The MST at 30: Far beyond the distribution of land

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

JPSBy Igor Carvalho and Glauco Faria

With a presence in 23 states and the Federal District and with more than 900 settlements with 150 thousand families, the MST celebrates its 30th anniversary this week.

Created on January 22, 1984  in a national meeting that brought together 80 rural workers in Cascavel, Parana, through the years the movement has carried out more than 2.5 thousand occupations,  and set up 2 thousand schools in settlements along with other gains such as access to credit for production.

In an interview granted to Fórum, João Pedro Stedile, member of the national coordination of the MST, spoke about new directions for the movement and for the struggle in the countryside.

“The parameters of the proposed changes for people’s agrarian reform mean reorganizing natural resources and farm production so that producing healthy food for all the people is the top priority.

Producing organic food, in balance with nature and without the use of agricultural poisons. Implementing agricultural businesses in the form of cooperatives, to benefit the food and increase the income of rural workers ", he said.

Stedile also criticized the current pace of expropriation of land in Brazil. "In the Dilma government, this process is totally paralyzed, the result of a correlation of more hostile forces, the social and political background that makes up the government, and a stunning lack of operational sectors that constitute the government." Check out the full interview that follows.

Fórum - In these 30 years, the rural caucus and some of the traditional media have been fighting, sometimes in an unsubtle way, the MST. How do you see the work of these two groups?.

João Pedro Stedile - Capital has adopted a model for the exploitation of agriculture called agribusiness. In this model there is a new alliance of the ruling classes, which brings together the large landowners, transnational corporations, and the bourgeois media.

They use all their tools such as the judiciary and Congress to defend their proposal and to demoralize agrarian reform and all social struggle in the countryside.

Fórum – Much of the stagnation and setbacks on the agrarian issue are related not only to the Executive Branch, but also to agribusiness, very well represented in the National Congress. So do you believe that it is essential for political reform? What are the basic points that need to be changed?

João Pedro Stedile – Brazil is experiencing a political crisis. Political crisis in the sense that the people and the working class have no control over who should be their representatives in the political sphere of the state.

This distortion is caused by the private financing of election campaigns that are increasingly expensive  and the ideological manipulation of the media monopolies, especially television.

 So the people who are elected respond only to the interests of the class that finances them instead of those who voted for them. We need to change the rules of politics so that we have a real representative democracy that the people can believe in.

The point of political reform is to change many aspects of this process, and it ranges from how to choose candidates, how to finance campaigns, commitments, terms of office and the right of the people to call popular referendums on their own to judge the burning issues and to remove from office those who break their commitments to the people.

However these details of political reform, which are not clear to all or even agreed upon by the popular forces, need to be spelled out in a wide-ranging political debate with the people.

Therefore we are part of a broad group of all Brazilian social movements whose mission is to put together a large task force this year to discuss with the Brazilian people what kind of problems we have in politics and what kinds of reforms are needed.

During the week of September 7, we will hold a popular referendum so that people vote whether or not to convene a Constituent Assembly for the sole purpose of implementing political reform. This will be our task in the coming months.

Fórum - The National Congress of the MST in 2014  will discuss the program for People’s Agrarian Reform, built internally by the movement.  How will the movement organize to confront agribusiness?

João Pedro Stedile – Agribusiness is the capitalist model of agricultural production, which excludes the population.  Agribusiness constitutes a new ruling class, stronger and more complex.

From here on,  the changes in the countryside to build a new agricultural model that produces healthy food,  that does not harm nature,  that distributes income and represents development for our people depends on an alliance of all working people. Therefore, our tactics must include the alliance with the working class in the city, with all the young and urban social movements.

Fórum – Previously, what we saw with the MST was primarily the struggle for land distribution. Today, there is a concern, too, with the infrastructure of the settlements and for access to technology in agricultural production. The defense of the environment, considering production models that are not aggressive toward nature, is this the next focus for the movement?

João Pedro Stedile – Exactly. There was a shift in recent years in our agrarian program and we put together what we call a people’s proposal for agrarian reform.

