MST Interview


Gazeta Mercantil – Why is the MST starting a new series of actions?

João Pedro Stédile – Unfortunately, after two years of the government of president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the agrarian reform continues at a snail’s pace. One of the reasons for this slowness is the incompatibility between the neoliberal economic policies of the government – which concentrates wealth, does not generate jobs and only gives priority to exports – and the agrarian reform, which is the antagonism of all that, because it distributes income, generates jobs and develops the local economy. Before this scenario, the MST is discussing with other social movements to organize mobilizations in 2005 against the economic policies and in favor of a new development project for the country, the only way to make the agrarian reform feasible. We will discuss with society, organize large marches and we will go to Brasilia to pressure the government.

GM –Will there be land occupation?

Stédile –As long as there is unproductive latifúndio on one side and large numbers of jobless poor on the other, you don’t need the MST or anyone’s advice to organize occupation. The contradiction resolves itself naturally, because landless workers realize that the only way forward for their immediate problem is to occupy unproductive farms. The MST will encourage that, because it is a demonstration of workers organization. But the core of our struggle is for economic policy change and the debate for a new development project for Brazil. We will organize a march in April demanding the increase of the minimum wage, because we are not happy with R$300.00 [roughly US$100] – and don’t come to tell me that the MST has nothing to do with that. The minimum wage is essential for income distribution, without it, family agriculture and the agrarian reform are not feasible.

GM – Is the goal of the agrarian reform only settling families?

Stédile – Not at all. Brazil has not been through an agrarian reform policy, because along its 500 years; during the last 20 years and in the eight years of the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso [FHC] the concentration of land has been maintained. In the 20 years of the MST, and with all the struggle that we have had along with other rural social movements, we have settled 580 thousand families, 350 thousand of those during the eight years of Fernando Henrique’s government. But the evaluation of FHC’s government is negative because if we achieved the expropriation of 16 million hectares of land for 350 thousand families, in the same period due to other policies of property concentration, through buying land from their neighbors or the appropriation of public land, large land owners have accumulated more than 70 million hectares in their patrimony.

GM – And with Lula?

Stédile – The analyses of the two years of the government Lula is pessimistic. They have settled 60 thousand families, and even that was reached by touching up data, it was actually much less than FHC did, who in the last years of his government settled 60 thousand families a year.

GM – What is the goal of president Lula?

Stédile – Since the government Lula took office, we were absolutely certain about his favorable position towards the agrarian reform. He is our ally and, because of that, we decided that our main struggle in this context is against the latifundio; we organized camps of landless workers on road sides, in order to pressure the government with the help of public opinion, but at the same time protecting the government from cirectcriticism. Now, along with other movement , we have more than 200 thousand families camped and we pressure the government to complete the National Plan for the Agrarian Reform, as it is determined by the Land Statue Bill, we cannot expropriate an area here and another one over there without planning and say that this is agrarian reform

GM – What is agrarian reform?

Stédile – Agrarian Reform is a planned public action from the State that directs public policies towards breaking the structure of land concentration and to distribute land. The agrarian reform is not an end in itself, but an instrument to reach the goal of income distribution, to generate jobs and to activate the economy of the countryside. To meet these three objectives, land is distributed, because by doing that idle areas are then incorporated to production, making it possible for landless workers to have a piece of land to plant, to have the agro-industry in the settlements do develop their products and to leave poverty behind. But it all depends on a strategic plan of the State to determine priority areas; the products that it will give incentives in the internal market; the credit line available for people in settlements and how much it will be allocate to pay for expropriations. After we spent ten months drafting the National Plan for the Agrarian reform, Lula’s government just put it in a drawer, because the Finance Minister, Antonio Palocci and his team wanted to follow the neoliberal policy of FHC, to expropriate land as a social compensation and to allocate resources that would only settle 80 thousand families until 2006. But, the team of professor Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, along with technicians from the Research Institute of Applied Economics [IPEA], the Ministry of Agrarian Reform and Universities developed a study and proved that there are enough resources to settle 1 million families in four years. Therefore, as we said in Rio Grande do Sul, president Lula is cornered between settling 80 thousand families in the neoliberal plan or settling 1 million families using a new development project. In 2003 we organized a march from Goiânia to Brasilia, to pressure the government and, on November 21st, he went personally to tell the 5 thousand workers who arrived walking to the federal capital that the government would do the agrarian reform – it would not be 80 thousand, nor 1 million families, but he agreed to settle 430 thousand families from 2004 to 2006. This is the social contract and the moral debt that Lula has with the MST, with the national Confederation of Agriculture Workers [Contag] and with social movements.

