The Land is Our Mother: Brazil's Landless Workers' MovementIn existence for only 18 years, the Landless Workers Movement, known by their Portuguese acronym, MST, has settled over 300,000 rural workers on land where they can produce food for their families and their communities. Noam Chomsky has called the MST the most exciting popular movement in the world today.
by Charlotte Casey
During the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January, I saw the slogan The Land is Our Mother chalked on a blackboard in a small dirt-floored community room in an encampment of about 100 peasant families. They were part of Brazils Landless Workers Movement and had been waiting for two years to move onto land that bordered their encampmentland they optimistically named Promised Land.
In existence for only 18 years, the Landless Workers Movement, known by their Portuguese acronym, MST, has settled over 300,000 rural workers on land where they can produce food for their families and their communities. Noam Chomsky has called the MST the most exciting popular movement in the world today.
Brazil has the second highest concentration of land ownership in the world and huge tracts of land lay idle. The MST takes advantage of a clause in the Brazilian constitution that requires land to be productive. They advocate agrarian reform but do not wait for it to be granted by the government. They organize landless peasants to occupy large tracts of privately held land and then lawyers begin the legal negotiations required to gain title to the land.
Members of the Landless Workers Movement sing their anthem under a giant fig tree. (photo: Charlotte Casey)
Motivated by their slogan Occupy, Resist, Produce, families in the encampments and settlements have found, however, that the legal battle is just a small part of the struggle for land. Violence carried out by forces opposed to agrarian reform has resulted in thousands of assassinations, death threats, and imprisonments.
Political education is key to their organizing efforts, helping rural workers understand Brazilian reality and see that land in itself does not free them from exploitation. The MST organizes settlement families to pressure the government for schooling, health care, access to credit to support farm production, and other necessities.
Rural workers also learn to oppose agricultural policies like genetically modified crops and patenting of seeds that benefit the bottom line for giant agribusinesses like Monsanto, but are ruinous to small farmers and do nothing to eliminate hunger in Brazil.
The Landless Workers Movement also emphasizes spiritual values, especially ones that speak to the importance of land and the natural environment.
Our Commitments to Land and Life
Brazils Landless Workers Movement principles, posted in every settlement and encampment:
To love and preserve the land and the creatures of nature.
To improve our understanding of nature and agriculture.
To produce food and wipe out hunger. To avoid monocultures and the use of agricultural poisons.
To preserve living plants and to reforest new areas.
To care for springs, rivers, ponds, and lakes. To struggle against the privatization of water.
To beautify the settlements and communities, planting flowers, medicinal plants, vegetables, and trees.
To adequately handle waste and combat any practice that will contaminate or abuse the environment.
To practice solidarity and fight injustices and aggression toward people, communities, or nature.
To struggle against land concentration so that all may have land, bread, education, and freedom.
To never sell the land that we have attained. Land is an absolute good for future generations.
Guitar lesson at a Landless Workers Movement encampment near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (photo: Charlotte Casey)
A young Brazilian musician (photo: Charlotte Casey)
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