For MST, 2023 saw the resumption of democratic government, but a mismatch in agrarian reform
In 2024, the movement will continue demanding the settlement of 65 thousand families and prepares the celebrations of its 40th anniversary
“We started 2023 with great expectations of strengthening the fight for land and democracy,” points out Ceres Hadich, from the national coordination of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). She assesses, however, that there is a “mismatch between policy, budget and implementation” of the agrarian reform agenda in the country.
Thus, in 2024, the MST's priority demands will be the settlement of 65 thousand encamped families awaiting the regularization of the land and the development, through public policies, of food production in the territories already conquered. To achieve this, the movement claims that it is necessary to invest R$2.8 billion (approximately $580 million) annually in agrarian reform. Next year, however, the budget foreseen by the Lula government for the area is R$567 million (approximately $117 million).
To Brasil de Fato, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra) reported that by the end of 2023, this first year of management will have settled 5,711 families. The number represents 2.8% of the 200,000 families that the MST requests that the government support until the end of the mandate. According to the Lula government's Multi-Year Plan, the forecast is that another 20,000 families will be settled in 2024.
The year 2023 for the MST, according to Hadich, was marked by the need to consolidate the resumption of a democratic government in the country and combat the advance of the extreme right on the global stage. The year had barely begun when the scandal of slave labor in the grape harvests of Rio Grande do Sul fueled the public debate on agrarian reform and, in March, was the focus of the MST women's journey.
Then, Red April, the month in which the movement pays homage to those killed in the Eldorado do Carajás Massacre, was marked by marches, food distribution and new occupations. Those that gained greater visibility were those in the Suzano Papel e Celulose areas in Bahia. Lasting a few days, these occupations denounced the impacts of eucalyptus monoculture in southern Bahia, questioning what is meant by the social function of land.
In May, after five years, the MST resumed the National Agrarian Reform Fair in São Paulo, one of the largest direct dialogues with the urban population. With 1.2 stallholders from each of the 23 states, lectures and shows, the event aims to show, in practice, the living existence of an alternative model to agribusiness.
With simultaneous actions in 17 states on Food Day, on October 16, the landless people presented their demand for a larger budget for agrarian reform. Between October and November, the MST sent around 13 tons of food to Gaza, the goal is for humanitarian support to reach 100,000 kilos of food.
The movement reaches the end of 2023 as one of the organizers of the National Day of Solidarity Against Poverty and Hunger and is preparing for its 40th anniversary celebrations in 2024. With the anniversary in January, the organization will become the longest-running movement of fight for land in the country's history. It is in this context that the seventh National Congress of the MST will be held, which, according to Hadich, should project “a new cycle of struggles.”
To Brasil de Fato, Ceres highlighted the main points of action of the MST throughout the year, made a critical analysis of the agrarian reform policies of the first year of this Lula government and raised the priorities for 2024, which he sees as “emblematic.” Check out the interview:
Brasil de Fato: What were the MST's most important actions and demands in 2023?
Ceres Hadich: Our journey in 2023 was fundamentally dedicated to ensuring that this democratic government was once again established, but also to combating the advance of the extreme right not only in our country, in Latin America, but in the world.
A third aspect of priorities was to resume the struggle for popular agrarian reform and the strengthening of our already conquered territories. This includes pressure for the resumption of public policies for agrarian reform, family farming and family settlement, a demand suppressed by the struggle for land in our country.
The budget for agrarian reform has been a central demand of the MST. In 2023, the government inherited the budget from the Bolsonaro administration, but for next year, political choices are made about what will be prioritized. The MST demands that by the end of the Lula government, 200 thousand families will be settled. In 2023, Incra expects to settle only 5,711 families. The movement demands a budget of R$2.8 billion per year for agrarian reform. The government, however, foresees R$567 million for this area in 2024. How do you assess whether or not the demands are being met?
This was a very challenging year. First in the sense that, unlike other times when the PT governed the country, this time there was a need to overcome a coup process, to dismantle public policies and democracy in our country.
So, for a period, at least during the first three months of the Lula government, we understood this new condition. We had to understand not only an infinitely smaller budget allocated to agrarian reform, but that the very rules and regulations that were presented in this State had an impact on the functioning of the agenda.
However, since our first days of struggle in March with women, then in April, July, we continued in October and now in December we are once again preparing “Christmas without hunger,” we are in dialogue with society about awareness of agrarian reform and the production of healthy food.
And we presented a concrete agenda to the government: the pent-up demand to settle almost 70 thousand families who remain in encampments awaiting the regularization of their territories. And the resumption of public policies that strengthen existing agrarian reform territories. Today there are more than 500 thousand families settled throughout Brazil.
We see these policies as investments by the Brazilian State. When we talk about R$2.8 billion it is an investment to strengthen the economy, social justice and food production. And today what the government proposes as a budget is far short. We are worried about looking ahead to 2024, understanding that next year this budget is not included either.
The government announced the settlement of around six thousand families by the end of the year. It is an infinitely lower rate than we need, we are looking at a liability of 65 thousand families.
Another issue that we take as a priority is the fight against hunger. We look at the budget allocated only to the PAA [Food Acquisition Program] by Conab [National Supply Company]. So, the government inherits from the previous government a budget of just over R$2.3 million, carries out a budget supplementation exercise for the year 2023, reaching R$500 million, which was a little less than half of the demand presented by organizations and entities to execute PAA projects.
But so far, in December 2023, it has not even managed to execute half of this budget. The PAA only managed to execute 51% of the budget that actually existed. So, there is a mismatch between demand, having and doing. And you need to resolve this soon. It's more than numbers, it's more than politics, it's a concrete issue. When we talk about PAA, we are talking about solving a concrete problem, which is hunger. So, we are concerned about this discrepancy.
What are the MST's priorities for next year, both in terms of actions and the celebration of the movement's 40th anniversary?
Next year is very emblematic for us. In January 2024 we will complete 40 years of history and journey. It seems like a lot, because we are going to effectively transform ourselves into the longest-running social movement in the history of Brazil in the fight for land. But at the same time, from the point of view of the history of the struggle for land and the implementation of agrarian justice in the country, for us it is a short time.
We are reaching the end of a cycle that points to a much greater cycle of struggles. We understand that our role will be to continue organizing families. We always say that the fight for agrarian reform does not happen out of passion - even though passion is necessary to motivate our dreams -, but it happens out of a concrete need. As long as there are landless people and land without fulfilling its social function, the MST will continue to have a reason to exist and fight.
So next year, we will continue presenting our guidelines for the settlement of encamped families and the development of our settlements. It's worth remembering that it's also an election year. We will be directly linked to this process, because it is an important moment of dialogue with Brazilian society.
And also, next year we intend to hold, as part of our 40th anniversary, the seventh National Congress of the MST. The event must project a new cycle of struggles for our movement.