Joaquín Pinheiro, leader of the MST, Brazil: “We will continue fighting for land and for the Agrarian Reform”
“The Landless Movement (MST) of Brazil is accused of being a criminal organization. This accusation is part of a strategy to criminalize social protest and popular movements. After weakening the Workers’ Party (PT) of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, who he overthrew, Temer now has it aim set on the MST. But we continue to struggle, because this is the only way to defeat the conservative forces and the coup”.
These were the words of Joaquín Pinheiro, a member of the National Coordination of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement and the Popular Brazil Front, in an exclusive interview with Al Mayadeen, in which he shared his thoughts on various topics related to this popular movement.
What impact does the judicial and constitutional coup against Dilma Rousseff have on the Brazilian MST?
The impact will be broad and it will affect all of Brazilian society. We have a young democracy which was reconstituted in 1985, after 21 years of dictatorship, and it was now broken again by the coup.
That blow was executed in order to implant neoliberalism. This entails the paralysis or elimination of social policies, including those that we had in the rural areas. This is added to the changes they made to the Federal Constitution of our country, which aim to end with the rights conquered by the working class. There were, and there will be, reactions by the organized sectors, including the MST. The repression by the government against these sectors is very violent and now it is particularly so against the MST, as proven by the recent case of the police raid in our School in Sao Paulo.
What do you think about the people’s response, why haven’t the people mobilized massively?
There are several factors. First of all, it is because we are at a time of decline for mass movements. And we should be self-critical about this: sectors of the Left have stopped doing groundwork and the formation of these people, there were fewer actions of the movements and parties in that area. In addition to that, Lula and Dilma’s governments themselves failed to communicate people on the importance of their administrations and the role of the Workers’ Party (PT) in the implementation of social policies.
Secondly, we have in Brazil a “massive media monopoly”, who became the spokesmen of the coup, attacking Lula, Dilma, the Workers’ Party and the movements that stood up against the coup. Therefore, the civil society (as Gramsci said) mobilized against or in favor of the coup, but most of the population stayed home watching T.V.
Which are the possible solutions for Brazil? Are there any discussions being held with the sectors that support Lula? Are there any alternatives being built?
When we perceived that the coup in Brazil was being forged, the MST and other popular movements created the Popular Brazil Front (FBP). This Front has three objectives:
One: mobilization. building unity among the popular movements of the countryside and in the cities, youth, students, trade union centers, progressive parties and democratic sectors of our society that are against the coup. That unity was the factor that made all the mobilizations we held in recent times possible.
Two: organization. Currently, we are moving forwards for the constitution of that Front across all of the national territory.
Three: a national project: We began a process of debate between the organizations about what sort of country we want. That process is more complex but still necessary. Even though we will have in Lula our main leader and he is doing well in the polls for the 2018 Presidential election, our goal is to discuss a project beyond individual people and elections, that is based on a debate with the society and the national project.
What do you think about the work done by the MST during the Workers’ Party Government and the relationship with President Dilma?
The MST is a massive popular movement that fights for land, the agrarian reform and the transformation of our country. It was born as –and continues to be– independent from any Party. We have a base of almost two million people in 23 states. Therefore, we have the need to dialogue with all governments to submit our demands on various issues such as land, health, education, which are protected by our rights under the Constitution.
With the Workers’ Party in the government, that dialogue was more direct and the repression by the federal government to our movement ended. However, when we were unable to make our demands heard, we used other ways of pressure, such as occupying ministries, marches, etc.
What are the main challenges of the MST in this “post-Workers’ Party” period?
The Workers’ Party remains Brazil’s strongest leftist party, although in the last elections its voter-base decreased. However, any change must be discussed with its base and leaders. Our challenge is to help in this process, especially through the new Popular Brazil Front.
Which is the current state of the MST? Which are your main demands?
Our main objectives continue to be; the organization of rural workers for the conquest of land, and the Agrarian Reform. To advance in the processes of training and education for our grassroots, and to expand the debate with the society on the importance of carrying out a Popular Agrarian Reform based on a model of production that respects the worker and nature from agro ecology.
Does the MST keep the same essence since its foundation?
Yes. We remain autonomous and independent from parties, unions, churches, etc. We adapt the forms of struggles that exist nowadays, using technology to strengthen our organization.
We know that there are links between the different MST organizations in Latin America. What does it mean for you to maintain regional solidarity ties with similar movements?
The MST was born and developed by learning from the experiences of other organizations in other countries. We are what we are because of having received solidarity from these organizations. We advance when we form common spaces of articulation for peasants such as the Latin American Coordinator of Field Organizations (CLOC) and La Via Campesina. From these spaces, we fought common struggles against our main enemies, and expanded the continental integration processes when we helped to build the Continental Articulation of ALBA Social Movements.
What do you think about the MST’s struggle and global support within the framework of global social forums?
The World Social Forum played an important role in the fight against neoliberalism in the early 2000s. We were together in that construction and the MST was part of its international council. However, lately, the Forum has lost its importance and became a space for more debate among NGOs without the strength of popular movements.
What can you say about the continental right? Which were the main mistakes made by the Latin American left in that sense? What does the MST bring to the table in that debate?
Over the last 15 years our continent has experienced a long period of progressivist governments, which affected the U.S. hegemony in the region with the peak of neoliberalism.
We have moved forwards in social policies, in the integration of countries, but we continue depending on the great capital. Latin America is still producer of raw material. The progressivist governments were not able to change that reality, and now, the crisis affected our economies. This is the base for the change in government, by the polls or the coup, and the right is starting to retake their positions.