from Weekly News Update on the Americas
RIO GRANDE DO SUL: MST SEIZES ESTATE
On Feb. 28, more than 2,000 members of Brazil’s Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) from 14 encampments in the state of Rio Grande do Sul began occupying the Fazenda Guerra, a large estate in Coqueiros do Sul municipality. It was the largest single land occupation since the late 1990s. According to Ana Hanauer, of the MST’s coordinating body in Rio Grande do Sul, the occupying families are using wooden construction materials to build permanent housing and an educational facility on the site, turning the property into an MST settlement, instead of the more typical encampment of temporary plastic-covered tent-like structures. The MST is demanding the immediate settlement of the 2,500 families still living in such temporary encampments in Brazil’s southernmost state. Some of these families have spent seven years living in the encampments; only 220 families have been able to move into settlements over the past three years in Rio Grande do Sul. Most of the families who participated in the Feb. 28 occupation were forcibly displaced by Military Police on Feb. 23 from an encampment on the side of Highway RS-406, in Nanoi.
“The federal government doesn’t meet the goals of the National Plan for Agrarian Reform, and the state government treats the land question as a police affair, forcing us to live on the sides of the highway. Our only other option is to occupy unproductive lands and report to society that Agrarian Reform is stopped in our state. It is not a priority for [President Luis Inacio] Lula [da Silva of the leftist Workers Party, PT] or for our governor, [Germano] Rigotto [of the centrist Party of the Democratic Movement of Brazil, PMDB]. There is more than enough land for settlements,” said Edenir Vassoler of the MST’s coordinating body for the state.
Fazenda Guerra is one of the largest latifundios in Rio Grande do Sul, with 7,000 hectares in the municipalities of Coqueiros do Sul, Carazinho and Pontao. The owner of the property, Felix Tubino Guerra, has a history of unpaid debts and violations of labor laws. The area is large enough to settle roughly 350 families. This is the third time the MST has occupied the estate. (Friends of the MST, Feb. 28)
In the northeastern state of Pernambuco, the MST reported that 15 landless rural workers were “detained and tortured” during a police operation to evict 200 campesinos from an estate they were occupying in Cabrobo, one of 19 estates occupied by MST members in Pernambuco since Mar. 5. The MST says that over the coming weeks, some 120,000 campesinos will occupy large landed estates in 23 of Brazil’s 26 states and in the federal district of Brasilia. (La Jornada, Mexico, March 9 from DPA, Reuters)
WOMEN OCCUPY PULP PLANTATION
On March 8, International Wome’s Day, nearly 2,000 Brazilian women affiliated with the international peasant movement Via Campesina occupied the Barba Negra estate, a eucalyptus plantation owned by the wood pulp company Aracruz Celulosa in Barra do Ribeiro, Rio Grande do Sul state, to draw attention to the environmental damage caused by the pulp industry. The protesters occupied the Aracruz site for about 40 minutes, and reportedly destroyed some five million out of a total 30 million plants there which were part of a company research project. Following the incident, the company announced it would reconsider its plan to invest $1.2 billion in the construction of a new facility in Rio Grande do Sul. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, March 8; Manifesto Text, March 8; La Jornada, March 9; Inter Press Service, March 8)
“Where the green desert advances, biodiversity is destroyed, the soil deteriorates, the rivers dry up, not to mention the tremendous pollution generated by the cellulose factories that contaminate the air and water and threaten human health,” the women wrote in a Via Campesina manifesto. The women were also protesting in solidarity with indigenous people whose lands were taken by Aracruz Celulosa in a violent police eviction in January of this year in Espirito Santo state. Police used the company’s machinery to carry out the expulsion.
Aracruz Celulosa has more than 250,000 hectares of land, 50,000 of them in Rio Grande do Sul. Its factories produce 2.4 million tons of bleached cellulose per year. Aracruz Celulosa has received $2 billion reais (more than $917 million) in public money from the Brazilian government over the past three years, yet the cellulose business only generates one job for each 185 hectares planted, while small-scale agriculture generates one job per hectare. “We don’t understand how a government that wants to end hunger sponsors the green desert instead of investigating in agrarian reform and campesino agriculture,” says the women’s manifesto. The women also pointed out the destructive impact of the cellulose industry on water: each eucalyptus consumes as much as 30 liters of water a day. (Minga, March 8; Manifesto text, March 8)
After ending their action on Aracruz land, the demonstrators went in buses back to Porto Alegre, the state capital, where they joined an International Women’s Day march. Roughly 3,500 women marched to the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, where the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was holding its International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development March 7-10. The protesters managed to get past the closed gates and the 20 police agents guarding the university to stage a demonstration in the parking lot. (LJ, March 9; IPS, March 8; Minga, March 8)
After half an hour of negotiations, a committee of 50 women was allowed into the main auditorium where the FAO conference was taking place. They entered chanting “Agrarian Reform, Urgent and Necessary” and “Women, United, Will Never Be Defeated,” then read their manifesto to the delegates. The manifesto was supported by the Movement of Campesina Women (MMC), the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), the Movement of Small Farmers (MPA), the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB), the Rural Youth Pastoral (PJR) and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). (Minga, manifesto, March 8) Grassroots campesino groups and other social movements also sponsored their own parallel Land, Territory and Dignity Forum in Porto Alegre Mar. 6-9. (IPS, March 10. MST website)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 12
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #117
See our last update on land struggles in Brazil:
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution