Brazil Peasants End Land Truce

March 7, 2003

Peasant officials said unproductive farms and government property had been occupied over the last few days because President Lula had failed to take any concrete action to carry out land reform since taking up office in January. They said the present protests were only the beginning of a bigger campaign of invasions starting next month.

But the Brazilian Agrarian Development Minister, Miguel Rossetto, criticised the protesters, saying the government was working towards a peaceful process of land re-distribution. President Lula's Workers Party has been a traditional ally of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).

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The truce was declared on 1 January to coincide with inauguration of the first left-wing Brazilian president for 40 years. But last week, farm workers resumed their occupation of public and private property in five Brazilian states. The latest took place on Wednesday when about 500 women and 100 children set up tents at the headquarters of the Agrarian Reform Institute (Incra) in the Goias state capital Goiania, 200 km (125 miles) from Brasilia. "We have waited long enough for the new government to take concrete action in favour of agrarian reform," Joao Paulo Rodrigues, an MST leader said. "The wait-and-see period is coming to an end." Mr Rodrigues said the invasions were only a prelude for nationwide protests in April.

President Lula's government has called on the protesters to end their practice of land seizures. "It's legitimate to exert pressure, but we do not accept invasions of public buildings or the occupation of productive rural lands," said Workers Party president Jose Genoino. The MST was created in 1985 to keep pressure on the government to speed up its land reform programme. They say occupying unproductive farms is the only way to push the government to carry out land reform in Brazil. Correspondents say land distribution in Brazil is among the most uneven in the world, with 20% of the population owning 90% of farmland and the poorest 40% owning just 1% of the land.

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