Latin American Report


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17 April 1999

More Land Takeovers in Brazil

A total of 2,853 landless families from Brazil's Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) occupied 15 estates covering some 12,000 hectares in the Zona da Mata region of the northeastern state of Alagoas during Easter week, while many of the armed guards hired by landowners were away and the local courts were closed. The latest takeovers came just over a week after more than 5,000 families took over 41 estates in neighboring Pernambuco state [see Update #478]. The families are trying to pressure the government to distribute the land to them as part of the agrarian reform program. "We are also protesting the federal government's decision to cut funds for agrarian reform," MST leader Reginaldo Pacheco said, according to the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo. Pacheco said the federal government is drastically cutting its budget to comply with International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands, and that as part of these cuts it will reduce from 17,000 reales ($9,800) to 5,000 reales ($2,890) the money available for each family that receives a plot of land. [Associated Press 4/2/99]

Meanwhile, the World Bank is planning to provide $1 billion to create a "land bank" (Banco da Terra), an alternative mechanism to the existing agrarian reform program. Starting with a pilot project called Cedula da Terra, the plan would pay cash to large landowners, then resettle landless families on the newly purchased plots. However, the families would be faced with high credit terms and no production subsidies for seeds, farm equipment, etc. The MST, the Workers Party (PT) and others in Brazil are asking US groups to support their efforts for an effective land reform -- as mandated by the Brazilian Constitution -- by writing to World Bank president James Wolfensohn, asking that the Bank suspend the Cedula da Terra project and allow the Bank's inspection panel to evaluate the project's impact. For more information, see the Global Exchange web site at [Global Exchange alert 3/99]

Some 33,000 protesters took to the streets of 14 Brazilian state capitals on Mar. 23 in actions organized by the Only Workers Central (CUT) union federation to protest the economic policies of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the government's recent negotiations with the IMF for a $41 billion loan. In Sao Paulo, the demonstration ended in violence when an argument erupted between a protester and agents of the militarized police. Video footage showed a protester on the ground being brutally beaten by police agents. [News from Brazil supplied by Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz (SEJUP) #344, 4/1/99, from Folha de Sao Paulo 3/24/99]