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BRAZIL: May Day Will Kick Off Two-Week March by Landless Protesters
by Mario Osava (repost by andy) Saturday, Apr. 30, 2005 at 4:18 PM

The massive march that will set out this Sunday - May Day - and reach the Brazilian capital on May 17 has been organised by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) to protest the government's economic policies, which are an obstacle to agrarian reform, the activists say.

BRAZIL: May Day Will...
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BRAZIL: May Day Will Kick Off Two-Week March by Landless Protesters

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 29 (IPS) - Goiania, the capital of the state of Goiás and located 210 km from Brasilia, will be the starting point for the 12,722 marchers. All of them will be wearing badges to identify them as participants in the protest, to "prevent infiltration," noted Joao Pedro Stédile, an MST national coordinator.

The goal of the march is "to promote debate and create awareness of the need for agrarian reform," Stédile told a press conference on Thursday.

The MST leader added that land reform is currently moving forward at a "snail's pace," despite the "people's government" of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former trade union leader.

Lula, leader of the leftist Workers Party (PT) and a long-time ally of the campesino (peasant worker) movement, promised to provide land to 430,000 families during the four years of his administration, which began on Jan. 1, 2003.

The Brazilian government announced that it had settled 81,000 families on land of their own last year, but in fact the total was just 35,000, since the others were cases where families were given plots of land to replace other, substandard ones previously offered, which they had refused to accept.

Stédile said this "enigma" of a government that is sympathetic to the plight of landless campesinos, yet does not manage to provide them with land to work, is the result of three obstacles: a state structure organised to respond solely to the wealthy; the influence of agribusiness, "a modern-day version of colonial plantations"; and economic policies that concentrate wealth.

Unless there is a change to the current economic policy of high interest rates, fiscal adjustment and priority put on the export sector, "there will be no agrarian reform," which is why the target of the protest march is the economic policy adopted by previous administrations and maintained by Lula, said Stédile, who has a degree in Economics.

Brazil needs "a national development plan" to effectively mobilise forces and incorporate four million landless campesino families into production and the domestic market.

Even if every single one of these families was given 15 hectares of land, they would still only occupy one half of the lands that currently form part of large unproductive landholdings, he stressed.

Stédile described the agribusiness sector as an "illusion, which doesn't really solve the problems of either agriculture or development," because it generates higher unemployment and does not stimulate the economy.

Two decades ago, he noted, the country's farm machinery industry sold 65,000 tractors a year, because there were a large number of small and medium farmers, but sales have dropped to nearly half that amount because of the concentration of land ownership in fewer hands.

It is family agriculture that feeds the nation, because it accounts for 70 percent of the food consumed in Brazil, noted Valquimar Reis, another MST national coordinator. Agribusiness, on the other hand, is devoted to intensive monoculture production for export, and has led to an exodus from the country's rural areas.

A march involving such a huge number of participants is an "epic" undertaking, and has required a major organisational effort to ensure an adequate supply of water, food, tents and portable toilets, explained Reis, who has been directly involved in the preparations.

It is also the biggest march, in terms of the number of participants, ever staged by the MST - which has a long history of staging massive marches along the country's highways. Five-kilometre-long columns will be formed along the highway from Goiania and Brasilia, he predicted.

The costs of the march will be covered by donations from "friendly organisations" in Brazil and abroad, Reis reported. Delegations from each of the country's states will contribute food, to be transported in their own buses and trucks, while local governments along the way have offered contributions like water and infrastructure.

The marchers are scheduled to arrive on the evening of May 16 in the capital, Brasilia, where they will take part in a number of events and meetings. Two main protest rallies will be staged: one outside the U.S. Embassy, because of the tremendous power wielded by the United States, and another outside the Finance Ministry, the economy's guiding force, said Stédile.

The delegations participating in the march will be setting out from their respective states by bus over the next few days, after taking part in local launching ceremonies.

In Rio de Janeiro, a concert will be held Friday next to the statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the city's main landmarks, intended as "a blessing for the marchers," reported local MST leader Marina Santos.

The events planned for the Brazilian capital will be peaceful demonstrations, and will not involve the occupation of government buildings, Stédile stressed, to allay fears of radical actions like the storming of the Finance Ministry two weeks ago by the so-called Movement for the Liberation of the Landless (MLST).

The march beginning on May 1, International Labour Day, is sponsored by Via Campesina, an international network whose members in Brazil include, in addition to the MST, the Small Farmers Movement, the Association of Women Rural Workers, and the Movement of Families Affected by Dams.

The MLST, a more radical campesino group, is not participating in this initiative.

The demonstrators will march in the mornings, to avoid exposure to the strong midday sun on the high plains of central Brazil, Stédile noted.

During the rest of the day, they will participate in workshops and discussion groups in towns along the way, addressing topics like the economy, agrarian reform, water and transgenic products. These activities will serve as "a training course, and the nearly 13,000 workers will go back to their own lands better informed."

In Brasilia, representatives of the marchers will meet with various sectors of the government, to discuss specific subjects like education, health care and land ownership issues.

They will also express their support for a bill that would establish the right of citizens to call plebiscites by collecting a minimum number of signatures, which only lawmakers themselves are currently able to do, Stédile noted. (END/2005)


Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.

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