[R-G] MST: 'Struggle... irrespective of who wins'
bstoller at utopia2000.org
Wed Oct 2 12:04:42 MDT 2002
AFP. 2 October 2002. Brazil's landless hope elections will bring relief.
SAO PAULO -- Amid the abject poverty of their makeshift camps of
cardboard and plastic sheeting, Brazil's landless peasants hope Sunday's
presidential election will eventually bring relief, preferably in the
shape of land for cultivation.
Brazil which has a population of some 175 million and occupies nearly
half the subcontinent, is Latin America's economic powerhouse.
Poverty however is widespread.
In the Terra Sem Males and Irma Alberta camps, just outside Sao Paulo,
there are no electoral posters or campaign offices, just utter misery.
But the 500 families that survive there have no doubt who their
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the clear favorite to win Sunday's
presidential race, has long been a close ally of the Movement of the
Landless, or MST.
"Lula is the one who can contribute to social reform in Brazil, because
he is aware that that is the best solution for so many Brazilians who
have no land," said Elias Antonio dos Santos.
Dos Santos, whose almost toothless smile belies his 40 years of age,
lived for five years under plastic sheeting by the side of the road
until the government gave him a plot of land.
But, without a penny to his name, he cannot cultivate the land until he
gets some basic assistance to buy seeds and tools.
"What we are doing is peaceful resistance, waiting under the black
plastic for the dream of the land, a long wait with many
disappointments," he said.
Across Brazil, some 150,000 families live in such camps, without
electricity or running water. Few own more than the mattresses they
sleep on and a few cooking utensils.
They live off odd jobs, charity and contributions from former landless
peasants who now have their own plots.
The poorest of the poor, it often appears to be hope that keeps them alive.
"I was an outcast, the MST gave me the possibility to participate in a
project of inclusion (into society)," said Brito, a bearded 49-year-old beggar.
Jose Trindade Miranda recounts how he lost his land in the impoverished
northeast of the country and moved to a Sao Paulo slum, "where reality
is a .38 -- slang for a gun -- drugs, vice and hunger."
He too hopes the next government will adopt the land reform the MST has
been seeking for the past 17 years, and which has become the emblematic
demand of the 52 million Brazilians who live below the poverty threshold.
The four leading presidential candidates have all included social change
in their electoral programs.
"But they have little depth," said MST national coordinator Joao Paulo Rodrigues.
Lula himself has said he was the obvious choice for those pushing for
land reform. "I am the only possibility that there can be a peaceful and
calm agrarian reform, without any need for violence," he said recently.
MST leaders evidently favor Lula over other candidates, though the
movement has warned it would not call upon its members to vote for the
Workers Party leader, and will not offer a truce.
"A period of struggle is being launched, irrespective of who wins the
elections," said Gilmar Mauro, a national leader of the MST.
The MST has achieved its major successes but also conducted its toughest
battles during the past eight years, under President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso, who will hand over to the winner of the upcoming election.
"Cardoso settled 350,000 families in eight years, more than any other
government, but it was also a disaster because 950,000 farmers lost
their properties for lack of investment in small agriculture," said Rodrigues.
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