Movimento dos Trabalhadores
Landless Workers Movement
In the past 10 years, more than 1000 people have been killed as a result of land conflicts in Brazil. Only 53 of the suspected murderers have been brought to trial. Brazil has the second worst distribution of land in the world. It's estimated that one percent of rural properties represent 47% of all agricultural land, and 62% of these large ranches are unproductive. At the same time, 4.8 million farmers have no access to land.
As a result of this contradiction, the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) is today the largest social movement in Latin America. Since it's creation in the early 1980's, the MST has pressured the government to give land titles to approximately 150,000 families. Today, the movement supports the struggle of over 57,000 families who have occupied uncultivated land in 23 states. These families are living in about 300 camps, hoping the government will give them land titles.
The Brazilian Constitution determines that unproductive land can be expropriated for agrarian reform. The unwillingness of the government to comply with this legislation has forced landless workers to set up camps on those properties as a way of negotiating their expropriation. In many cases, however, large ranchers or latifundiarios and the military police have used violence to expel these families.
One of the worse cases of violence, the massacre of Eldorado dos Carajas, received the most international attention. On the 17 of April, 1996, the military police killed 19 rural workers during a peaceful march in the state of Para. But that wasn't the first time this happened. In 1995, the police entered a camp in an area called Corumbiara at 4 am, in which 2,300 people were sleeping. At that time, 11 peasants were killed, including a seven-year-old girl who was shot in the back.
According to the MST, the cases of violence against their activists have become more selective in recent months, meaning that the killers carefully choose key people in the movement. The large land owners are now creating heavily armed and well trained militia groups, which they called "security companies."
During its second congress in November of 1997, the Latin American Alliance of Peasant Organizations chose April 17 as the International Day Against Violence in the Countryside. This year, the MST remembered that day by organizing demonstrations in 23 states, involving some 60,000 people. In order to raise awareness in the United States, Global Exchange organized a speaking tour of a MST representative, Daniel Correa. From April 13-25 Daniel spoke at universities and community centers in 11 cities, including New York, Washington DC, New Orleans, Madison, Minneapolis, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles.
Just a few weeks before the tour, two important leaders of the MST were killed in the state of Para. They were negotiating the settlement of about 550 families that had been expelled from a ranch called Goias II, in a near-by area. Please read the action alert for more information about this case.
In addition of expressing your concern with increasing repression against rural workers in Brazil, you can also support the MST educational programs and cooperatives. In order to maximize production, the MST has created 60 food cooperatives as well as small agricultural industries. Their literacy program involves 600 educators who are presently working with 7,000 adults and adolescents. The movement also monitors 1,000 primary schools in their settlements, in which 2,000 teachers work with about 50,000 kids. For more information about these programs, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org  or visit the MST websites at www.mst.org.br  (Portuguese), and www.mstbrazil.org  (English).