Jannah Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.

If you don’t use your land, these Marxists can take it

They arrived just before midnight, carrying machetes and hoes, hammers and sickles, with plans to take over the land.

When the 200 activists and farm workers arrived, the ranch was vacant, overgrown with weeds and the farm headquarters empty except for a wandering cow.

Now, three months later, it’s a bustling village. On a recent Sunday, children cycled on new dirt roads, women plowed land for gardens and men pulled tarpaulins over shelters. About 530 families live in the settlement of Itabela, a town in northeastern Brazil, and they have already come together to plow and plant the field with beans, corn and cassava.

The siblings who inherited the 370-acre ranch want the squatters out. New tenants say they’re not going anywhere.

“The occupation is a process of struggle and confrontation,” said Alcione Manthay, 38, the effective leader of the encampment, who grew up on several like this. “And there is no settlement if there is no occupation.”

Ms. Manthay and the other uninvited settlers are part of the Landless Workers Movement, perhaps the largest Marxist-inspired movement in the world operating within a democracy and, after 40 years of sometimes bloody land occupations, a major political, social and cultural force in Brazil.

The movement, led by activists who call themselves militants, organizes hundreds of thousands of Brazil’s poor to take unused land from the wealthy, colonize it and cultivate it, often in large collectives. They are reversing, they say, the deep inequality fueled by the historically unequal distribution of land in Brazil.

While leftists embrace the cause – the movement’s red hats depicting a couple holding a machete aloft have become commonplace in trendy bars – many Brazilians view it as communist and criminal. This has created a dilemma for the new leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a longtime supporter of the movement who is now trying to build bridges in Congress and the powerful agricultural industry.

Throughout Latin America, other movements inspired by the principles of Marxism – workers rising up in class struggle against capitalism – have sought to tackle systemic inequalities, but none has ever come close to the size , ambition or sophistication of Brazil’s landless movement.

The group’s organizers and outside researchers estimate that 460,000 families now live in encampments and settlements created by the movement, suggesting an informal membership approaching nearly two million people, or almost 1% of Brazil’s population. It is, in some ways, the largest social movement in Latin America.

Under Brazil’s right-wing former president, Jair Bolsonaro, the movement faltered. The occupations largely stalled during the pandemic, then slowly returned in the face of opposition from Mr. Bolsonaro and farmers who have become more heavily armed under his more permissive gun policy.

But now, emboldened by the election of Mr. Lula, a longtime political ally, the movement’s supporters are stepping up land seizures.

“We elected Lula, but that’s not enough,” João Pedro Stédile, the movement’s co-founder, said in a message to members on Easter Sunday, announcing a “Red April” campaign to invade new lands.

There have been 33 occupations in less than four months of Mr. Lula’s presidency, including eight in one weekend this month. Under Mr. Bolsonaro, there were around 15 occupations a year, according to government statistics. (About two decades ago, when land was even less evenly distributed, there were hundreds of invasions a year.)

Mr. Lula said little about the new invasions, although two of his ministers criticized them.

The new occupations gave rise to a counter-movement: “Zero Invasion”. Thousands of farmers who say they don’t trust the government to protect their land are organizing to confront the squatters and evict them, although so far there has been little violence.

“Nobody wants to go to battle, but nobody wants to lose their property either,” said Everaldo Santos, 72, a cattle rancher who heads a local farmers’ union and owns a 1,000-acre ranch near the encampment. from Itabela. “You bought it, paid for it, got the paperwork, paid the taxes. So you don’t let people invade and leave it at that,” he said. “You defend what is yours.”

Despite the landless movement’s aggressive tactics, Brazilian courts and government have recognized thousands of settlements as legal under laws that state that agricultural land must be productive.

The proliferation of legal agreements has transformed the movement into a major food producer, selling hundreds of thousands of tons of milk, beans, coffee and other staples each year, much of it organic after the movement pushed members to give up pesticides and fertilizers years ago. The movement is now the biggest supplier of organic rice in Latin America, according to a major union of rice farmers.

