After 25 years of eviction threats and a months-long vigil, farm will become a Landless Rural Workers' Movement settlement

Monday, June 24, 2024
Info Source: 
Gabriela Moncau | Brasil de Fato | Cascavel (Paraná state) | Edited by: Thalita Pires |Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha | Original URL:

Since 1999, 71 landless families are encamped in the 479-ha resistance community

Serlei da Silva Lima was preparing cassava in the Resistência Camponesa (Rural Resistance, in English) community of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST, in Portuguese), in the city of Cascavel, Paraná, when news broke. After 25 years as an occupation, the area would become an agrarian reform settlement.

From 1999, when the area was occupied, until 2024, the fate of the 71 families took movie-worthy twists and turns. A stroke of a pen was the only thing preventing them from having the area regularized. But then, with the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party), it didn't happen. They were days away from being evicted. But then, with the pandemic, it didn't happen. Now, in a plot twist, they received the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra, in Portuguese) decree.   

"We almost didn't know what to do. We felt so many things all at once after all the struggles we’ve faced... We celebrated, cried and sang," says Serlei, the current Peasant Resistance leader, where she has lived for eight years. Her story as a MST member, though, dates back to 1987, when she was 19. She joined the movement just three years after it was founded, a few kilometers away, in the same city of Cascavel. At 56, Serlei has never been so close to being a settler.

Issued on May 22, Incra's decree states that the state will acquire São Domingos Farm for "agrarian reform purposes." The 479-ha area is registered in the name of the company Refopas Agro Pastoril, owned by the Festugato family.  

Pretty close, but not enough

Peasant Resistance is part of a complex that includes the Agosto 1st and Dorcelina Folador encampments. The latter is named after a landless activist affiliated with the Workers’ Party, a woman who was mayor of Mundo Novo, Mato Grosso do Sul, but was killed at 36 with six shots in the back in 1999. 

All three MST communities are within areas owned by the Festugato family. But it was only the one where Peasant Resistance is located that the land owners offered to sell, in 2015, and Incra became interested. 

"The purchase would cost BRL 11 million (over US$ 2 million) and could only be justified if our production was agroecological or organic," says Ângela Lisboa Gonçalves. The daughter of settlers, she introduces herself as "a landless militant all her life." The families demarcated their plots of land, divided themselves up in the territory, designed the houses and perfected the crops. "We dreamed a lot. It was a very happy time," she recalls.

But it was short-lived. The Dilma government didn't pay for the land before the 2016 parliamentary coup, which propelled Michel Temer (Brazilian Democratic Movement, known in Portuguese as MDB) to the presidency. Everything came to a standstill until getting worse in 2018 with the presidential victory of Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party) and Ratinho Jr. (Social Democratic Party, known in Portuguese as PSD) election to governor of Paraná.

In 2019, during their first year in office, eight rural communities were evicted in Paraná. On December 15 of that same year, a document arrived at Ângela's house. It indicated which community would be next.    

Eviction at the door

The repossession order was placed on top of the fridge by her brother, Adair Gonçalves. When Angela, the community leader at the time, arrived home, he told her: "There's a piece of paper here. You'd better read it sitting down. You’ll have to be strong, because the [landless] families will expect this from you."

"It was very difficult. I told him 'I'm in no physical or psychological condition to be strong'. He said 'but you'll have to be'," says Ângela. "He's very peasant, so to speak. When bad news comes, he goes into the garden and spends the day there. I'm a teacher, so school is just another problem," she laughs. 

According to her, the day of the assembly, when she broke the news of the eviction to the families, was one of the saddest days of her life. Her son, who was eight at the time, started having frequent nightmares.

"I came home one day, and there was an old lady here, a peasant. She sat down, took my hand and said 'Angela, promise me there won't be an eviction. I'm 55, I can't read, I can't write. I only know how to milk and plant. What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?" she says.

"I wanted to take her and cry. I said, 'Look, I can't promise you that. But I can promise you that we're going to fight, we're going to find a way out'," says Ângela. They held a vigil at the entrance to the encampments, on the banks of the BR 277 highway.

83 days of vigil 

The action began on December 28, 2019. "What was our point? To show people that this was an encampment, that we've been here since 1999, that we produce life here, that we have an identity linked to this place," she explains.

"The Military Police already had a plan of action. There would be 5,000 police officers to take over the three areas," she says. "And here in Cascavel, there's a lot of conflict," she says. 

Ângela and Adair were children, but they remember the impact of the murder of Diniz Bento da Silva in 1993, in the Campo Bonito encampment, where they lived at the time. Known as Teixeirinha, the MST leader was tortured and killed by police officers.

"I was really afraid that someone would stop on the highway and shoot us all dead," said Ângela. But that's not what happened. For 83 days, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the landless workers and their supporters gathered there, cooked and ate together, in defense of the territory.

On January 15, 2020, they managed to get the judge in charge of the case to visit the encampment. He visited houses, banana plantations, corn, sweet potatoes, rice and cassava, the main crop. He was introduced to 38 different bean seeds. He wrote a report favorable to the landless families. 

Before there was a court decision, however, the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The mobilization of popular movements led Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF, in Portuguese) to temporarily suspend evictions in the country. 

The fate of the Peasant Resistance community was once again defined at the end of 2022 when, under threats of a coup d'état, Brazil was experiencing a fierce electoral dispute between Lula and Bolsonaro. 

In this context, the MST in Paraná reached an agreement with the Court of Justice’s conflict mediation group. The August 1st encampment returned 190 alqueires (almost 460 hectares)of its land to the landowners, keeping only 10. The other landless encampments shared part of their land so that the affected workers would have somewhere to plant. 

In exchange, on January 10, 2023, the landowners would resume their offer to Incra for the Peasant Resistance area to be bought by the Federal Government to be used for agrarian reform. The municipality would have 45 days to respond. If there was no response or a negative one, the families would have to leave the encampment under penalty of paying for their own eviction.

"Perhaps [the landowners] calculated that Bolsonaro would win, and so repossession would be guaranteed," says Armelindo Rosa Da Maia, from the MST's production sector in Paraná, with a smile on his face. If so, they miscalculated. 

Incra said it was working "on the instruction and procedural analysis" of the area to move forward with the structuring of the Peasant Resistance Settlement.


In front of the cassava agro-industry, established in 2022 through voluntary efforts, Adair Gonçalves says it is hard to explain "the emotion" he feels. 

If the regularization of the area didn't advance, the space where 1,500 kilos of cassava are prepared each week for the municipality's and state's school meals would be another initiative lost, along with the rest of the community.

"We have many children here, but also many elderly people. People who struggled a lot. Some have made it this far. Some we lost along the way," says Adair. "But the news is very exciting. Sometimes, we almost lost hope. But thanks to the struggle, the movement's organization and the families’ will, we won this area," he says.

"We are children of settlers," he says, also referring to his sister Angela. "The first happiness [we had] was being settled with my father, my mother and my siblings. The second is to be settled at this different moment in life. It's a different emotion," he concluded.