Peasants in Brazil occupy farms to push for key land reforms
LARGELY PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS MARK LATEST RED APRIL CAMPAIGN One per cent of the population owns almost half of all arable land
Thousands of peasants have occupied four farms and demonstrated in six states as part of a wave of protests to push for land reform in Latin America’s largest country, a spokesman for the group said on Tuesday.
The protesters belong to the Landless Peasants’ Movement, or MST, a nationwide group that routinely occupies large plantations to lobby the government to grant plots of land and financial aid to poor family farmers.
The latest campaign, which began last week and is known as “Red April”, has included largely peaceful demonstrations by landless rural workers.
One occupation began on Sunday in Itapetininga in the interior of Sao Paulo state, where peasants set up camp on land owned by Suzano Bahia Sul Papel e Celulose, one of Latin America’s biggest pulp and paper producers.
The MST said it chose the target to protest the expansion of eucalyptus plantations at the expense of food crops and to push for agrarian reform in Sao Paulo, an agricultural pow-
Land squabbles have long been common in Brazil, which is slightly larger than the continental United States. Millions of Brazilians live in poverty but 1 per cent of the population owns almost half of all arable land, according to official data.
The disputes frequently turn violent, especially in remote regions of the Amazon rain forest. At least 1,690 vio- lent clashes over land took place in Brazil last year, according to reports.
The peasants’ movement has traditionally occupied unproductive land tracts. But in recent years it has also targeted plantations owned by large agribusiness interests, a shift that has strained its relations with the leftleaning government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. erhouse state where farming is dominated by large agribusiness companies.
“It’s time for the government to accelerate agrarian reform,” said Joaquim da Silva, an MST spokesman. “We’re going to keep invading properties until they do so.”
Suzano, which has previously been the target of MST occupations, said in a statement that it had taken legal action to have the protesters evicted.
Some 300 families also occupied a 45,000-hectare (111,000-acre) ranch in the northern state of Maran- hao on Tuesday, the MST said in a statement. They were later joined by 450 other squatter families hoping the government will expropriate and redistribute the land.
In Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil, some 400 families occupied two idle farms and demanded the permanent settlement of 12,000 landless families in the state.
In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, 300 MST militants occupied the public works office in the state capital Porto Alegre demanding road improvements, rubbish collection and school transport in four settlements, MST activist Emerson Giacomelli said.
Some 5,000 MST militants started a 110-kilometre march in Bahia from Feira de Santana to the state capital Salvador demanding the acceleration of land reform.