Brazilian peasants demand land, end to violence
April 21, 1997
Web posted at: 5:48 p.m. EDT (2148 GMT)
From Rio de Janeiro Bureau Chief Marina Mirabella
BRASILIA, Brazil (CNN) --
Demanding that the government give them enough land to live, some 2,000
landless peasants have marched to the capital of Brasilia in protest and
set up camp in front of government buildings. Many say they will not
budge until the government promises widespread agrarian reform.
Brazil has one of the world's worst land distribution ratios: most
of the farmland belongs to just 2 percent of Brazil's landowners, all of
them wealthy. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers, like
Rafael Neto, own nothing.
"We can't find jobs and we have no land," he said. "We can't keep
living with hunger and misery."
Carrying her son Marcos most of the way,
Terezinha de Souza has walked more than 1,000 kilometers (700 miles) in
the last two months from southern Brazil to the country's capital for
"In all I have eight children," she says, "and I need land to grow
food to feed them."
Terezinha is one of the hundreds of landless farmers mobilized by
Brazil's National Landless Movement (MST). One of the left-wing
movement's major demands is speedy land reform. To that end, it has
encouraged small farmers throughout the country to take part in
protests, large invasions and occupations of unused farmland.
The MST protesters in Brasilia
are also demanding an end to rural violence. In the last two years,
more than 100 peasant farmers have died in the struggle for land.
Exactly one year ago in a remote part of the Amazon, 19 peasants
were killed by military police machine gun fire, and 45 were injured.
All 155 police involved have been charged in the case, but none has been
convicted, and all remain free pending trial.
"We're afraid the violence will continue if the government doesn't
do something," said Antonio Albino.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso maintains that land reform is already in
progress. "We are carrying out land reform. My government has settled
more people than any other time in Brazilian history," he said.
The government has promised to settle 280,000 families during its
four-year term. According to media reports, Cardoso is also ready to
expropriate more land from "unproductive" estates, and open a line of
credit to help newly settled farmers stay on the land.
But leaders of the Landless Movement say 5 million families need
plots in Brazil, and that until those families are settled, the protests
and land invasions will continue.
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