Seventeen years after the massacre, the attack on land reform continues

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

drawing of massacreSeventeen years have passed since that fateful April 17. On that day in 1996, a march of rural workers organized by the MST was blockaded and attacked by military police in the city of Eldorado dos Carajás, Pará state. 19 people were killed on the spot and 2 others died days afterwards. The day of the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre has officially become the National Day of Struggle for Land Reform. After 17 years, our lands are still controlled by latifúndios and their owners continue to incite violence: this year we saw rural workers murdered in Pará, Rio de Janeiro and, most recently, Bahia.

The owners of the latifúndios can rest easy, since the judicial system has failed to judge these crimes and punish those who ordered the murders. Data from the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) show that 1,637 land reform activists were murdered between 1985 and 2011. Only 91 of these cases have gone to trial, resulting in the conviction of 21 of the people who ordered the murders and 72 of those who actually carried them out. One criminal has been put behind bars for every 17 people assassinated in all these years.

 The Eldorado dos Carajás massacre illustrates the lack of accountability latifúndio owners face for their crimes in this country. Colonel Mario Colares Pantoja and Major José Maria Pereira de Oliveira were not locked up until 16 years after the massacre, in May of 2012. Tried and convicted in 2002, they used every possible strategy to maintain their freedom. The 155 military police who directly carried out the attacks were pardoned. The governor of Pará at the time, Almir Gabriel, who died in February of 2013, and the Secretary of Public Safety, Paulo Sette Câmara, were not indicted.

 Since the massacre in 1996, the agribusiness industry has continued its offensive against our land and against Brazilian agriculture, with the support of finance capital, multinational companies, and foreign governments. It has stopped land reform in its tracks, leaving 150,000 squatter families living in extreme poverty.

 Families neglected in camps

Under the administration of Dilma Rousseff, the situation has gotten even more dire; the National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform (Incra) has reversed its policy of establishing worker settlements to resolve conflicts. The judiciary has blocked lawsuits demanding the expropriation of unproductive land. Of the 523 such lawsuits currently in process in Brazil, 234 have been held up in federal court. There are 69,233 large unproductive estates in the country, consisting of 228 million hectares of land (IBGE/2010 Census). According to the Constitution, these estates should be subject to land reform.

 The government, which has publicly committed to ending extreme poverty, must act quickly to implement a plan to help squatter families settle before the end of this year. Some of our families have been in squatter camps for more than six years, living in extremely difficult conditions on the street or in occupied areas. They have been victimized by the violence of the latifúndios and by agribusiness.

 Government spokespeople on the issue of land reform assure us that they will give special attention to the development of future settlements, as though this justifies their present neglect of squatter families. Meanwhile, no one is talking about how these settlements will gain access to credit. How can settlements be effectively developed without a line of credit for the farmers that will allow them to grow food and guarantee a sufficient income? The National Program to Support Family Farming (Pronaf) does not have the resources to support both land reform and family farms. Two million poor family farms are still without access to credit because the program cannot fulfill the public's needs.

 Public programs like the National School Nutrition Program (PNAE) and the Food Acquisition Program (PAA) are very important, but the government must take steps to universalize and expand them, including to settlers' cooperatives. If the purchasing power of each family is increased, it will guarantee consumption of what is produced.

Settlers have a better quality of life than squatters and are able to produce more, but many of them are in difficult straits, lacking credit and basic infrastructure for housing, sanitation, schools, and hospitals. This underinvestment has opened land in the country's interior to outside development.

 Agribusiness has been slow to assert itself in areas slated for land reform, but its conquest has far-reaching consequences. It could reorient the entire agricultural production model away from land reform and similar policies. The government must implement a universal program to establish and finance settlements so that as agriculture industrializes, increased production values lead to more jobs and higher incomes for rural farmers.

 The latifúndio's offensive

 The decline of settlement-creation policies has allowed latifundiários to ramp up their political and ideological attack on land reform. They have used their influence in Congress to repeal laws guaranteeing the freedom to organize and fight for social justice. In doing this,they have prevented farmers, indigenous peoples, and quilombolas from exercising their social and property rights.

 A bill proposed by the latifundiária Kátia Abreu, senator and president of the National Agriculture Confederation (CNA), would require governors to retake occupied areas no more than 15 days after their occupation. The bill would criminalize land occupations, a popular organizing strategy that puts pressure on the government to carry out its constitutional obligation to expropriate unproductive land.

Abreu's proposal holds a knife to the governors' throats: they will be charged with criminal negligence if they do not call on military police to to evict occupiers. It seems that Abreu's goal is to reproduce the evictions of families in the Pinheirinho community in São José dos Campos throughout the rest of the country.

 The rural caucus in Congress is also working to liberalize the laws governing rural workers' rights. The "ruralists" seek to make the relations of production increasingly precarious by lengthening the work day to 10 hours or more during harvest season, increasing subcontracting, and weakening the Regulatory Law (NR31) that obligates employers to implement procedures that guarantee decent working conditions and respect for human rights.

 The agribusiness industry has drawn on its vast resources to allow for increased use of agricultural toxins, ensuring the continued legality of substances that have been prohibited in Europe, the US, and elsewhere. Over a billion liters of toxins are released every year through farming, according to official statistics. Since 2009, Brazil has been the largest consumer of agricultural toxins in the world.

These toxins contaminate our food and water (in rivers, lakes, and water tables). They appear on our plates, in the environment, in the air, and in rainwater, poisoning people and animals. Public health studies have shown that agricultural toxins are responsible for various illnesses, including cancer, skin disorders, kidney problems, diarrhea, nausea, fainting, headaches, hormonal and neurological disorders, depression, fetal malformation, reproductive problems, contaminated breast milk…

A day of struggle

It is in this context that we hold our day of struggle, with demonstrations all across the country. We must put pressure on the government to settle squatter families, denounce the efforts in Congress to prevent land reform and take land from occupiers, and condemn those responsible for the murders of rural workers. Since March, we have been mobilizing for a permanent settlement in Brasília. In April, we will carry out a series of campaigns in the interior of the country and demonstrations in the cities.

 In this way, we will play our role in the organization and struggle of rural workers. However, we know that in our current climate, the people will have to develop effective methods of collective mobilization to halt the political and economic forces that oppose land reform, social justice, and popular sovereignty in Brazil. These mobilizations must lead to structural reforms that will create a profound transformation in our society.

 National Secretariat of the MST