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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 04:06 GMT 05:06 UK
Analysis: Fight for land in Brazil
Landless faces the Brazilian police
Police have been used against the landless on several occasions
By Americo Martins of the BBC Brazilian Service

The fight for land in Brazil provides a startling illustration of social inequality.

According to the government, just 2% of farmers own more than half of all arable lands in the country - one of the highest concentrations in the world.

On the other hand, it is estimated that about 25 million landless people have to survive on temporary jobs - most of them working for the big land owners for extremely low wages.

This situation has led to a permanent agrarian conflict in the country, with hundreds of land occupations, public buildings invasions and violence spread across Brazil.


Injured landless
Some demonstrations have ended in violence
From 1991 to 1998 more than 350 people were killed in rural battles for the land, according to the Land Pastoral Commission.

Most of the dead had links either with the Catholic Church or with the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) - a group created in 1985 to keep pressure on the government to speed up its land reform programme.

The MST claims to be the largest and one of the most organised social movements in Latin America, sponsoring primary schools and food co-operatives around Brazil.

"To occupy, to resist, to produce"

The group's main tactic is to invade farms and stay there as long as possible to force the government to redistribute the land to its members.

Inside their camps, the landless operate in a fashion and do whatever they can to make their motto come true: "to occupy, to resist and to produce".

The MST say the government is doing little to help 100,000 families who are camped all around Brazil waiting for a piece of land to live on.

Land reform

However, the government says its has settled more than 287,000 families since 1995 - the highest figures yet.

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has also accused the group on more than one occasion of being "fascist" and breaking the law.

In this wave of protests, the MST has been demanding a public audience with the president and Finance Minister Pedro Malan.

The government, however, has decided not to talk to the landless.

Analysts say the lack of dialogue will only maintain the stand off may delay any solution to the acute problem of land reform in the country.

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See also:

03 May 00 | Americas
Peasants' protest sweeps Brazil
06 Apr 00 | Americas
Brazilian land activist walks free
21 Aug 99 | Americas
Brazilian police trial suspended
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