For Brazil's landless, crisis brings hope

Tue Feb 3, 2009 10:45pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

17TH OF APRIL SETTLEMENT, Brazil (Reuters) - Ozano dos Santos admits to knowing little about the global economic crisis beyond snippets of Brazilian television news and conversations at his small bar. But he senses it can only be a good thing for the movement he calls his "father."

"This will give us more strength," said Santos, who joined the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in the mid-1990s, one of hundreds of thousands to take on a stubborn fight for land that turned 25 years old last month.

At the 17th of April Settlement in the northeastern Amazon state of Para, named after the date of a massacre nearby of 19 MST members by police in 1996, Santos runs his small bar at night and farms his land with about 700 other families.

"We see that the big companies are laying people off and the only thing that can happen is that these workers will enter the movement and seek land," he said.

Santos's view is being echoed by the leadership of the world's biggest agrarian reform movement, who see the crisis as a chance to reinvigorate their battle against big companies they blame for perpetuating inequitable land distribution.

But at 25, the group once described as the world's most important social movement that has won land for hundreds of thousands of Brazil's poorest, is showing signs of middle age.

Some see it as having lost its focus as it has expanded its fight to big corporations and held fast to a Leninist-based ideology that has little broad resonance in Brazil.

Its high hopes that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would hasten land reform have been dashed as government redistributions of land have slowed to a crawl in Lula's second term that started in 2007. It says the former factory worker has increasingly sided with big business and agricultural expansion.   Continued...

<p>Members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) perform during a ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the movement and the massacre of 19 farmers by police on April 17, 1996 at the 17th of April Settlement in the northeastern Amazon state of Para January 26, 2009. REUTERS/Stuart Grudgings</p>