GM – Is the agreement going forward?

Stédile – January 2004 went by and the government did noting. In February it ended up involved in the Waldomiro Diniz episode and was immobilized. Then, during the mobilization of “red April”, we occupied 127 farms in the country to get the attention of the government; and president Lula, scarred with the inefficiency of his administration, signed another contract with us, which guaranteed that there would be enough resources to settle the 430 thousand families and announced the liberalization of R$1.7 billion reais for the agrarian reform in 2004. We went home happy again, but the neoliberal economic policy deepened, the interest rate increased in such way that from August to November, the government had an extra expense of R4 billion reais only with the raise o the Selic index, from 16% to 17.5%. And the estimated R$1,7 billion for the agrarian reform shrunk to R$ 600 million reais. It looks like they released another R$300 million, at the end of the year so we ended 2004 spending R$900 million maximum. There was not enough money because the resources had to pay for the interest of the public debt, the government Lula owes us, and if it continues that way, it will not honor its commitment. GM -Why?

Stédile – Because the conservative sector of the government, represented by the minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, and by the minister of Industry and Trade, Luiz Fernando Furlan, support to give exclusively priority to the agro-business. They have created the illusion that the free trade agreements, in negotiation with the European Union and with the United States, via FTAA, would open an immeasurable market for Brazilian agricultural exports. As in 2003 we had exceptional agricultural prices, the agro-business concluded that the perspectives for Brazilian exports were endless and started to dispute with us the agrarian reform. But we did not want to fight with the agro-business, because our main target is the unproductive and idle latifundios, still keeping 130 million hectares of land outside of the market. As we pressured the government to expropriate those areas, the agro-business came in their defense. In the recent slaughter of landless workers in Felisburgo, Minas Gerais, when the “little murderous farmer”, Adriano Chafic, only 37 years old, hired 15 gun man and on a Saturday, at lunch time, under the burning sun, went there with his hired man and shot against our comrades who were camped on a public area killing 5 people and leaving 13 landless workers wounded, the latifunfiários, The National Confederation of Agriculture [CCNA] and the Ruralist Democratic Union]UDR] did not come on his defense. They were quiet, embarrassed. Who came publicly to defend the murderous farmer was Mr. Roberto Rodrigues and he said on TV news: “I think it is only natural the reaction of the farmer, because he has the right to use weapons to defend his property.” Now, besides the false rhetoric of the minister, what is behind it is that the so called modern agro-business, imagining that the international market would be on an endless growth, assessed that, to expand its foreign sales, it would have to expand its economic frontier over the outdated latifundio if the government expropriated unproductive land it would create a barrier. They decided to strike the landless workers, to stop the agrarian reform and keep the latifundio as a kind of reserve area for the expansion of their businesses.

GM – Considering the foreign difficulties of the agro-business isn’t it pointless to have a value reserve with unproductive land?

