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English Report

The government rejected the proposal to expropriate 36 million hectares in order to distribute land to one million families, at a cost of R$ 24 billion, claiming that there would not be sufficient funds and it lowered the goal to 400 thousand families. However the government increased the goal of the primary surplus with the IMF to more than R$56.9 billion.

Trends in the Current Policy that Prevent Agrarian Reform

* Plínio de Arruda Sampaio and Marcelo Resende

 It is regrettable that in the 21st century, in the year 2004, one still has to argue the importance of agrarian reform. Public opinion surveys have already made clear the manifest desire of Brazilian society to carry out full and thorough agrarian reform. An agrarian reform that promotes the redistribution of lands as the Brazilian Constitution specifies. This is contrary to what is suggested by some sectors who are betting on the isolation and burial of land reform.

 We need a land reform that promotes the breaking up of more than 70 thousand latifúndios, represented in only 1.6% of the total of 4,238.4 million properties, occupying 43.6% of the total area registered by INCRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform). This concentration of land persists since the colonial period.

 We need an agrarian reform that promotes the democratization of land to create work, with less investment than in the majority of existing economic activities. This is fundamental for a country that, according to the census data from IBGE, had 8.537 million unemployed people in May 2003. 

 We need an agrarian reform that promotes the break up of land concentration to implement a new and vigorous process of strengthening peasant agriculture, based on the production of healthy low cost foods, especially for a third of the population that survives below the poverty line.

 We need an agrarian reform that promotes the break up of land concentration to get the programs against hunger and misery functioning, such as Zero Hunger, that for now focuses its activity only on social service programs. This project should make it a priority to purchase food directly from the small farmers to furnish the institutional market, providing income directly to the producers.

 There is also a clear perception in society that agrarian reform should be accompanied by important instruments of technical assistance, training, commercialization, credit, infrastructure, in a way that substantially improves the quality of life of men and women in the countryside and in the cities.

 The arguments in favor of breaking up the concentration of land in this country are numerous. But the central question is the need for a profound change in the agrarian structure, of which agrarian reform is only one part. However, all efforts must be centered on confronting the latifúndio (large land holdings). 

 The Brazilian latifúndio has been supported through five centuries of colonization, slavery, “coronelism” and currently in agribusiness. This is combined with slave work, with landing strips for narcotrafficking, and with the killings of rural workers.

 The starting point to turn this situation around must be the break up of the large concentrations of land, by means of expropriations. According to INCRA, between 1992 and 1998, the area occupied by properties larger than 2,000 hectares was increased by 56 million hectares, which represents three times more than the 18 million hectares that the Cardoso government claims to have expropriated during six years. At the same time, data from the IBGE from 1995 to 1999 indicates the approximate emigration of 4.2 million people from the rural area. Besides the lack of government support for small farming, the concentration of land is also responsible for this rural exodus.

 What are the obstacles for an effective implementation of agrarian reform in Brazil?

 Surely these obstacles cannot be attributed to the more than 400,000 families in settlements who resist in their small plots, without sufficient support from the government. The government itself recognizes that, on average, more than 80% of the settlements do not have basic infrastructure (water, roads, electric power and technical assistance). Responsibility for the lack of success of agrarian reform also cannot be attributed to the 200 thousand families who are waiting on average more than six years (in a shack covered in plastic sheeting to protect against the scalding sun), for the possibility of being settled by a program of agrarian reform.

 With the inauguration of the current Workers Party government, there was an expectation that a full and thorough agrarian reform would be implemented. It is important to remember the many congressmen who, in much more adverse correlation of forces, succeeded in defending agrarian reform and preventing legislative steps backward that could strengthen the latifúndio. For example, during the Cardoso government, the Workers Party brought a direct action of unconstitutionality about the provisional measure that prevents the expropriation of occupied lands. Unfortunately, in the current administration, the provisional measure remains.

 The argument that there is no correlation of forces in Congress to approve measures to improve agrarian legislation is not justified. Congress could, for example, present a bill that prevents the landowners from avoiding the notification of inspections, as was the case of the Southal latifúndio, of 13,222 hectares in the municipality of São Gabriel, in Rio Grande do Sul.  Or even presenting a bill so that the judiciary does not postpone any more implementation of settlements, after a stated period of 48 hours, from the evidence of the beginning of the payment to the former land owners.

 Congress could still present a bill that corrects the distortions of the elevated values of compensations for former landowners. The first distortion consists of the update of the agrarian debt bonds (TDA) by 6% per year. What the Constitution determines is not the conversion of the value of the property into financial bonds, which would be a prize to the former landowners. It determines the preservation of the real value of the property. The landowner at fault, who is not fulfilling the social function of the property, is not selling land to INCRA, but is being punished (expropriated with compensation) for not fulfilling the law.

 The second distortion consists in the payment of  compensatory interest. Until recently this tax was 6% per year. However, after the re-edition of the Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADIN – 2332/2002) this percentage became 12% per year over the difference between the price offered by INCRA and the price fixed by the judge. This is the case of the Annoni Fazenda, in Rio Grande do Sul, in which the value of expropriation in April 1986 was the equivalent of R$392 thousand. Today the value of expropriation increased by the compensatory tax is up to R$491 million.

