MST Meeting with Lula

Part I: Letter from Stedile to MST Supporters

Dear Friends,

MST Informes have been made available to you as a way of keeping you informed about the agrarian situation in our country and about some facts that we consider important to share. Like you, another 26 thousand comrades and friends of the MST receive this bulletin.

Today we wish to send this special letter to let you know the contents of the document that the national direction of the MST handed to the Presidency of the republic. They are thoughts aiming at contributing with the Federal Government for the urgent elaboration of a national Plan of Agrarian reform, as determined by law.

The President has constructed his political trajectory defending Land Reform. He has a historical friendship and alliance with the MST. He received us with generosity and friendship, as is customary of a Statesman. But also as a president elected by the MST and by the poorest people in our country. And as part of our historical alliance, he once again put on the MST cap. He must be tired of wearing our cap, one he has been wearing since 1985.

On the other hand, the MST, through its 20 years of existence, has been received since 1984 by elected Presidents Tancredo Neves, José Sarney, Itamar Franco and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, all of them in several legally expelled President Fernando Collor.

So what is the reason for so much aversion of the bourgeois press, the parliamentary right and the farmers?

They lost the elections, but thought that it was all a little game, that they would carry on doing what they pleased to maintain their privileges, as they are managing to do in other areas. And now, they realized Land Reform is not only a historical pledge, but will be a priority of the federal Government.

Now, Land Reform has the support of the society, church, rural workers through all its official bodies, some state governments, and the Federal Government.

On the side of the Land ownership there were only conservative congressmen and governors who are landowners themselves. Worried landowners appealed to three classical weapons:

a) Increase their influence in local judiciary, in which the ties with economic power and landownership are historical.

b) Manipulation through the press in attempting to criminalize the MST and corner the Federal Government. The landowners even managed to move the Senate, calling a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) to investigate the causes of the land occupations. In doing so, the Senate ignored CPI petitions to investigate the corruption and privatization of SIVAM, Teles, Banestado (all of which continue to be ignored).

c) Organization of militias and armed outlaw groups that provocate and carry out all kinds of violent acts. They have even created the First Rural Commando, using the same tricks of organized crime. They have publicly shown their AR-15 guns on television. It is this type of terrorism that the landowners have always used.

This is the situation. But we are certain that Brazilian society is aware of land Reform. And that it will fulfill a fundamental role in this moment of crises of the economic model, of the transition for a new economic model, for a new agricultural model and for the generation of jobs and the solution of hunger and poverty in the rural area.

João Pedro Stédile
Direção Nacional do MST

Part II: MST’S PROPOSALS FOR AGRARIAN REFORM– MST National Leadership Brasília, July 2nd 2003, Presented to President Lula at their meeting



1. To speed the elaboration and implementation of a National Land Reform Plan to benefit the settlement of 1 million families of rural landless workers between 2003 and 2006;

2. Assure the immediate settlement of the 120 thousand families that are in encampments throughout the national territory;

3. To strengthen the INCRA as a body of land reform by providing financial and human resources;

4. To protect the Rural Territorial Tax (ITR) as a complementary tax for the land reform, linked to the Federal Tax office;

5. To determine the expropriation of farms that; do not accomplish a social function, that use slave labor, that are linked to smuggling, that cultivate psychotropic drugs, where labor laws are not complied with, which promote aggression to the environment and squatted public land. To determine that state banks and the INSS make it available immediately to the land reform all mortgage areas with public money


1. To create a special credit program for land reform, in the moulds of PROCERA, without bureaucracy, that will stimulate co-operation, agribusiness, agroecology, and offer conditions to structure the economic and social development of the settled families;

2.To develop a technical assistance program with multidisciplinary teams having one technician as a reference for each 100 families, under the organization of the settled;

3. To implement a program of co-operative agroindustry in settlements of the land reform – refer to proposal annex;

4. To stimulate the implementation of a new technological model, based on organic agriculture, in the multiplication of seeds by farmers and the production of all products (insumos);

5. To assure the conditions for the implementation of the basic infra-structure in all settlements, such as: roads, electricity, housing, basic sanitation, medical service, culture and leisure.


