[01/20/2006] MST Informa #107 - Agrarian Reform under the Lula government will not change the structure of land ownership

Dear Friends of the MST,

In this special bulletin we include an article from researcher Juliano de Carvalho Filho, a professor from the faculty of Economics and Business Administration at the University of Sao Paolo (USP), who has worked on the national program for agrarian reform and is a member of the Brazilian Association for Agrarian Reform (ABRA).

After carrying out analysis into how successive governments have acted in divulging the number of landless workers housed on their own land, the proffessor ratifies the position of the MST in relation to Lula's government: that statistics released are not resentative of reality and do not suggest an effective process of agrarian reform.

Below is the full copy of Juliano de Carvalho Filho's article, which was published on the 20th of January 2006 in the Globo newspaper.


Lula's government fails in its agrarian reform
by Juliano de Carvalho Filho

Controversy over statistics isn't anything new when it comes to agrarian reform. Anyone who has followed agrarian politics in Brasil will remember numerous occasions where this has occured. Now it is the turn of Lula's government.

Under Figueiredo's rule, which marked the end of the military dictatorship, controversy arose over numbers. In that era, towards the end of 1984, officials announced the release of millions of new property deeds. The government of the time proclaimed this as evidence that the country was experiencing the largest agrarian reform in the history of the world.

Newspapers published various interpretations. I would like to refer to an article published in the Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper at the time: The million property deeds that were announced refer to a series of documents that not only include property that was definitely appropriated to landless farmers, but also those who had already occupied the land and deeds with only provisional or temporary rights of occupation. Obviously, the catchphrase that this was 'the largest agrarian reform in the world', is something proclaimed by military rulers and hasn't occured. We must also remember that under this dark period of our history social movements were repressed and persecuted.

In December 1995, the first year of Fernando Henrique Cardoso's government, the President confirmed to the press that he had succeeded in one of his election promises: to house more than 40,000 families. The MST questioned these official statistics, suggesting that the true number of families that were housed in 1995 was actually fewer than 15,000. According to the MST, the discrepancy was a result of Cardoso's government including deeds that were already being distributed as a result of prior governments, and even deeds that were already in the hands of the occupants. For the MST, 'the target anounced by the government referred to 40 thousand new families who would be housed on their own land'.

Megalomania of PSDB (Fernando Henrique Cardoso party-Partido Socialista Democratico Brasileiro also known as tucanos)

In his re-election campaign, in an effort to exaggerate his alleged achievements, Cardoso confirmed on the INCRA website that, "Brasil is undergoing the largest agrarian reform in the history of the world. "On his television advertisements, a famous actor announced, "One new family is housed every five minutes. "Cardoso's second term, which was marked by the so-called agrarian market reform, went about dismantling concepts and necessary conditions for an effective distribution of real-estate. The government pursued two principal policy objectives. On the one hand, it was aggressive in its rhetoric around land reform, announcing measures and statistics, which were, quite rightly, regularly contested. On the other, along with the co-operation of the media, social movements continued to be criticised. Above all, the MST was targeted, with the objective of weakening and criminalizing its actions. This second largest agrarian reform in the history of the world also failed to happen.

Now we arrive at the Lula government. When Lula was elected there was hope that agrarian reform would actually materialize. A project was immediately commissioned to design a National Plan for Agrarian Reform (PNRA). Its objective was to make the necessary policy changes that could result in structural changes in land distribution that would favour vulnerable populations and reverse the ongoing trend of real-estate consolidation.

The proposal was not accepted. In its place the government announced PNRA II. More modest in its targets, it abandoned the goal of changing the absurd underlying structure of Brazilian agriculture. Even so, there was collaboration between the various social movements in that they agreed with the government on a series of measures that would result in more reasonable targets.

The Latest Frustration

On the 22nd of December 2005, after announcing that its annual target had been surpassed, the government issued a statement in response to criticism that it had received in a letter from the MST in October, during the popular assembly in Brasilia. Among other claims, it was said that Brasil had surpassed targets set by PNRA II, resulting in the best execution of agrarian reform in the country's history. It further belittled claims by the MST by suggesting the movement makes superficial critiscism and looks to pursue a debate with the government that is not serious or realistic.

Analysis of available statistics confirms criticism of the government. Of the 127,500 families that were considered to have been housed in 2005, only 45.7% were in areas of agrarian reform. The remaining 54.3% include housing or relocation to public housing projects. These figures also show that a large part of re-housing occurs in areas that border agricultural land, following on from previous governments' policies. The geographer Bernando Mançano, from USP, has used information from the 'Fight for Land Database' to prove that in the three years of Lula's government only 25% of families were re-housed in land that had been disappropriated (from rich landowners /latifundia).

The agrarian reform under Lula's government has not been able to change the fundamental structure of land distribution. The only positive results refer to Pronaf (the national program for strengthening family farming), which does little to substantiate the claim that effective agrarian reform is being carried out. What had helped Lula's government to differentaite itself from predecessors was its attitude towards social movements. But this is no longer the case. Its policies are ineffective towards latifundia. It hasn't helped to break down the monopoly over land.

*José Juliano de Carvalho Filho is a professor in the faculty of Economics and Business Administation at the Universtiy of Sao Paolo (USP). He has worked on the National Plan for Agrarian Reform and is a director of the Brasilian Association for Agrarian Reform (ABRA).

Best regards,

National Secretary of the MST

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