Landless Moviment

Parliamentary investigation against MST is an opportunity to dispute ideas, says MST leader

João Paulo Rodrigues explains the Commission of Inquiry, talks about the Fake News Bill and the Agrarian Reform Fair
The national leader of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), João Paulo Rodrigues. Photo: Guilherme Santos/Sul21

By José Eduardo Bernardes/ Translated by: Lucas Peresin
From Brasil de Fato São Paulo (Brazil)

The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement), articulated by Bolsonaro supporters and the ruralist group in the Chamber of Deputies, installed last week, has not yet held its first session. 

Under the control of federal deputy Coronel Zucco (Republican Party) and with possible reporting by Jair Bolsonaro’s former Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles (Liberal Party), the investigation uses as a parameter occupations that were part of the Movement’s Red April Journey, that happens every year, since the Massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás in 1996, in the state of Pará, which left 21 landless workers dead.

According to the national coordinator of the MST, João Paulo Rodrigues, the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry “is stillborn, from the point of view of its object”. However, “it will have a lot of propaganda power”. On the other hand, points out the coordinator, there is a window of opportunity for the movement itself to reveal to society what its strategies are when occupying land that does not fulfill its social function.

João Paulo Rodrigues is this week’s guest at BDF Interview and comments on the wave of solidarity that the Movement has received since the installation of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. One of them, from a group of jurists and lawyers, who were willing to help the MST during the investigation period. 

“We have received hundreds of solidarity messages from parties, trade union centrals, even government sectors, the National Congress, international friends and lawyers, making themselves available to help the Movement. This demonstrates the seriousness and commitment that the MST has with the political struggle in Brazil”, he explains.

In the conversation, Rodrigues also talks about the National Agrarian Reform Fair, which will start this week, in Parque da Água Branca, in the central region of the city of São Paulo. The traditional event, which aims to bring the Movement’s producers closer to the urban sectors of society, takes place at the same time that the MST is facing this dispute in the National Congress.

Check out the interview:

Brasil de Fato: The MST’s CPI, as the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry articulated by the ruralist group against the Landless Movement has been called, should have its first session in the coming weeks. How did the movement react to this investigation?

João Paulo Rodrigues: Look, it’s more of a political persecution against the MST. A Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that has no predefined object. It will be yet another stage, a theater play for the Parliament to make hate speeches against peasants, on the agenda of agrarian reform and, at the same time, embarrass the government and the judiciary on matters involving the land issue in Brazil .

It is a pity that we have to go through this fifth Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, as part of our political struggle. We believe that we are going to face it with our heads held high and, at the same time, build a support agenda so that people are in solidarity with our struggle and with the agrarian reform agenda.

There were just over 30 land occupations, which are part of the Red April Journeys, a traditional period of struggle for the MST, some of them in very important areas for agribusiness. Was that what, in fact, mobilized the ruralist group?

There are 33 occupations. From that total, three were in symbolic areas for them, it’s understandable. Occupying a eucalyptus area in Brazil, belonging to the largest company in the world, which is Suzano, it is understandable the size of the strength they have. Occupying an abandoned area owned by Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), which agribusiness thinks is their symbol, is also part of an idea that we are nudging a very sensitive area of agribusiness.

Now both areas have problems. When the MST occupied it, it was precisely to denounce their symbol. Embrapa has unproductive land, 3 thousand hectares, Suzano has taken over public land. Therefore, we want precisely to denounce that there are not only unproductive areas of agribusiness, the latifundia. 

There are other areas that must be taken into account, for society to examine when making a national agrarian reform plan.

This, as you commented, is the fifth Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that tries to investigate the Landless Workers’ Movement. In the previous investigation, the MST maintained contracts with the federal government. Now, there is no direct relationship between the MST and the government. Even so, do you think that the Commission of Inquiry has the capacity to wear down the federal government?

Look, it is a Commission of Inquiry that is stillborn, from the point of view of its object, but it will have a lot of propaganda power. For the Bolsonarist media, it is much easier to open the microphone to the Commission of Inquiry against us, than to the Commission on the attacks of the 8th of January. In practice, they will cover up the Commission of Inquiry on the 8th of January and will give greater visibility to the Commission of Inquiry on the MST.

Now, it is an ideological dispute. If we manage to gain strength in society, we can also take advantage and guide the reasons for the occupations, then we will reach the unproductive, vacant areas. We are going to reach the large estates, the areas that use pesticides and the lands stolen by big capital.

We are going to have to be very careful, this is not a time for provocation and as we have been saying around, the MST has three main missions: defend the government; defend our settlers and campers; and maintain autonomy in order to be able to fight and, at the same time, mobilize.

And, at the same time that the news about the Commission of Inquiry is circulating, the MST promotes another edition of the National Agrarian Reform Fair, in São Paulo, in the Parque da Água Branca. It starts this week, on May 11th. Is this also an opportunity to bring the movement even closer to the city?

I have no doubts about that. The Agrarian Reform Fair is the highlight of the movement, where we have the ability to dialogue with society, to provide an account of how many families have benefited from the agrarian reform program, and of what is being produced throughout the country.

Today there are approximately 60,000 families waiting for land to plant and to live camped in different regions of the country, but mostly in the Northeast region.

That is why we are very excited about the Fair. There are more than 500 tons of food arriving. A huge amount of variety of products made throughout the country and varied cuisines. This fair will be a milestone in the fight against the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry.

Talking about this approximation of the city and the countryside, about taking the MST to the urban environment, in recent years there has been a movement towards bringing people closer to the Movement. Many caps were sold, in addition to other MST symbols. This was a tactic that the Movement adopted during the Bolsonaro government. How has this reception been in urban areas?