1. To associate land reform to a massive program of education in the countryside;

2. To intensify the campaign to eradicate illiteracy in settlement areas, being necessary to allocate more financial resources to MEC (Ministry of Education and Culture) to do so;

3. To promote a professional skills program for 20 thousand youngsters and adults in the settlement areas and encampments;

4. To strengthen the National Educational Program in the Areas Land Reform (PRONERA) and designate R$30 million in 2003 to do so.


1. To approve a Constitutional Amendment Project transferring to Federal jurisdiction the competence to investigate and sue crimes against human rights

2. To determine the opening of an inquiry by the Federal Police against farmers that use armed militias, incite violence and crime, and keep links with the narcotraffic and the smuggling of weapons;


1. We manifest our position against the liberation for planting and selling of GMOs;

2. We manifest our position against the implementation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and we defend the sovereign integration of all Latin-American and Caribbean countries;

3. We defend a new agricultural model aimed at the generation of jobs, production of food for the internal market, control over the production of our own food, and the appreciation of life in the countryside.


Interview by Claudia Jardim

FOR STEDILE, now Brazil has the chance to defeta the latifundio. The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is willing to make agrarian reform an absolute priority, states João Pedro Stedile, of the National Coordination of the Landless Workers Movement (MST). Together with the other members of the MST leadership, Stedile participated in a meeting with Lula and several of his ministers at the Palácio do Planalto, on July 2. The President received the MST in a very friendly fashion. He put on the cap with the movement’s logo, played with a soccer ball made in the settlements and even offered one of the landless a cookie also produced by the rural workers. It was enough to cause the media, expressing the point of view of the owners of the large estates (latifundios), to artificially provoke a national scandal.

In the interview given to Brasil de Fato, Stedile tells how the meeting went, the main topics discussed and his impressions about the meeting with Lula. An optimist, Stedile believes that Brazil has the historic opportunity to defeat the backward latifundios.

WHO HE IS: João Pedro Stedile is one of the founders of the Movement of Landless Workers (MST) and a member of the National leadership of the movement. He graduated with a degree in Economics from the Catholic Pontifical University (PUC) of Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (RS), and with a graduate degree in Economics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The son of small farmers, Stedile was born in Lagoa Vermelha (RS) on December 26, 1953. Among various struggles, he acted as a member of the Regional Commission of Grape Producers, of the Syndicates of Rural Workers of Rio Grande do Sul, assisted the Pastoral Commission on Land in Rio Grande do Sul and, at the national level, worked in the Agriculture Department of the State Government of Rio Grande do Sul. Since 1979, he has participated in the struggles for land reform in Rio Grande do Sul and in Brazil.

Stedile is the author of various books: Assentamentos: Uma Resposta Econômica da Reforma Agrária , A Luta pela Terra no Brasil (published also in Italian ‘ Senza Terra ), A Questão Agrária Hoje ‘ 7th edition, Questão Agrária no Brasil , A Reforma Agrária e a Luta do MST , Brava Gente ‘ the history of the MST and of the struggle for land in Brazil (also published in Spanish by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo publishing house). He has been interviewed by practically all the national newspapers and magazines and has written countless essays and articles about the agrarian question, published in Brazil and abroad.

INTERVIEW: Brasil de Fato (BF)  The leadership of the MST was with President Lula to discuss the agrarian reform situation in the country. How did the movement evaluate this meeting?

João Pedro Stedile (Stedile)  The meeting was very important and positive, because it allowed a joint evaluation of the historic opportunity that we have to implement agrarian reform. There is a common understanding in the government and in the social movements that there exists a correlation of favorable forces to defeat the backward latifundios. The government is willing to make agrarian reform a priority in the second half of their first year in office, including making a self-criticism that in the first six months it was only worried about the farm policy (the Harvest Plan) and straightening up the house. The positive signal of the meeting was clear enough that the backward latifundio and its representatives in the press and the parliament immediately reacted in their typical fashion.

BF  What were the main demands presented by the MST? What commitment did Lula make?

Stedile  The MST did not bring a list of demands. We brought a document with reflections on what we consider necessary for true agrarian reform. We showed that it was necessary to have a massive process, that is to say to serve the millions of poor in the rural area and that agrarian reform must be wed to agro-industry, technical assistance, and education in the countryside. And instead of making exports and agro-business a priority, we need a new model that prioritizes the production of food, the internal market, the creation of jobs and the distribution of income. That is the essence of our document. At the Planalto, there was discussion and dialog, not a list of demands. We noted a great convergence of ideas, which is the fruit of historical commitments of the parties of the left that are in the government, of the person of the president himself, and the accumulation of social movements.

