Over the past decade, Brazil's Landless Peasants Movement (known in Portuguese as the MST) has moved more than 350,000 families onto idle farm lands claimed by others, and has put increasing pressure on leftist president Lula da Silva to pass agrarian reforms that would give the lands to the peasants. Meanwhile, large landowners and politicians in Brazil have threatened violent expulsions if the peasants do not leave. And Wall Street banks and the U.S. media have portrayed the movement as a threat to Brazil's creditworthiness and crucial agricultural exports, pressuring Lula to go against a movement he has long supported.
Angus Wright, of the Prairie Writers Circle, says Wall Street's fears are unfounded. "The MST has settled more than 1 million people on more than 20 million acres," he writes. "The settlers enjoy higher living standards, including in schools and health care. Not only are they eating better themselves, they are providing basic food to regional markets." In addition, Wright points out, the MST has abandoned chemical-intensive conventional agriculture, and officially adopted an "agro-ecological model," making it one of the world's largest promoters of organic farming techniques.
Most important of all, the MST has given peasants reason to hope, turning hundreds of thousands from passive victims -- they were once referred to as "the marginalized" and "the vagabonds" -- into active members of society. "Now they are voting and holding political offices," he says. "These people, along with millions of others in Brazil's newly flourishing social movements, are shaping a democracy that is still recovering from years of military dictatorship."
-- Leif Utne
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