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BRAZIL: Farmers Demand Agrarian Reform

by Mario OsavaInter Press Service
April 17th, 2001

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Demonstrators in dozens of cities throughout Brazil and around the world marked International Day of Farmers' Struggle on Tuesday, protesting police massacres of rural workers, genetically modified seeds, and agricultural trade that jeopardises food security.

In one major mobilisation, some 2,000 landless peasants and small farmers blocked the international bridge in the border city of Uruguaiana, in southern Brazil, to halt imports of farm products from Argentina.

Brazilian farmers are forced to sell their maize at prices 25 percent less than production costs, or they have to store it, because of the heavy volume of the same grain imported during the local harvest season, complained the protesters, who say they intend to hold the bridge for three days.

In Carazinho, 450 km northeast of Uruguaiana, another thousand people - mobilised by the powerful Movimento dos Sem Terra (MST - landless workers' movement) - gathered outside a dairy processing plant of the Italian transnational Parmalat, preventing the firm's administrators from entering the site.

MST targeted Parmalat as one of the corporations favoured by the Brazilian government's agricultural policy.

One demonstrator explained that a dairy farmer in southern Brazil today receives 20 percent less per litre of milk produced than in 1994, while the price has more than doubled for consumers.

Parmalat and its Swiss counterpart, Nestle, pay just 15 cents on the dollar for every litre of milk produced in the developing South, compared to the 48 cents per litre paid to European farmers, but their prices are nearly the same in supermarkets everywhere, pointed out Joao Pedro Stdile, an MST leader.

The protests on this ''day of the farmer'' aim to denounce cheap food imports, which hurt the domestic agricultural sector, to defend sovereign policies on food security and to condemn agricultural commerce regulated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The peasant farmers and rural workers want to abolish the WTO rules that, for example, force developing countries to import up to five percent of their domestic consumption of agricultural products.

Farm production destined for export, a dynamic required by the globalisation process and adopted by the Brazilian government, ''only benefits the big producers'' and harms small farmers and agrarian reform, charged Gilmar Mauro, another MST leader, as he led protests in Sao Paulo.

Protesters threw rocks, eggs and tomatoes at a McDonald's restaurant - another symbol of the neoliberal globalisation process - in Campo Grande, a capital in Brazil's central-west, where an estimated 3,000 activists gathered, including rural workers from neighbouring Paraguay.

MST reports indicate that peasant farmers and rural workers in dozens of countries took part in demonstrations Tuesday promoted by 'Va Campesina,' a movement founded in 1993 that unites more than 80 peasant and farm organisations.

In Europe, protests focussed on genetically modified seeds, but also served to express solidarity with agrarian reform movements in developing countries and to condemn violence against peasant farmers.

April 17 was chosen as International Day of Farmers' Struggle because it was on this date in 1996 that police assassinated 19 landless rural workers during a protest in Eldorado do Carajs, in northern Brazil.

Of the 19 victims, 13 were killed with hatchets and scythes after having their hands tied, according to the MST, which organised that fateful march.

Now, five years later, peasant protests throughout the state of Par, where Eldorado do Carajs is located, condemned the fact that not one of the 154 military police who participated in the massacre has been brought to justice.

One case did reach the courts in 1999, absolving the three commanders of the operation, but the trial was annulled due to a series of irregularities in the proceedings.

Landless peasants in southern Brazil, who have lived in encampments for the last several years as they await the implementation of agrarian reforms, blocked numerous roads for 19 minutes - to commemorate the 19 people killed in Eldorado do Carajs.

The protests throughout the country were mostly peaceful, and did not involve the takeover of government offices, as officials had feared. In some states, such as Mato Grosso do Sul, demonstrations in the cities were preceded by weeks-long marches through rural areas and smaller towns.

The impact of this ''day of the farmer'' on the international arena was quite limited, despite the numerous events in Brazil, and indicates that turning April 17 into a date as powerful as May Day (International Labour Day), or March 8 (International Women's Day), will require a great deal of mobilisation and coordination of the rural workers' movements around the world.

It is a date created 110 years after International Labour Day - a tribute to industrial workers - and is intended as a response to the neoliberal globalisation process that threatens to eliminate small farm production, according to organisers.

But the efforts to consolidate April 17 as International Day of Farmers' Struggle occur at a time when the world's rural population has been greatly reduced, except in some areas of Asia and Africa.

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