[02/03/09] MST Informa #162: The current offensive against the MST

In recent days, the press has been giving rise to a series of materials about the MST that express an offensive of the right-wing forces. For this reason, we interviewed a member of MST national direction, João Paulo Rodrigues, to explain the position of the Movement regarding the main topics of the offensive. What is the reaction of the minister Gilmar Mendes due to? Minister Gilmar Mendes has become the newest leader of the Brazilian right since taking office as president of the Federal Supreme Court (STF). And he is acting the part, honouring his new role. He is quick to defend wealth, but slow to defend lives. He attacks the indigenous peoples, the people living in quilombos, and the rights of workers and he defends the soldiers of the military dictatorship. In short, the Brazilian right now has its very own Berlusconi. He has an opinion about everything and everyone. What’s more, he currently owes Brazilian public opinion an explanation about the speed with which Daniel Dantas, the corrupt banker who finances many electoral campaigns and entices a large part of the media, was acquitted. More seriously, the magazine Carta Capital has denounced that the Brazilian Institute of Public Rights, linked to Mendes, has received 2.4 million of public funding, including from the STF, the Electoral Supreme Court and even from the Ministry of Defence, directed by a friend of Mendes, Nelson Jobim. As the leader of the right, Mendes seeks to defend the interests of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and make an intense ideological attack on the left and on the social movements in order to solidify an electoral re-takeover for the Right. Serra need not worry; he already has a powerful canvasser in the STF. What happened in Pernambuco? The conflict in Pernambuco is an announced tragedy. The 100 families have been camped there for 8 years. Two areas are in dispute. The landowners have used all their judicial cunning to prevent the misappropriation of their areas that are not in use and that only serve for property speculation. The families work and plant the area, from which they derive their subsistence. They have suffered more than 20 evictions. Last week, after another eviction by the Military Police, the landowner hired gunmen who went to the encampment, armed, in order to provoke the settlers. They harassed and physically abused one of the leaders of the encampment. In this climate of tension and permanent threats to the encamped families, some end up fighting back and in the conflict 4 gunmen died. The MST rejects violence. In Brazil there are many other encampments in similar situations of tension and conflict. How long will they have to wait to achieve Agrarian Reform? What happened in Pontal? In the region of Pontal do Paranapanema, in the state of São Paulo, a passive agrarian conflict has been pending for four decades. In this region, there are more than 400,000 hectares of public state lands, with judicial sentences recognising that they are indeed public. Therefore, the occupying landowners are frauds. And they need to leave the lands, for which they will receive compensation from benefactors. Since the term of Mario Covas, the process of discrimination and compensation of the fraudulent landowners is standing still. With this, the problem only gets worse. In the week of Carnaval, the four landless movements active in the region carried out protest occupations in various ranches. The repercussion was immediate. For two reasons: firstly because the landowners have many political connections in the state’s capital. One of them was even a colleague of Fernando Henrique on the ranch of Buritis. Another has links with the Bandeirantes network, and the list goes on. The second motive was that José Rainha, who forms no part of MST’s political decision-making, announced that the occupations of his movement were in protest against the governor José Serra. The topic became an electoral dispute. The repercussions in Pontal reveal that until October 2010, we will live in this soap opera of the press and its parties transforming the land disputes of Pontal into an electoral issue. Rural entities are accused of embezzling funds for occupations. Does this happen? The MST has never used a single cent of public money to carry out land occupations. As a question of principle, the very families that participate in the estate occupations must secure the necessary funds for this political act. Here resides the strength of the MST and it is an educational element for the families that struggle for agrarian reform. It so happens that since the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the Brazilian state, dilapidated by a wave of neoliberalism, has stopped completing its duties relative to the public agricultural sector. The state does not guarantee more education in rural areas, literacy, technical assistance, nor health. So it was in the FHC government that the emergence of NGOs was stimulated, non-profit entities, in order to substitute the functions of the state. And so funds passed to the entities. It is worth remembering that the NGO Solidarity in Literacy, founded by Mrs. Ruth Cardoso, received more than R$330 million of public money for the improvement of adult literacy. Thus, diverse entities emerged in settlement areas - some connected to the settlers, others not – in order to substitute the duties of the state, carrying out activities of technical assistance activities, healthcare, and literacy. And they receive funds from the state to do this. It seems strange to us that the press cites only the organisations that support agrarian reform and that are linked to the settlers, and yet it ignores the millions of reais allocated to NGOs linked to the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), to trade unions, to the rural landowners. Only SONAR (National Rural Assistance Service) receives millions of reais, every year, being that there are processes in the TCU (Brazilian Court of Audit) that allow embezzlement within sponsorship federations for the benefit of their directors. What happened to the itinerant schools in Rio Grande do Sul? During the government of Antonio Britto (PMDB-PPS), the right of children to a primary education in their own encampments was secured. The state provided teachers from the public network and the classes were given in rooms organized in the encampment. And when the camp moved location or the families were displaced, the school went as well, assuring the continuity of teaching for those children. This successful experience received awards and was adopted by other states such as Paraná. After the election of the conservative (PSDB) government of Yeda Crusius, a situation of political offensive of the right formed in the press, in the State Public Ministry and in the Military Brigade. Euphoric with their electoral victory, they started to criminalize, persecute and suppress social movements, be it professors, metalworkers, the unemployed or the MST. In this context, the current governor and the Public Ministry acted to suspend the classes in encampments and bring the children to city schools. Or rather, they didn’t hesitate to harm the children in order to reach the MST politically. On the other hand, the government of Yeda Crusius has already closed another 8,500 classes in all the towns of the state, the majority of them rural, only to save resources, and to assure the notorious zero deficit. The local authorities of towns where encampments exist have already said that it is impossible to bring the children to the city. São Gabriel, for example, would have to spend R$40,000 a month. Meanwhile, the state spends R$16,000 to attend to the 8 encampments in the whole state. Fortunately, the schools were authorized by the State Education Board, which is the organ that authorizes and supervises the functioning of schools and approves their curriculum. Translated by Jessica Parsons