New Offensive Against the MST

by Plinio Arruda Sampaio Published in Folha de S. Paulo, March 16, 2009 Today, the MST is struggling against an intermittent type of attack: an attack sponsored by enemies visible and invisible. The MST (Movement of Landless Rural Workers) is subject to two types of attack: the permanent and intermittent. The first type is directed daily by UDR (Democratic Rural Union) and the "rural bench". The second form of attack happens from time to time. Today, the movement is struggling against this second type: a major offensive sponsored by enemies, visible and invisible. One of the visible enemies is the current President of the Supreme Court. Clearly going beyond his duties, the judge is instigating judicial measures to investigate alleged irregularities in the transfer of federal funds to entities linked to the MST. The prosecutor’s eagerness to attack the landless, while being accused of tolerating crime, caused an angry reaction from the Attorney General, the honorable Dr. Antonio Fernando de Souza. Each offensive, as explained in military treatises, must have a clear central objective. The current ongoing offensive against the MST is to "clean" the land of a real organization, which can be a serious obstacle to the deployment of the new agricultural model adopted by the government, that is, the model of big agribusiness. The order, therefore, is to bury land reform. The expropriation of property is paralyzed and the settlements do not receive the necessary support so that they are able to be successful. To explain: in the face of resistance from landowners, the power of rural judiciary and the expected foreign demand for agricultural products, the government decided to give up on land reform and embrace the amazing the Amazon, an enormous agriculture of export of meat, soy and sugar-cane alcohol. The global crisis will demonstrate the thoughtlessness of that policy. The MST is a hindrance to the project of transforming the Amazon into a central exporter of enormous size, because the installation of vast ranches on public land in the region depends on investors who do not usually put their millions into disputed land. They require, first, that the title be legalized. Then they buy from the land grabbers (See Translator’s Note below). This is a process similar to that of money laundering. In this case, they exchange questionable land titles for titles backed by the government. So, despite the constitutional rule that determines the allocation of public lands for agrarian reform and settlement projects, the government has decided to give this land to large producers. If the MST disappears or becomes demoralized, its influence on public opinion will be reduced substantially and the pressure for the land reform will fall to zero, leaving the government with the free hands to transfer 67 million hectares of public lands to land-grabbers who will sell them to "honest" agribusiness. To have an idea of the size of this land area, it is enough to remember that this surface is bigger than the whole arable land of Germany and Italy together. Not by chance, by investing against the land occupations, the current offensive casts doubts on the legality of the transfers of money to entities that provide services to the settlements. Accusations of corruption are, as you know, devastating elements of the reputations of persons and entities. However, running loose in Brasilia, are the most poisonous rumors about the dirty tricks not behind the transfer of funds to the MST, but the regularization of the false land titles in the Amazon. It is not for less: to the shudder of the Constitution, they will allow the provisional measures to the land-grabbers to regularize illegal possessions of up to 1,500 hectares and to have a preference to acquire another 1,500 hectares that will be put up for auction. The urging of the government to approve these standards through provisional measures, without a bigger discussion within the society, and the argument between the Ministry of the Strategic Projection, of the Environment and of the Agrarian Development does not help to redress the situation nor even to stop seeing the change of the agricultural model, the real cause of the new attempt breaking the movement of the landless workers. Citizens need to repudiate this attack, because one thing is certain: the hope that the MST engenders among the rural population is the only thing that is preventing the reproduction in Brazil of the tragedy that stains Colombia with blood for more than 50 years. Plinio Arruda Sampaio, 78, lawyer, is president of the ABRA (Brazilian Association for Agrarian Reform) and director of "Citizenship Mail." He was federal deputy from the PT-SP (1985-1991) and consultant of the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture). Translator’s Note: The text used the word “grileiros” which means those that hold land through falsified land titles.