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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January, 2005, 08:42 GMT
Modest gain in Brazil land reform
By Steve Kingstone
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Squatters on vacant lots of land in Sao Paulo
Campaigners threaten to move on to "disused" land
Brazil's government has claimed modest success in its policy of redistributing rural land to those in need.

New statistics show that 81,000 families were resettled in 2004 on land acquired by the state - a figure well short of the government's own target.

Land reform campaigners have expected much from the left-leaning president who took office two years ago.

But some, frustrated by the pace of change, are threatening to take matters into their own hands.

Redress balance

The land issue is as old as Brazil itself.

By royal authority, the earliest Portuguese settlers were granted vast estates. Today, nearly half of all farmland is owned by just 1% of the population.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva promised to redress the balance by buying up huge tracts of disused land and redistributing it to poor families with no home of their own.

His government says 81,000 families were resettled last year.

The total is the third highest on record, but it is below the president's target of 115,000 resettlements.

Impatient with the government, Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (MST) is said to be planning a new wave of illegal occupations.

In the past, its members have moved on to agricultural land which they say is disused, sometimes leading to violent conflict with farmers.

It has been reported that Lula has ordered behind-the-scenes negotiations with the MST to avert such a scenario.

For 2005, his government has pledged $1.3bn towards resettlement - an increase of a third on last year's budget.

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