Stédile – I think God is Brazilian. And when God does not work, because of sleep, then dialectics do and luckily it saved us. The ufanism of the agro-business was contested by the actual contradictions of capitalist development, the international prices for agricultural products dropped, because the natural trend is a drop in the prices of commodities. Besides, some of them must have woken up, when they were about to sign a free trade agreement between Mercosul and the European Union in October 2004, and even giving away everything, they heard the Europeans say: “We are happy that there is no tax or tariff, but we will reduce by 100 tons a year the beef we buy.” There is no expansion for the European and North American agricultural market for sugar, orange,, coffee and even animal protein, because they already eat too much. The market trend for the high income consumer is to migrate to other kinds of products, because the problem of the rich is not hunger, is obesity. Brazil is a large market for the expansion of food, we have 80 million Brazilians who do not eat well, go hungry or are malnourished. The analyses show that there are 80 million Brazilians that do no eat properly. The first thing when the minimum wage goes up, are the queues in supermarkets, bakeries, butchers. Obviously our market would only grow with a national development project that distributes income and increases the minimum wage from R$260.00 to R$520.00 reais, as Lula promised during his campaign.

GM – Is the agrarian reform still not moving ?

Stédile –No, it is not moving for many reasons. The Brazilian State is conservative and it has been organized for 500 years to be the milk cow of the rich, who accumulate illicit gains from public money. Even being managed by a president committed with a left party, the State cannot meet the demands of the poor, cannot hire agronomists to work with the people in settlements, Incra [National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform] does not work and Conab [National Supply Company] does not even have a truck to buy the production from our settlements. However, the main reason why the agrarian reform is not moving, is because the economic team of Palocci continues applying neo-liberal policies that are only interesting to bankers and the export transnationals. It has been criticized by economists ranging from Delfim Netto and even professor Carlos Eduardo Carvalho, because it concentrates income and only generates an economy aimed at foreign trade, with no repercussion in the internal market. The export dollars do not come back to the economy, they go to pay the foreign debt and do not create a dynamic in the local market. In the county of Goiás (GO) the largest exporter of cotton in Brazil, the population is poor and the town with 15 thousand people has turned into a large slum, because the income of the cotton does not return to the town. For all that, we are raising our tone and we are saying to president Lula that, if he does not change the economic policy, the agrarian reform will not be feasible and there will not be income distribution. The economy might even grow, but it will not develop the country in the sense of a wealth that benefits the majority of society.

GM – Even being a capitalist agrarian reform, because it distributes and strengthens private property, the agrarian reform is still not feasible in Brazil?

Stédile – The agrarian reform has always been the republican flag since the French Revolution, in 1789, its objective is to radicalize democracy and the republican State has to guarantee land to anyone who wish to work the land. But as Darcy Ribeiro said, in the 500 years of our civilization the Brazilian elite has never wanted to develop the agrarian reform and preferred a dependent development model. Even during the Getulio Vargas period, the national developmentism created a dependent industrialization, as Florestan Fernandes has explained, because the industrialization of the country was dependent on foreign capital and it created an industry for a limited internal market of a middle class minority.

GM – Is the Brazilian market very restricted?

Stédile – The production of machinery is the most pathetic example. Now, they are bragging about the agro-business, that it is modern savior of the economy, but with all the vigor, and with the agricultural prices way high, the national industry only sold 36 thousand units, the other 30 thousand had to be exported. That is happening because since the beginning we have implemented a model of industrialization that does not develop the country, just a few rich become richer and income distributed. That is the reason why the MST, in spite of the many who call us radical, is only a republican movement. We are not a socialist movement, strictly speaking. We want changes and we are radical in the sense of going to the route of the problem, but do not assume that we are communists and eat little children. The agrarian reform is only a republican flag to develop our country, so that everyone can have work, a house, education and an income to feed themselves. We hope that the good bourgeois, the nationalist bourgeois who think about Brazil and GM has given voice to some of them, we hope that they come to terms with the fact that it is possible to build a democratic society in where all Brazilians have their fundamental rights guaranteed: work, school, house and bread. After all, there is a bourgeois social class formed by Brazilian capitalists and the way forward at this stage of Brazilian History is to make alliances between the social impoverished sectors, but organized, with the good bourgeois who are interested in developing the Nation.

GM – What is the industry sector for this alliance?

