobile manufacturers. “The only objective [of the plan] is to maintain the actual levels of consumption of the first world and the high rates of profit of its transnational companies,” said the MST. “All they want is profit, and they don’t care about the situation of the environment,” the MST notes. While the MST agrees that agrofuels may be better for the environment than fossil fuels, it calls for reduced energy use and notes that agribusiness employs such environmentally harmful practices as monoculture, transgenic seeds and the heavy use of pesticides. (MST National Secretariat, “Position of Via Campesina on Agro-Fuels,” dated March 8 on MST site, posted by MST March 7 on Red Solidaria por los Derechos Humanos-REDH)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 11

See our last posts on Brazil, biofuels and the global oil crisis.

See also our special report, “The Real Scoop on Biofuels” by Brian Tokar, and a comment on the biofuels’ impact in the American heartland.