Yet opinion polls have shown that many Brazilians oppose the movement’s land occupations. Some of the movement’s most militant members have invaded working farms run by large agribusinesses, destroyed crops and even briefly occupied the family farm of a former Brazilian president.

On the ground, the conflict pits hundreds of thousands of impoverished farm workers and a network of left-wing activists against wealthy families, large corporations and many small family farms.

Conservative lawmakers accused Mr. Stedile, the movement’s co-organizer, of inciting crime with his call for new occupations, and launched a congressional investigation.

The day after Mr. Stedile called for the invasions, he joined Mr. Lula on a state visit to China. (The government brought in representatives from several major food producers.)

Mr. Lula has long had close ties to the movement. Brazil’s first working-class president, he supported him in his first government two decades ago. Later, while he was imprisoned on corruption charges which were later dismissed, movement activists camped outside the prison for his entire 580-day incarceration.

Inequality in land ownership in Brazil is rooted in colonial-era land distribution policies that consolidated land in the hands of powerful white men.

The government has sought to tip the scales by essentially confiscating idle farmland and giving it to people in need. The landless movement has sought to enforce such reallocations by occupying unproductive land.

Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, a professor at São Paulo State University who has studied the movement for decades, said the government had legalized around 60% of the movement’s occupations, a rate he attributed to the success of organizers identify unused land.

But critics say the government is encouraging invasions by rewarding squatters with land, instead of forcing them to queue like others who have to go through bureaucratic channels to apply for property. Leaders of the movement say they are grabbing land because the government only acts under pressure.

This is what the people who camp at Itabela hope for.

The inhabitants of the camp had varied backgrounds but all shared the same objective: their own slice of land. A homeless man arrived with his belongings in a wheelbarrow. A middle-aged couple abandoned a shack on the farm where they worked, to try their luck. And newlyweds on minimum wage decided to squat because they thought they would never be able to afford land.

“The city is not good for us,” said Marcésio Teles, 35, a coffee picker standing outside the shack he built for his family of five, his disabled daughter in a wheelchair by his side. “A place like this is a place of peace.”

This peace almost ended a few weeks ago.

The siblings who inherited the land from their father in 2020 successfully petitioned a local judge to order the dismantling of the encampment. They argued that the land was productive and therefore should not be ceded to the occupiers. The movement’s activists admitted that there were still cattle on the land, which they were trying to keep away from their new crops.

Police went to evict the settlers, joined by dozens of angry farmers, and were greeted by around 60 camp residents, some carrying farming tools.

Instead of fighting, however, residents resisted by singing landless movement anthems, Ms Manthay said. The police, worried about a clash, suspended the eviction.

Lawyers for the movement have since appealed and sought a permanent settlement over more than 2,000 acres the siblings own. A state agency said the government should analyze the movement’s demands. Do you want conversation? Yes. How’s it going? I say it’s excellent, it’s hot.

“If they pull us out, we’ll occupy again,” Mr Teles said. “The struggle is constant.”

About 90 minutes down the road, there’s a window into what the future could be: a 5,000-acre settlement that was declared legal in 2016 after six years of occupation. The 227 families each have 20 to 25 acres there, spread over rolling hills of farmland and pasture. They share tractors and plows, but otherwise cultivate their own plot. Together they produce about two tons of food per month.

Daniel Alves, 54, used to work in someone else’s fields before he started squatting on this land in 2010. Now he grows 27 different crops on 20 acres, showing off bananas, peppercorns, fruit hot pink dragon fruit and the Amazonian cupuaçu fruit – all organic. He sells the products at local fairs.

He said he was left poor – his hut was covered with tarps – but he was happy.

“This movement is lifting people out of poverty,” he said.

His granddaughter, Esterfany Alves, 11, followed him around the farm, petting their donkey and picking ripe fruit. She attends a public school in the colony partly run by the movement, one of approximately 2,000 movement schools across Brazil.

Schools are integrating protests into the curriculum and teaching students about agriculture, land rights and inequality.

In other words, Esterfany said, school taught him “wrestling.”

Flavia Milhorance And Lily Moriconi contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.

Back to top button