Brazil: The Agrarian Reality and the Central Role of the Peasant Struggle

The struggle for land and the brutal suppression of the peasant population: the ongoing account of the reality of the agrarian question in Brazil

The huge monopolisation of the land ownership by the ”Latifundio” (the big landowners) in Brazil continues to rise and it is the basis of the history of the ongoing economic and social crisis in the country and, it is at the same time, the basis of current intensification conflicts. Only 2% of landowners (around 23,000) with properties above 1000 hectares hold almost 50% of all land titles in the country (210.5 million hectares)! While 90% of those (4.95 million peasant families), small holders (with properties of up to one hundred hectares) hold only 20% of them (84.1 million hectares)! The medium landowners (with properties of a hundred thousand hectares) that are 8% (440.000) hold the remaining 125.9 million hectares. Besides this there are about 5 million landless peasant families.(*)
This structure of land ownership, that maintains and reproduces the archaic semi-feudal system, is the basis on which imperialism has developed bureaucratic capitalism – that is backward capitalism through which monopoly capital, i.e. imperialism, has imposed in dominated countries. Capitalism, of the bureaucratic type, was developed in Brazil when capitalism had passed to its monopoly stage, i.e. the imperialist phase – in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
It was propelled forwards mainly by British imperialism in alliance with the big landowners (the rural landowning oligarchies) and large local merchants and importers. The nascent bourgeoisie was weak and having stagnated because capital was already in the imperialist phase, could not advance forward the bourgeois revolution in Brazil. It is also true that the nascent proletariat was unable to lead and advance the national-democratic revolution to its end, leaving it in an incomplete state. This was caused by the weaknesses of the Communist Party, which did not understand its role. A role that under the circumstances at the time demanded that a bourgeois revolution could only be carried out under its leadership. A revolutionary leadership that was based on the worker-peasant alliance and a united front with the small and medium bourgeoisie, conducted through revolutionary armed struggle in order that, on the one hand, it must remove the domination of landowners, destroy the old relations of land ownership, give the land to those who work on it and free the productive forces of the field. On the other hand, it must wipe the imperialist domination and confiscate all the bureaucratic capital (state and non-state), centralizing everything in the hands of the new popular state to promote a new self-reliant economy geared to serve the welfare of the people, advancing new democracy and promote a new culture.
Without these tasks being fulfilled, the fundamental and root causes of the contradictions remain intact, semi-feudal relations continue to remain with some evolution in its forms, consequently determine that Brazil would continue to remain a backward country. Under such conditions all that is called development and industrialization has only deepened the denationalization of the economy and its subjugation to mainly American imperialism.
Today, Brazil remains a country where misery and opulence is reproduced on a daily basis. According to researchers from IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research), between the years 2006 to 2012, the richest 1% of the Brazilian population appropriated 28% of all growth of the country. In 2012, that same richest 1% began earning the equivalent to 230 thousand Reais per year (US$ 93,000), and a tiny portion of 0.01% of richest earned (about 140 thousand people) earned about 1 million Reais per year (US$ 403m)
This high concentration of land has contributed decisively to the maintenance of a colossal reserve army of labour, caused by a permanently ruined peasant economy, which provide the basic food supply (labour force savagely exploited by capitalists), and raw materials for industry.
These are key factors for the foreign monopolies and the big local bourgeoisie associated with them to obtain high rates of profits.
According to the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) there are currently 4.8 million of people in Brazil with nominal monthly income equal to zero. Further, there are 11.43 million of the population with a monthly income of $1 to R$ 70 (local money, that means around US$33) -(IG Portal, 03/05/2011). According to official data of the “World Day of the Child Labour”, published on 12/07/2014, in 2012, over 1.4 million children were forced to work as child labourers.