In the earlier period, dominated by industrial capitalism, there was still the possibility of an agrarian reform of the classic type, which represented the democratization of land ownership and integration of the peasantry in the process.

But now the world economy is headed by international financial capital. In the countryside, this model implemented agribusiness, which excludes and evicts the peasants and manual laborers from the countryside.

Now, it’s not enough to simply distribute land, because the ongoing process is  the concentration and de-nationalization of land ownership.

The parameters of the proposed changes for people’s agrarian reform mean reorganizing natural resources and farm production so that producing healthy food for all the people is the top priority.

Producing organic food, in balance with nature and without the use of agricultural poisons. Setting up agricultural businesses in the form of cooperatives to benefit the food and increase the income of rural workers.

And including the democratization of education as a necessity for social development. We still have 18 million illiterate adult workers, and the majority are in the countryside.

Fórum – You spoke recently of the MST joining forces with the indigenous population. Do you think that by joining forces with the Indians, the struggle for land would gain another dimension in the country?

João Pedro Stedile – The working class must defend the indigenous cause. Indigenous people are being massacred by the offensive of capital, which also wants their land and wealth, particularly in the economic frontier of agribusiness such as Mato Grosso do Sul, southern Bahia and Maranhão.

Indigenous peoples, although they have their rights guaranteed by the Constitution, are a minority and are not strong enough by themselves, to face the power of capital. Therefore, I renew the appeal: that all people, especially the organized sectors of the working class, defend the indigenous peoples.

It’s also a way to pay our historical debt with our historical grandparents, who have always been the caretakers of nature for us to get where we are.

Fórum – We are in an election year. How will the MST position itself in these elections?

João Pedro Stedile – The MST has an historical tradition of never positioning  itself as a social movement in favor of either candidate. We always take a stand on the need to defend projects for the people.

We seek to educate our base, so that it has political views and votes on candidates and projects that represent the interests of the people and defeats the right-wing sectors. This individual behavior as a conscious citizen, will be continued in the next elections.

Fórum – How do you see the evolution of agrarian reform in the Lula and Dilma governments?

João Pedro Stedile – The concept of agrarian reform is a full program run by the State that succeeds in democratizing access to land and doing away with the latifundio, as our law provides.

However, we never had agrarian reform in Brazil. We had only occasional programs to create settlements, direct fruits of struggle and social pressure, which requires the government to expropriate certain farms and transform them into settlements.

The Lula government still maintained a reasonable pace of expropriations although not very different from Cardoso's government. In Rousseff's government, this process is totally paralyzed, the result of a correlation of more hostile forces, the social and political background that makes up the government, and a stunning lack of operational competency in the sectors that constitute the government.

I do not tire of giving a pathetic example: President Dilma committed to the movement to settle landless families in the Northeast in the irrigated areas of government projects.

There are currently 86,000 vacant lots in older projects, where the government has invested millions, has water and land. So all they have to do is to take families. And nothing happens. That is to say, we could immediately settle 86,000 families in an irrigated area, with guaranteed production would resolve the situation of most of the encampments in the Northeast.

Fórum – People are wondering how the social movements will behave during the World Cup in Brazil. Will the MST be in the streets? What is the position of the movement in relation to the World Cup?

 João Pedro Stedile – There are many social sectors of the youth that will certainly be mobilizing. We will be together with all the mobilizations that represent struggles for better conditions for our people.

The people have the power to do politics by mobilizing in the streets. We can only achieve changes by mobilizing.  Changes will never come from Congress or through the enlightened will of those who govern.

However, I hope that the demonstrations begin soon. We do not need to carry out the struggle for better living conditions during the period of the tournament. During the World Cup, we run the risk of people in general not supporting and not joining mobilizations. We all want to see the World Cup and, in addition to that, we run the risk of reducing the mobilizations to the level of denouncing the expenses of the stadiums.

Just between us, even the exaggerated amounts spent on some stadiums and upgrades is very little next to the billions spent by the government every day to pay interest to the bankers.

Our struggle must be for public resources, today reserved by the primary surplus for interest payments that only fatten speculators and financial capital, should be intended for necessary investments in education, health, public transport and land reform.