 Besides the corrections in the agrarian legislation, administrative corrections need to be made in the Executive branch. For example, the government could revise the table that establishes the productivity indexes, dated from the 70’s.

 An inspection by INCRA takes on average nine months, if there is no juridical obstacle, which in general is not the case. According to the government, the impediment to carrying out agrarian reform resides in the lack of structure of INCRA. Even if we recognize this problem, as an inheritance of previous administrations, the deficiencies of the administrative machinery can be resolved with political decision.

 Another challenge placed before the Executive branch consists in the settlement of famlies in the states with the greatest social tension (Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco and Paraíba). The Cardoso government said that it had settled 600,000 families. However, of these, 70% are found in the states of legal Amazônia, and another part in remote regions of the Northeast. In these regions, as a function of the lack of infrastructure and of devaluation of the land, the latifundio owners are often interested in expropriation. The current government appears to follow the same logic. This explains why, of the 70,000 families that the government claims to have settled up to August 2004, the MST says that only 5,440 were in their encampments.

 Another argument spread about is that because of the rural exodus and “modernization” of the countryside, there are no more landless people. This theory creates the impression that the 200 thousand families encamped along the highways are merely making a political statement. This view is held inside the government, and was expressed by the decision to no longer provide basic food baskets to the families in the encampments, because this would “represent their proliferation.” However, these families are victims of the government’s failure to comply with the Constitution, which specifies the expropriation of lands that are not fulfilling a social function. It is not believable that some family would like to stay in an encampment only to receive a basic food basket. Moreover, the basic human right to food must be fulfilled, even in situations of conflict.

 Another argument presented is that agrarian reform needs to be rethought because of the high cost of settling a family on the land. The initial proposal of the National Plan for Agrarian Reform, handed to the government in December of last year, suggests the expropriation of 36 million hectares, in four years, with the goal of distributing land to one million families at a cost of R$ 24 billion, with 11 billion going to compensating the former landowners, and 13 billion going to the settlement of the beneficiaries. The government rejected this proposal, claiming that the funds were insufficient, and it lowered the goal. In the meantime, the government  increased the goal of the primary surplus with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to more than R$56.9 billions.  These funds would be sufficient not only to settle one million families but also to provide water, electricity, and roads to the existing settlements.

 The policy of financial deregulation was also deepened by this government, through a measure by the Central Bank that allows the sending of remittances outside the country without the sender needing to be identified. The whole investment budget of the federal government for this year (2004) is not even R$13 billion. On the other hand, a survey carried out in 2003 shows that the balance in foreign applications was R$240 billion (Estado de Minas, October 4, 2004).

 There are also those who defend the nonexistence of unproductive latifúndios in Brazil. However, according to data from the INCRA, based on declarations of the landowners themselves, reveals that 70% of the properties of more than 2 thousand hectares are unproductive, representing 120 thousand hectares. Of the 600 million hectares of cultivatable land, 172 million hectares are considered as “vacant lands,” that is to say, public lands.

 There are still those who defend the so-called “market agrarian reform”, currently implemented in Brazil with the support of the World Bank. This policy is based on financing for the acquisition of lands, in which the landowner receives the payment on sight and the landless contract a 20-year debt. This policy does not promote the break up of large concentrations of land. The Public Ministry has received accusations of irregularity in these projects. However, a full evaluation of the program has not been presented by the government.

 And, finally, there are those who defend the maintenance of the structure of concentrated land holdings as a strategy for the expansion of agricultural activities for export, or “commodities”. These claim that expropriating latifúndios in areas where agribusiness rules is irresponsible. However, the boasting about agribusiness hides the perversities of this policy, for example:

 While a sum of agricultural credit of R$7 billion was designated for family farming in 2004, agribusiness received R$39 billion. In 2003, of the credit allotted to family farmers, around R$1 billion was not granted.

 While the countryside is being modernized with machines and inputs, the major producer of cotton in the country, the mayor of Acreúna (GO), dismissed two thousand workers in May of 2004, as a consequence of acquiring 18 harvesters (Agência Folha, 09/12/2004).

 In addition to receiving public credit, the agribusiness sector has access to the financing of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, which approved, in September of 2003, a loan of US$ 30 million for the Maggi group to increase the cultivation of soy in the east of Mato Grosso (Folha de São Paulo, September 25, 2004).

 The government’s policies have been adjusted to attract international financial capital. For example, the government makes a big effort to approve the so-called “PPP”  (Private-Public Partnerships). On the other hand, the same force is not exerted to guarantee the homologation of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous land.

 In order to change this situation, we need major changes in governmental policies. It’s like the Chinese proverb, in which the master points his finger to the moon and his student, instead of seeing the moon, can only perceive the finger. No change will occur in the agrarian and land structure of this country if there is no change in the economic model.

* Plínio de Arruda Sampaio is the president of the Brazilian Association of Agrarian Reform (ABRA). He was a Congress (1985-1991), and an advisor to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

 Marcelo Resende is the former president of INCRA (National Institute for Agrarian Reform), and a member of the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.