Brazil: Landless Rural Workers Movement Occupies Agricultural Research Corporation Lands

What You Need to Know: 

Members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra/MST) have today occupied nearly 4000 acres of land belonging to Brazil’s state-owned Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in the northeastern Municipality of Petrolina. 

According to MST, the occupied Embrapa lands are “unproductive, idle and abandoned”, with the occupation forming part of various actions planned by the movement throughout the ‘April of Struggles’; the month in which the ‘National Journey of Struggles in Defense of Agrarian Reform’ takes place. 

The movement’s motto for this year’s April of Struggle is “Ocupe, para que o Brasil se alimente! (Occupy, so that Brazil can be fed!). 

The movement’s month of struggle also serves to pay tribute to the 21 MST members killed by government forces while partaking in a peaceful protest in Para on April 17, 1996, known as the Eldorado do Carajas massacre. 

These most recent occupations are the third to occur since the start of April. On the 9th, 400 families affiliated with MST occupied farm areas in Itabuna, Bahia, connected to the Brazilian Executive Commission for Cocoa Cultivation Planning (CEPLAC). 

A statement from MST’s website reads: 

“In this Journey, every year, Landless workers demand the implementation of an Agrarian Reform policy in Brazil. Policy is provided for in Law, in the Federal Constitution of 1988, which in its Article 184 determines that “it is up to the Union to expropriate for social interest, for the purposes of agrarian reform, rural property that is not fulfilling its social function….Therefore, the demands of the MST in the fight for land and Agrarian Reform for more than 40 years in Brazil were not created only by the will of the Landless, but because they were provided for in the country’s major law. The Constitution determines, therefore, that large estates that do not fulfill their social function must be used for Agrarian Reform purposes, with the settlement of landless families in these areas.”

The Details:

MST was founded in January of 1984 with support from various Catholic organizations. Their method of land occupation quickly gained support from rural communities, with their numbers currently in the thousands. Additionally, their ideology draws from various strains of Marxism, leftism, and liberation theology. 

According to USAID, “an estimated 1% of the population owns 45% of all land in Brazil. Nearly five million families are landless. According to the National Institute on Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), there are nearly one million square kilometers of uncultivated land in the country.” Furthermore, the acquisition of land through unchallenged possession or usucapio is prescribed in Brazilian land law. 

Article 1.238 of Brazil’s 2002 Civil Code states, “he who, for fifteen years, without interruption, nor opposition, possesses as his own property, acquires property for him, regardless of title and good faith. In line with the device, possession needs to be meek and peaceful, meaning it cannot be a violent possession. Possession has to be public, recognized by neighbors and others, as if it were the owner of the property.”

Additionally, Article 184 of the Brazilian Constitution requires the Brazilian government “to expropriate for the purpose of agrarian reform, rural property that is not performing its social function.” 

This creates a complex situation for the Brazilian government and their state-owned lands which are currently under MST occupation.

So, What Now?:

MST’s occupation of Embrapa lands was likely a preemptive measure taken to put pressure on President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Minister of Agrarian Development and Family Farming, who have scheduled for tomorrow the presentation of the ‘Terra da Gente Program for Agrarian Reform at Palacio do Planalto. 

The Program seeks to utilize ‘unproductive and vacant land’ for agrarian reform, although the full details have not been released. 

It is also likely the Program is an attempt to appease MST and splinter groups to prevent further occupations of state-owned lands.  

Despite being described as left-wing, Lula, during his first Presidential term between 2003-2010 tip-toed around MST’s demands. Additionally, various attempts were made by congressmen linked to Brazil’s agrarian elite to designate MST as a terrorist organization. Lula’s second term has been characterized by the sweeping changes made to protect the nation’s indigenous peoples and their lands. Meanwhile his administration, aside from the coming announcement of the Terra da Gente Program, has kept relatively quiet on the issue of land reform for landless workers. 

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.


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