Pagina Principal

English Report

"People of São Gabriel, don't let your so-well-preserved city be defiled by the deformed and ragged feet of human excrement. These rats need to be exterminated. If you, my friends of Sao Gabriel, have a crop dusting plane, take a low flight at night and spray 100 liters of gasoline over the canvas tents at the rats' campsite; there will always be a candle lit to put an end to all of them. If you, my friends of Sao Gabriel, have a .22 hunting rifle shoot it from your car at the encampments, from as far away as possible. The bullet hits its target just as well from 1,200 meters away."

A pamphlet with these instructions was distributed by farmers from São Gabriel, in Rio Grande de Sul. This is how the big land owners (latifundiários) have treated the rural workers in Brazil.

The latifúndios and their defenses

Antonio Canuto
Dom Tomas Balduino

Land distribution in Brazil is known above all for its extreme inequality. The land has always been concentrated in a few hands; the large majority of workers remain excluded from the ability to own land and from receiving the benefits of their work.

A new scenario
The election of Luis Inácio Lula de Silva created a new scenario for the Brazilian countryside. Lula's history and the history of the PT (Workers Party) create expectations and apprehensions that generated the battles between the latifúndios and the workers in the countryside.
For the workers, the election of Lula signals the end of the historic divide over agrarian reform, always defended and proclaimed, but never realized. This expectation is shown in the considerable increase in occupations and encampments . According to the CPT (Pastoral Land Commission), at the end of August there were 259 occupations and 149 encampments, made up of 54,726 families in the occupations and 32,779 in the encampments. In December of 2003, there were about 200,000 families living in those camps. During the entire year of 2002, there were 184 occupations with 26,958 families and 64 encampments with 10,750 families.
These numbers confirm what the workers say: It has never been easier to organize encampments and occupations than it is today. Even with the constant evictions, these families keep their spirits up. Evicted from one place, they camp out on another piece of land.
The new government has a policy of not repressing workers. Lula cordially received landless workers and wore a hat that they gave him. The minister Rosetto went to Pontal do Paranapanema (a conflicted region in the state of São Paulo) and declared that the encamped families would have priority in getting settled.

The counterattack of the latifúndio

The latifúndios realized that this is a new context. To make a stand against the landless workers, the large landowners created a series of new organizations with the objective of opposing agrarian reform by force. This reaction started in 2002, based on the perspective of Lula winning the election. After the announcement of Lula's victory, the Superior Counsel of Agriculture and Cattle-Raising of Brazil issued a document demanding repression against land occupations.
Besides bringing together various organizations, the latifundiários tried other forms of pressure, such as manifestos and marches, to stop the growth and power of the workers' groups.
When the MST (Landless Workers Movement) of Rio Grande do Sul organized a large march to São Gabriel, where the reappropriation of the Southall Farm, decreed by President Lula, had been suspended by the Supreme Court, the latifundiários organized a counter march to interrupt the landless workers. The police had to intervene to guarantee the landless workers right to organize.
In Mato Grosso do Sul, 1,500 big farmers organized protests and blocked a highway that connects Itapora and Itai, in the Dourados region, after the MST occupied the Coimbra farm. The same strategy was used when indigenous people occupied various farms in the area.
In September, the latifundiários blocked highway PA 275, in the town of Curionopolis, Pará state, with 10,000 cows, trucks and tractors, with the objective of forcing the government to carry out 62 preliminary restorations of land ownership.

Psychological and physical violence

In this fight for space, the latifúndio has used, as always, physical and psychological violence against the workers. In São Gabriel, Rio Grande do Sul state, the big landowners distributed pamphlets attacking the landless movement, comparing it to "human waste and rats", suggesting that farmers poison the water that the landless workers drink, and use airplanes to drop gasoline over the encampments of the landless workers: "A lit candle would do the rest", they sad.
A common strategy of the latifúndios is to hire private militias to kill workers. From January to September, according to the CPT's data, 60 workers were assassinated, some with exceptional cruelty. This represents a 100 percent increase from the same period in 2002, and a 39 percent increase from the total number in 2002, when 43 murders were recorded. Not even in 1996, the year of the Eldorado de Carajás massacre, were there so many murders.

Who Defends the Latifúndios?

