May 25, 2016 / 2:38 PM / 2 years ago

Brazil farm workers movement promises new wave of land occupations

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One of Latin America’s largest activist groups has promised a new wave of farm occupations in Brazil following President Dilma Rousseff’s suspension to stand trial in the Senate, an official with the Landless Workers Movement (MST) said.

The movement, a long-time ally of Rousseff’s Workers Party which says it has two million members across Brazil, will target “idle” farm land owned by members of the interim government and its backers, MST spokeswoman Marina do Santos said on Tuesday.

“We will intensify our occupations of unused land,” Santos told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

“There are many (government) ministers who own unused lands that should be distributed to the people. We have five million families in Brazil who don’t have access to land.”

Interim President Michel Temer replaced Rousseff earlier this month after she was suspended to face a Senate trial over irregularities in her government’s budget.

Santos would not say which members of Temer’s administration would be targeted or exactly when the new round of occupations would begin.

The MST said Rousseff’s impeachment amounted to a “coup” by conservative politicians in South America’s largest country.

The new government says it wants to kick-start economic growth in the recession-hit country while maintaining many of the social programs initiated by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.

Across Brazil, Santos said 160,000 families are currently involved in MST-backed land occupations on idle or under-used territory which they want distributed to small farmers.

The MST organizes landless people to occupy unused farms with the hope of gaining formal ownership and the ability to produce food.

With one of the highest rates of inequality in the world, one percent of Brazil’s population owns 45 percent of all the country’s land, according to a U.S. government report.

Since the fall of Brazil’s military dictatorship and the initiation of a new constitution in 1988, the MST says it has helped secure land rights for 450,000 rural families through occupations.

However, critics of the group say its tactics amount to a form of organized theft and an attack on property rights.

Large plantations producing soy, ethanol and other commercial crops play a key role in driving economic growth and exports for Brazil.

The interim government and economic analysts say expanding the agricultural sector and exports will aid Brazil’s economic recovery, creating jobs for the rural poor.

Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Paola Totaro.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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