Look, the MST, in the last period, maybe it was the moment when it has created more relationships with society. I think it’s a combination of factors: first, our fight against the coup, in defense of Dilma; the fight in defense of Lula; our active participation in the elections. But I think the most emblematic thing, and what made the MST gain more followers and supporters, were the solidarity campaigns we carried out against hunger and extreme poverty during the pandemic. 

I think this is the result of years of work and what made people see the MST as a serious organization, with the ability to organize and a capacity to mobilize its militancy to contribute to solidarity campaigns, with literacy agendas for young people and adults, also with the agricultural production agenda. 

That is why I’m excited. I think it is a nice moment for the MST with society and that is why we have to take care of this moment. And to care for this moment is to occupy unproductive latifundia, to denounce the land concentration, to fight in defense of healthy food and being very generous with the working class, together in the main battles that the people have been waging and fighting throughout the country.

You actively participated in President Lula’s campaign, closely followed how the formation of the government unfolded. Having completed just over 100 days of government, what is your assessment of the government in this first quarter? There are some difficulties, mainly in the economic area, and other great challenges…

I think there are positive points, points that I still don’t know how to assess, and there are negative points. I would draw attention, among the positive points, to Lula’s ability to take the government’s reins on the issue of the economy. It was very fast, he is managing to hit the points.

The capacity to approve a Constitutional Amendment Proposal that improves the government’s budget in the National Congress, already in the first days of government. And, at the same time, this agenda of continuity of social projects and programs that is being consolidated in the country. They are important points. I think that Lula’s main thing is to advance against hunger and that he is managing to do and we have to recognize that.

Now, there are still many problems in the political articulation, in relation to the movements, you still have to adjust the timing of each social program with the demands that exist in the countryside and, at the same time, the difficulties of building a majority in the National Congress.

But I am very confident with our government, that it will work and that the way for us to support this government is to be together in difficulties. But also being together in the fights, pressing for it to fulfill its social function and the improvement of agrarian reform.

What do you expect from the Commission of Inquiry on the 8th of January? The Federal Supreme Court has already made defendants more than 400 people who were arrested during the acts and in the days that followed.

Look, I think that the expectation is very high for us, at least, to better understand the dynamics of Bolsonarism, when thinking about an action like that. It is time to find out who the supporters were, if it was a coup, if it was just a protest, who was behind each of the acts that were built and, at the same time, in my opinion, to identify the Military Forces that were behind this coup.

I think this is the high point, which will be a time for the Congress, for the Deputies to investigate the hidden forces that produced this great coup action on January 8th.

Another issue that has to do with the Commission of Inquiry on the 8th of January is the Fake News Bill. It is a project that has been underway since 2020, it is not necessarily a matter for the federal government and it had some difficulty moving forward – obviously, the scenario of the last four years was a complicating factor – and now it faces difficulties in Congress. What can we expect from this Bill?

The Bill is a super radical confrontation. He did not go through little political articulation, it is because the basis of the coup is given by fake news. The base of the coup is a combination of agribusiness, large international financial capital, which is out there financing this type of thing, the Armed Forces and fake news.

If you manage to stop fake news, which is the famous weapon of the big techs, you will uncover and stop part of the fascism advance in Brazil. That is  why the fight being waged in the National Congress is a historic fight, it’s a historic bill. If we manage to pass the project by Deputy Orlando [Silva] (Communist Party of Brazil – São Paulo) as it is, it will be a great advance for all of us.

You mentioned the big techs, and they publicly demonstrated their opposition to the Bill, allied with some congressional groups, such as the evangelicals, who wanted to maintain the idea of spreading hate and lies through social networks. How did you see the performance of the large technology companies that even hindered the progress of the process in the National Congress?

I think there are different goals there. Each political group had a goal to block the undertaking of this project: the evangelicals, because they want to continue spreading the idea that only they have the possibility of taking us to heaven; Bolsonarism, because it needs to create narratives from fake news; and the big techs, in my opinion, for the amount of money that fake news generates with boosts, and so on. 

I think that the goal of big techs is not even that they are fascists – it could even be, like Elon Musk from Twitter, but the others are much more for the money they can lose, in case they have to inspect and follow closely the topic of fake news.

For them, then, it is an economic problem. In front of any action that hinders their economic action, they will have this behavior. I think this debate deserves to be better deepened in society, it has to be more popular, otherwise, no matter how much we win in the Chamber, it will still be a project that will have difficulty gaining support on the streets and in the middle of the digital area.

The leaders of popular movements often say that a government without popular support, without people on the street, cannot sustain itself or cannot pass on its projects. How are the movements articulating to give this support to the government and take agendas that are important to the streets?

I think it’s still very early, people are seeing the government’s 100 days balance, I think it’s still very early, people are seeing the government’s 100 days balance (EN), building its strategies. There is a will to have a front against Bolsonarism and fight against the interest rate policy. There is a desire to have a new front, which is popular participation in the government’s project and the consolidation of the Popular Committee. But everything is still under construction.

I think it’s still early for us to say how the movements will behave when it comes to the government over the next four years. Each one is taking stock and seeing what’s left after six years of the coup and, at the same time, organizing a strategy that can withstand the complexity of the next period, which is to fight in defense of Lula, in defense of our rights and against the far-right wing.

Despite this, the 1st of May was a great act, therefore needs to be valued. The women’s journey on March 8th was important. And I call attention here to our April Jouney, which demonstrated the Brazilian people’ss will to continue fighting even when the government is ours.

Edited by: Flávia Chacon e Rodrigo Durão Coelho