Stédile – There are several industrialists who think about a Project for Brazil. Even Antonio Ermírio de Moraes thinks about Brazil, at least he must remember his father. I was very impressed with the recent interview by professor Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira for GM. I have discussed with Fundação Semco, from Ricardo Semler (from Semco company, Ricardo Semler wrote “Turning one’s own Table”) and it has now merged with DNA Brazil Foundation, and I noticed that there are Brazilian entrepreneurs aware about Brazil. I am glad to see Iedi [Institute of Studies for Industrial Development] recovering the original ideas of Roberto Simonsen about the struggle for a Brazilian industry. I have given talks at the Brazilian Association of Trade and I have noticed a Brazilian feeling among small entrepreneurs and traders.

GM – Why part of the media demonizes the MST?

Stédile – Great part of the mainstream media is a social and political problem for Brazilian society, because they belong to economic groups that have always used the media only to make money, when the actual Brazilian constitution states that they should be a public service to society. Some became rich, such as Roberto Marinho, who in thirty years developed one of the largest fortunes in the world. Rede Globo, started during the military dictatorship, and Roberto Marinho is a product of social surplus value which the state transferred to him as a kind of payment for the “good job rendered” and allowed him to create a financial empire. In Europe there are restrictions to avoid media monopoly and to guarantee more democratic information. But in Brazil it is the opposite, the monopoly grows and so does the articulation among them. They put down the MST and we have to accept it. But the agrarian reform will not be solved in the media. There are other contradictions, they can continue putting down the MST as much as they want and the movement will not lose anything because of that, not even our cause will be less just because of their opinion. GM – Part of the media also identifies the MST’s proposal for the agrarian reform, as being outdated, not modern…

Stédile – They are outdated; they are ignorant and do not know what agrarian reform is. Our agrarian reform incorporates technology and any document of the MST we have never defended an agrarian reform from last century, because it was designed for that period, it only divided land, the last one was actually the Japanese one, and was implemented by the American army, in 1946. Now, if you only divide the land you do not remove peasants from poverty and do not include them in society. That is why, in the present stage of the development of the productive forces, we struggle for a new kind of agrarian reform that will divide the land to build new production and social relations, but that also divides capital. To divide capital is not to get Antonio Ermírio de Moraes’ companies and split them. But rather, to divide the accumulation of surplus value, which is concentrated by the state and belongs to all, and which now goes back to the banks concentrated. Social capital which is in the State also has to get to peasants, as credit, for production and for co-ops, and above all for the installation of agro-industry. Which is the symbol of the agrarian reform. Our proposal is to take the agro-industry to the countryside to supply its own market and leave behind this stupid concentration. We also have to devide education, because knowledge liberates people. In the 19th century, Emiliano Zapata led the agrarian reform in Mexico with the illiterate, we can’t do that now. We must distribute information, because, now, to develop the productive forces in agriculture, you must have knowledge, it can’t be done with the bull and the hoe

GM – Doesn’t the export industrialized goods generate foreign exchange for the country?

Stédile – We are obviously interested in exporting industrial goods with added value, Embraer does that. But we must avoid exporting agricultural goods and raw material without any added value. It is the case of ore, for instance, we only remove dirt from it, and sell it to the Chinese for US$30.00 a ton. When it gets to China it is worth US130.00. That is stupid, we cannot afford throwing away so many valuable natural resources which could be used to develop the country, produce equality and social well being. I recommend for the bourgeoisie to take some classes with Delfin Neto and to study John Maynard Keynes again, because he said that the essence of economy, in order to guarantee the sovereignty of a country, is to organize production to meet first of all the needs of its people. Keynes warned us that institutions such as those from the Bretton Woods agreement would only carry the wealth of the world to the United States. And he was right, they have the largest public and commercial deficit in the world, and we must work to support them. The bourgeoisie must read Joseph Schumpeter, and I am only mentioning the team of enlightened capitalists. They do not have to come to study the Marxists, we study them too. 03/01/2005

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