BF  In what way does the president intend to make agrarian reform a priority? Were any schedules established to meet the goals of the National Plan for Agrarian Reform (PNRA)?

Stedile  First of all, the government is going to mobilize various ministries, not only the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA). Secondly, an inter-ministerial group was set up to make a concrete survey of how many public lands and lands that are mortgaged with public agencies can be mobilized immediately. Thirdly, a pledge to restructure the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), with the human and financial resources that are necessary. We presented the idea that it is possible in four years for the government to settle at least a million families.

The government prefers to work with a political goal, to make a massive agrarian reform of high quality. All of this is going to depend on the capacity of the social movements and the correlation of forces. If we can, we are going to win a million. And the government pledged to prepare in the coming weeks a national plan for agrarian reform, that takes into account all the ideas that we presented. It will be the main tool for a large program for creating jobs in the country.

BF  What is the new model for settlements presented by the MST? In what way do they differ from the earlier model? How did the president evaluate this new project?

Stedile  It’s difficult to speak of a model. We presented historical ideas, accumulated over the years by the MST, the social movements and the intellectuals who understand agrarian reform. We cannot simply distribute individual lots, but work from the perspective of smaller lots and organize cooperation in farm production. To work from the perspective of bringing the houses together into agro-villas, to urbanize the community nucleus to facilitate access to public services like water, electricity, and schools. To combine this with technical assistance in which the technicians live in the settlements. To develop agro-industry, as a form of improving income and creating jobs for young people in the rural areas. To wed this to a big process of schooling, with adequate education. Finally, to build a new technological model, based on organic agriculture and not agro-toxins.

BF  One of the problems of the farmers in the settlements is the lack of credit for production. In some regions farm production is responsible for supplying food for various towns. How were these aspects evaluated by the President?

Stedile  In the first place, there is an emergency aspect which was solved. The president signed a decree that authorizes the National Supply Company (CONAB) to make the anticipated purchases and the direct purchases of the products of the settlements in the whole country. R$ 400 million of the Ministry of the Zero Hunger campaign was freed up. This is a great win, because it guarantees the purchase, on the part of the government, and at market prices, of all that the settlement produces. So the purchases are no longer in the hands of profiteers. On the other hand, since these are the resources of Zero Hunger, the idea is that CONAB passes these products on to the town officials and the schools in the towns for the needs of the poor. Besides this, the settlements that are more established will have access to the resources provided in the National Program to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF), in the Harvest Plan.

Here the question is to guarantee that the bank bureaucracy is dismantled. And they are guaranteeing us that there is a group working on this dismantling of the bureaucracy, especially the Bank of the Northeast and the Bank of Amazonia (BASA). We also presented the proposal to recreate a new program of credit specially for the settlements, along the lines of the Program of Special Credit for Agrarian Reform (PROCERA). Or else inside the PRONAF program, to have a special mode, free of bureaucracy, that is adequate for the precarious situation of the families that are arriving on the land. We are going to form a work group with the MDA and INCRA to put forward this proposal. Finally, there is the commitment of the government to immediately free up resources for an agro-industry program that we have in the settlements.

BF  In the last few months, violence in the fields has been incited. The formation of organized militias by the latifundio owners to contain the landless has been widely publicized by the press. How did the President evaluate this scenario?

Stedile  This topic did not come up in the discussion. Our evaluation is that there are two sides to this. There is a lot of bluffing by these owners of the latifundios, who are interested in creating a climate of false tension in the fields, to frighten the government and the public. But there are also radical sectors of landowners, generally near the border, that create their own armed militias, security companies, and hire gunmen; they are linked to the huge cattle farms that traffic in contraband with heavy arms. But these groups are few, insignificant, and do not have support from the most representative organizations of ranchers. For these sectors, there is only one path: the Federal Police must open an inquiry and arrest the criminals. The Minister of Justice guaranteed that he is going to put the Federal Police on the case of these marginal groups.

BF  Is the posture of the latifundio owners caused by the increase in occupations that the MST has been carrying out?