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Meanwhile, about 5.3% of the Brazilian population continues to live in very bad conditions of extreme poverty and misery. Of the total number of people below extreme poverty line, 46.7% live in rural areas, i.e. poverty is even worse in the countryside than in large cities. This situation has caused a steady migration of thousands of peasants from the countryside to the city and during constant cycles of recession, back to the field.
Currently, this situation is getting worse with the deepening as a result of imposed policies demanded by the imperialist powers. Brazil has increased its facilities to produce primary goods for export as grain, beef and chicken, iron and oil. Manufacturing industry fell in its share of the GDP (Gross domestic product) while there were growths in semi-manufactured goods, agriculture, mineral extraction, homogeneous forests and services sectors. Exports are dominated by commodities, with natural soya beans, iron and oil as its main components.
The class contradictions have deepened, especially in the country side, with protests igniting all over the country, demonstrations, occupations, land seizures by landless peasants and have led to the bloodiest clashes between the masses and the gangs and paramilitary gunmen of the landlords supported by the repressive forces of the old genocidal state of bourgeois and big landlords.
The ruling classes in Brazil have never accepted any reform because this old structure has been determining the reproduction of capital. And, as always, the ruling classes resisting any change, however small, continue to use all forms of violence against the people.
Repression is conducted through a combination of official state legal and police action and also the actions of paramilitary gunmen attacking the people, conducting selective assassinations and mass murder of the poor people fighting for their rights.
The 28th edition of the “Annual Report of Conflicts in the Countryside in Brazil”, published by “Pastoral Land Commission”, CPT, released in April 2013, shows that the murders in the field in 2012, grew by 24% in just one year. At the same time, just the figures for attempted murders have increased 102% in the same period. The highest number of murders was registered in the state of Rondonia, in the Amazon region, Northern Brazil: the number of murders there was four times higher than the previous year. Adding all the conflicts that CPT records – caused by land, water or labour disputes – the total number of conflicts in 2012, is recorded as 1364 incidents.
Two savage massacres – Corumbiara, in 1995, and Eldorado dos Carajas, in 1996, both in Northern Brazil – are examples that demonstrate the significance of the land question and the intensity of the contradictions that shape class struggle in contemporary society in Brazil.
20 years of Luiz Inacio Lula and Dilma Rousseff governments, both from the Workers Party/PT, have not changed this harsh reality. Despite official government data indicating that extreme poverty fell as a result of the state welfare policies and the imposed “Compensatory programs” prescribed by the World Bank (such as the “Bolsa Familia” and the “Brasil Carinhoso” which distributes about $33 a month for some poor mothers) the Brazilian people continue to live under extreme levels of poverty and exploitation and are subjected to the most brutal repression and suppression of any protest or demonstration in defence of their trampled rights.
Such problems have revealed the degree to which chronic economic and social crisis in the country has reached, that is only masked by cosmetic policies, which in turn are supported by exports of commodities generated by cyclical opportunities of international trade. This is a situation that only strengthens the primary sector of the economy, increasing the external dependence of the country and deepening Brazil’s national subjugation to imperialism.
The PT government policy of preference and priority support and funding the so-called “agribusiness”, and to some extent what the so-call “family farms”, advancing permanent ruin, has been the key element that has contributed to the reproduction of bureaucratic capitalism. whereas for this “land reform program” to succeed the state has strengthened and reinforced the crackdown on militant peasant movements. These policies on the one hand, have only led to a decided increase in the value of land, leasing large tracts for the production of commodities, spurring speculation, strengthening the old landlord class; and on the other hand, having criminalized and denounced the struggle for land, taking draconian measures imposing heavy penalties against the peasant movements have also encouraged paid thugs and armed gangs to launch systematic and violent attacks against the peasants.
Deploying the sensationalist media and the monopolistic reactionary press, the government has further advanced the criminalization wider popular struggles in general paving the way for more vicious and violent repression of the militant struggles for land, the peasants, the Maroons (descendants of black slaves’ communities) and other indigenous peoples. With the greater participation of the Federal Police, the National Strength (special police created by the Lula government) and the Brazilian Army, land repossessions and violent evictions have dramatically increased.
Hundreds of incidents of mass arrests, torture and killing of peasants in land conflicts have occur all the time. The cases of the leader-LCP (League of Poor Peasants), Renato Nathan, kidnapped, tortured and murder in cold blood, on April 2012, by the military police in Buritis and the murder of indigenous leader of the Terena people, Oziel Gabriel, killed by federal police in Mato Grosso do Sul amply demonstrates the crimes and atrocities of the state against the people.
Other similar cases demonstrate the extent of the systematic violence against the people. For example, in the state of Mato Grosso, in central Brazil, the trade unionist Maria Lucia, was murdered on 13 August 2014. And on August 16, 2014 the president of the Association of Rural Producers, Nova Uniao and his wife, Ireni da Silva, were assassinated after attending a meeting with the government’s Agrarian Ombudsman, Gersino José da Silva and members of the police.
The same happened with Gilson and Elcio peasant leaders of LCP killed in Buritis, Rondônia. Days after a meeting with the government, with the presence of landlords and their henchmen and the police, they were kidnapped and murdered after undergoing cruel tortures. Some militant peasant leaders who have participated in meetings with the government are identified and murdered days after these meetings.
Today, in Rondônia, the “judiciary” hold in captivity more than 20 farmers from the village of Rio Pardo and Rio Alto as political prisoners! While in the same region, with the support of armed bands led by military police nothing happens to landowners who illegally take possession of public lands.
Popular lawyers who defend the peasants fighting for their rights are also being killed or threatened with death, such as, among others, the case of the killing of Dr Ermogenes Jacinto de Souza.

