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Brazil poor occupy farms hoping for help

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Brazil poor occupy farms hoping for Lula's help
05 Apr 2005 18:52:03 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Axel Bugge

BRASILIA, Brazil, April 5 (Reuters) - Brazil's rural poor have taken over a dozen farms in a new wave of occupations they see as their last chance to push the government to speed up land reform before elections in 2006.

The Landless Workers Movement, or MST, Brazil's biggest group fighting for redistribution of farm land in one of the world's most unequal societies, has launched 12 occupations involving nearly 5,000 families in the state of Pernambuco in the last few days.

The occupations have so far been restricted to abandoned land and only on one occasion did the occupiers withdraw after a group of men with guns turned them off the land. Jaime Amorim, an MST coordinator in Pernambuco, said he expects a total of 30 occupations in the state this month.

The group plans to extend its campaign of occupations to the rest of the country through the month of April -- when Brazil's rural poor traditionally step up their struggle to commemorate the killing of 19 MST members in a massacre in April 1996.

The rural poor still hope that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, now more than half-way through his term, will keep his promise to settle 400,000 of their families.

"We still believe in Lula, it's his economic team which is neoliberal," said Joao Paulo Rodrigues, a national coordinator for the MST. "The government has to make a radical change in its land reform policy. Next year there are elections so Lula has to do it now."

The MST promotes land occupations, often on unused farm land, so that Brazil's estimated 4.6 families of landless poor can eke out a living. About one percent of Brazilians control 45 percent of the country's farmland.

Traditional supporters of Lula's Workers' Party, the landless poor had high hopes when he came to power in 2003 after promising to settle 400,000 families during his four-year term.

But at the end of last year only 117,555 families had been settled, according to the government. The MST says just 65,000 have been settled.

The group says the government has let it down in other ways as well, including cutting the land reform budget this year from 3.6 billion reais ($1.37 billion) to 2 billion reais ($760 million) and by limiting credit to poor farmers.

Amorim, who hopes Lula will "continue believing that land reform is important for the country," promised that occupations would continue until the middle of the month when a big protest march is planned in the capital, Brasilia.

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