Stedile  No. First of all, these backward latifundio owners arm themselves and create agitation every time they perceive that society and the government are advancing to really combat the latifundio. Second, the land occupations occur as result of a huge contradiction that exists: on one hand the huge areas of unproductive land; on the other hand the millions of landless families. The former government spent four years repressing the struggle for land and this created a pent-up social demand that is now erupting. Moreover, the agro-business model is perverse.

The more that the production of soy increases, or grains and exports, this only enriches a minority of farmers. Finally because the poor in the rural areas became aware that the correlation of forces to win agrarian reform has improved.

BF  After the meeting with Lula, does the MST intend to offer a truce?

Stedile  The press, with their right-wing editors, introduced the word truce into the question of agrarian reform. A truce exists when there is a war. In our case, there is no war. We have the people on our side, the government and the social movements, all wanting to apply the Constitution that specifies that every unproductive latifundio must be returned to society to create work and production. The President knows that all the social changes depend on social struggles. The actions of the MST are legal. An agreement of the Supreme Court (STF) some years ago ruled that the occupation of the lands as a form of pressure for agrarian reform is a legal, legitimate form for the people to seek agrarian reform A demonstration in a public building or on a highway can be considered abusive (although not illegal).

But all the demonstrations are temporary, done only to call attention. The right-wing press is the one who classifies these occupations of public buildings. The worst occupation of a public space is when a private corporation appropriates the roads and charges tolls, or when ranchers rob public lands or when dishonest businessmen take power over state enterprises with the money from the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES). We have the pledge of the Minister that the Federal Police are going to open an inquiry against the fascist ranchers who are arming themselves. For the MST, what interests us is peaceful agrarian reform.

BF  How did the president evaluate the issue of GMOs in the country?

Stedile  The president revealed that 90% of his government is against GMOs and that he personally is against them. But he recognizes that the subject is more complex and polemical and that the government needs to consult the people as a whole and the scientific community, so that new legislation can suit the reality.

BF  A multi-party commission in the Congress is drawing up a law on GMOs. What does the government think of this?

Stedile  The government created an inter-ministerial work group, and the Ministry of Science and Technology is preparing the consultations and a first report. The Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) was charged with organizing the debate in society as a whole. There are government sectors, in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Brazilian Company for Farming Research (EMPRAPA) who want GMOs. But we warned that Monsanto has the world-wide patent on genetically-modified soy, that the Brazilian market is the only salvation for Monsanto. And if the government freed the soy, Monsanto would receive around $500 million from our people. The government assured us that they would pay attention to the interests of Monsanto and that they are not going to tolerate a monopoly and nothing should harm the interests of Brazilian farmers. We still said that the government should not hurry to pass a new law about GMOs. That well or badly, the current legislation handles it. That we must let all the farmers know that planting genetically-modified seeds is expressly prohibited, and that every supermarket needs to label products that have GMOs.

BF  After the meeting with Lula, the congressional bloc from the rural area and the Brazilian elites became furious. What does this reaction mean?

Stedile  The symbolism of the meeting showed that there is a new correlation of forces uniting the government, the parties of the left, the social movements, the churches and the people. The latifundio stood alone. Thus to defend their privileges, they used their classic arms: lobbying their congressmen, and inciting their big newspapers, little newspapers and television stations to attack. The ranchers decided to show their arms, trying to provoke the government.

BF  The result was the request for the opening of a Parliamentary Inquiry (CPI), approved in the Senate, to investigate the MST. What does the opening of this CPI represent for the MST?

Stedile  In less than 12 hours, they tried to create a CPI — it’s a record in the history of the Brazilian legislature. To tell you the truth, it’s a way to put pressure on the government and bring out other interests. We are not afraid of the CPI. We are going to use it to explain why the latifundio exists, and why there are landless, slave work, etc.

We are going to find out how many ranches each senator has, among those who will be investigating. Our role is to organize the poor in the rural area to struggle against inequality and for the right to land. The MST is almost 20 years old, the people know us. They know that the problems in Brazil are the latifundio, poverty, and inequality. The elites will never permit the poor and the exploited to organize themselves. Even Lula, at the time of the early strikes, was denounced and arrested.

The elites, as the great Florestan Fernandes taught, always act in the same way. They try to divide us and then to co-opt us. And if they don’t succeed, they move to repression, criminalization, and isolation. But we are certain that the Brazilian people and the poor support and want agrarian reform.

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