The latifúndio has a strong influence in the judiciary system and the midia.
The judiciary system has historically defended the latifúndio. Crimes committed against workers have remained, persistently, unpunished. In the past decade, there were 1280 rural workers killed, but only 121 of these cases have gone to trial. Of those men who ordered the crimes, 14 were tried, with eight convicted. Four intermediaries were brought to trial, with two convicted. And among the 96 killers tried, 58 were convicted.
The big landowners usually win eviction orders against landless families, even in areas that have been occupied by the workers for 20, 30, 50 or more years. The constitutional principal stating that land must fulfill its social function is still unknown by the majority of our judges. They hold on to property rights as if it was untouchable.
In 2003, there were dozens of evictions, but we will describe two of them. The first was the Engenho de Prado, in Tracunhaem (Pernambuco state). An area occupied for three years by 300 landless families, declared unproductive by INCRA (Agrarian Reform Institute), was reappropriated in 1999. This reappropriation was annulled by the Supreme Court after it was denounced that the big farmers had a fake plan to plant bamboo in the area. The group João Santos, owner of this farm, has a large debt with national banks. It owes R$54 million to the INSS (IRS), not counting its other debts with workers that are estimated in R$250 million. Besides this, the group managed to get a judicial order to displace 300 families from the area, which was done at dawn, without the presence of a public attorney, who should be at any eviction involving children and adolescents.
The landless families, including 380 children, had their houses destroyed, in addition to the destruction of three schools, seven churches and a community center. After that, the state court issued an order suspending the eviction. Another inspection by INCRA declared the Engenho de Prado, once again, unproductive.
The second case happened in Rio Grande de Sul, with the reappropriation of the Fazenda Southall, in Sao Gabriel, where the Supreme Court, through minister Ellen Gracie Nortfleeth, stopped the reappropriation that had been ordered by President Lula. The court's decision, by eight votes to two, supported the landowner's position. Afterward it became known that the minister was closely related to the property owners. She is married to a first-degree cousin of the owner's wife, with whom she has a daughter. The Fazenda Southall owes the public banks more than R$37 million.
Many judges also discriminate landless workers. This year, the number of rural workers arrests is 44 percent greater than all of last year: 223 prisoners, compared to 158 in 2002. Besides having a legal precedent that occupying farms cannot be treated as a crime, many judges, especially Judge Atis de Araujo Olivera, of Pontal de Paranapanema, continue sending many workers to prison.
In Paraiba, eight workers were thrown in jail for more than a year, accused of murder. In spite of all the defense arguments proving their innocence, the judge never gave them a favorable ruling. The accusation was based on testimony from a police officer accused of torturing and killing for the latifúndios.

The other trench fortified by the latifúndios is the media. The attacks come from various directions.

a) Against the government: The media, supporting the position of big landowners, launched severe criticism when president Lula received landless workers. They gave the impression that Lula was taking a dangerous path.
Another general uproar occurred when Agrarian Reform Minister, Miguel Rosetto, and Marcelo Rezende, the former President of INCRA, in a visit to Pontal de Paranapanema, stated that those families in the encampments would have priority when it came time to create settlements. The media interpreted these declarations as a way to stimulate occupations, which were multiplying. The government is constantly criticized for not acting severely enough against the landless workers, who continue to create encampments.

b) Attacks against rural workers leaders: The media misinterpreted a speech by MST leader João Pedro Stedile, in a meeting with workers from Rio Grande do Sul, about the manpower of the rural workers in relation to the latifúndio. His words were interpreted as a "declaration of war" against big farmers. This event made the headlines and editorials of many media outlets for days.

c) The media has tried to spread the idea that the climate in the countryside is tense, and that sometime soon it could explode into a situation of uncontrollable violence. The workers are blamed them for the growing tension in the countryside. This has created a false version of reality. Even though they have increased significantly in 2003, the occupations (259 by the end of August) are fewer than in previous years. In 1998 there were 599; in 1999, 593; in 2000, 463. In those years there wasn't the outcry that there is now.

d) Another way to discredit the workers and their leaders is to present them as criminals. Besides this, there is an attempt to question the application of resources in the settlements. The media also explore the internal rifts and conflicts in the settlements, common to all groups of people, but shown as serious problems that could impact the Brazilian society as a whole.

Ideological War

The latifúndio uses the media to create an ideological war, with three basic objectives:

1) To separate the unorganized workers from rural organizations. The latifúndio knows that the only viable way for workers to achieve agrarian reform is through organization. Therefore, their ideological attempts to block this path are strategically important.

2) To create pressure on the government to adopt policies to punish rural workers.

3) To create a climate of distrust for the rural movements and their leaders, presenting them as propagators of violence, who could cause political instability.


On July 28, 2003, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) issued the following statement:

"The rural elite and some sectors of the national press, facing the growth of rural social movements, are trying to create social instability. They try to influence public opinion, so that the government will take punitive measures against the workers' movements and prevent agrarian reform from becoming a reality.
Historically, the elites in the countryside have been opposed to democracy, and have always used their economic resources to hold on to their privileges in society. So, it is not the workers that instigate violence and that create armed mobs, it is the latifúndios."

The latifúndio only manages to survive through violence. Therefore, the most effective way to fight violence in rural areas is to break the power of the latifundio, limiting the size of their lands.