But despite these cowardly attacks, the struggle for land continues to be organized in different regions of Brazil. The people want land, not repression! The people want rights, not repression! Are the slogans of the peasant families’ in their protests and other demonstrations.
On the other hand, in the midst of this intensification the MST (The Landless Movement), the best known peasant organization in Brazil, abandoned the struggle for land because of its support for the governments of the PT. Its leaders were given high ranking posts in the Ministry of Agrarian Development and INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform). While MST insists in negotiating an ever-delayed land reform with the government, they raise, now, the line of agro ecology. Following their abandonment of the struggle against landlordism, the MST decided the raise the issue that the key problem of the country was the effect of agribusiness dominated by foreign corporations such as Monsanto, Agrosseres, Cargill, etc. A few actions that movement did take was the result of the pressure of the masses and for the most part its leadership is merely buy with bargaining for positions in government.
Thus, the main contradiction in Brazil remains between the millions of poor peasants, landless or peasants with little land, and the handful of billionaires landowners, owners of tracts of land that exceed more than 100,000 hectares, funded and supported by successive governments, with regular acts of forgiveness of their debts to the treasury and other more lucrative perks and incentives!
Clearly, without a radical solution to the problem of land in Brazil, there is no solution to the deep crisis that affects the Brazilian people! The revolutionary peasant movement have raised the banner of agrarian revolution to destroy landlordism – this is the only way to secure land for the poor peasants and to prevent the continued attacks and massacres against the small and medium rural property owners by the landlords and to put an end to the plunder of the people by the government in the service of imperialist interests.
Despite all difficulties, the fight continues! Confronting the oppression of landlordism and the reactionary state, is the heroic mass resistance of the Brazilian peasantry!
The agrarian-peasant question, i.e. the question of land in Brazil continues to be the main problem in the country. Its full resolution is a crucial necessity in order to address all other major national issues. The victory of the agrarian revolution as part of the new democratic revolution is the only democratic path to defeat the bureaucratic path of development that has prevailed in the country for centuries. This is the key issue for the achievement of genuine democracy in Brazil.#
CEBRASPO
Brazilian Centre of Solidarity with the Peoples
cebraspo@gmail.com

11th October 2014

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