Manifesto in defense of the MST

“...They become legitimate not through their property but through their work, in this world in which work is becoming extinct. They become legitimate because they make History, in a world that has already proclaimed the end of History. These men and women are an absurdity because they bring back to life a feeling that was lost...” (“News of the survivors”, Eldorado dos Carajás, 1996).

“…They become legitimate not through their property but through their work, in this world in which work is becoming extinct. They become legitimate because they make History, in a world that has already proclaimed the end of History. These men and women are an absurdity because they bring back to life a feeling that was lost…”

(“News of the survivors”, Eldorado dos Carajás, 1996).

For 30 years, the rebuilding of democracy in Brazil has demanded enormous sacrifices from the workers. They had to rebuild their organizations that were destroyed by two decades of repression by the military dictatorship and invent new forms of movements and struggles that could meet the challenge of confronting one of the most unequal societies in the world. This also involved presenting the heirs of the five-century-old slave culture, the workers of the city and of the countryside, as citizens and as legitimate participants, not only in the production of the country’s wealth (as has always been the case) but equally as beneficiaries of sharing the wealth that was produced.

The hatred of the rural and urban oligarchy does not stop focusing for one day on one of the new instruments created by the Brazilian workers in 1984 to organize and struggle: the Movement of the Landless Rural Workers, the MST. And this Movement pays daily with sweat and blood—as recently occurred in Rio Grande do Sul, by daring to question one of the pillars of social inequality in Brazil: the monopolization of land. The gesture of raising their banner in an occupation is translated into an expression that is simple to understand, and for this reason, is intolerable to the ears of the lords of land and of agribusiness. A country where 1% of the population owns 46% of the land, protected by fences, by agents of the State, and by hired killers cannot be considered a Republic, much less a democracy.

The Constitution of 1988 specifies that the unproductive estates, as well as lands used for planting the raw materials for the production of drugs, must be targeted for Agrarian Reform. But since the signing of the new Charter, successive governments have neglected to comply with this requirement. The fact that the MST dares to struggle to ensure these rights that were won in the Constitution, to pressure the authorities through peaceful occupations, is compounded by its other bold move, equally intolerable to the capitalist lords of the countryside and the cities: the legitimate and legal dispute over the Public Budget.

In 40 years, since the creation of INCRA in 1970, around one million rural families have been settled on the land, more than half of them between 2003 and 2008. To make it possible for these families to take part in economic activity, to integrate them into the productive process for food and shares in the new cycle of development, we need to put an end to the daily fight over public resources. This is the reason for the hatred of the rural right wingers and other sectors of big capital, accustomed as they have always been to exclusive access to credit, subsidies, and to periodic forgiveness of their debts.

The government’s commitment to review the criteria for productivity for Brazilian agriculture responds to a four-decade-old demand raised by the movements of rural workers. To demand that these indices be brought up to date, the rural workers are asking for nothing more than compliance with the Federal Constitution and that the scientific and technological advances that have been made in the last four decades be incorporated into the methods for measuring agricultural productivity in our country.

It is against this demand that the rural right-wingers in the National Congress are reacting and attacking the MST. As a reprisal, they are trying once again to request the formation of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry against the MST. It would be the third in five years. If Brazilian agriculture is so modern and productive—as agribusiness boasts—why do they fear bringing the indices up to date?

And, why not create a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to analyze the public funds that go to the organizations of the rural ruling class? A Commission that takes charge of answering questions as simple as: what happened for the past 40 years in the Brazilian countryside in terms of a rise in productivity? How much did Brazil invest in a true revolution in new technology, which would have made Brazilian agriculture capable of feeding our people and affirming itself as one of the largest exporters of food? How many loans given out of the public coffers to the large landowners were forgiven in this time period?

The attack on the MST goes beyond the struggle for Agrarian Reform. It’s an attack against the democratic advances won in the 1988 Constitution—such as that which establishes the social function of agricultural property—and against the essential rights for the democratic rebuilding of our country. And it is therefore against this democratic rebuilding that the agribusiness leaders and their allies in the countryside and in the cities have risen up. This is serious. This is a threat not only against the movements of rural and urban workers but also against all of society. And it is the very democratic rebuilding of Brazil, which cost the efforts and even the lives of many Brazilians that is being opposed. It is the very democratic rebuilding of Brazil that is being violated.

For this reason, today the most conservative sectors in society are mounting a new offensive against the MST, in the National Congress, in the media, in the pressure lobbies in all spheres of power. It’s a matter of once more criminalizing a movement that has consistently raised the banner, disturbing the democratic conscience of the country—our democracy will only be worthy of the name when it incorporates all Brazilians and grants them as citizens the right to share in the wealth that they produce throughout their lives with their hands, their skills, and their love for the country that belongs to all of us.

Brasília, September 11, 2009.