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By Beverly Bell
June 23rd, 2011
Bev Bell, a long time Grassroots International ally, recently published the article below, which describes a Learning Exchange program between Brazil and Haiti, supported by Grassroots International. Bev has worked with Haitian social movements, including many of Grassroots International’s partners, for decades. This piece describes the dynamic cross-border collaboration between partners in Haiti and Brazil. Jose Luis Patrola of the Landless Workers Movement puts it well: "We're not here to teach, we're here to learn." He also acknowledged the financial support provided by Grassroots that helped make the Haiti-Brazil learning exchange happen. Perhaps it’s largely true, as noted by Patrola, that social movements have forgotten the concept of internationalism.
In recent years Brazil has enjoyed a reputation for economic vitality and democratic stability. While there is no doubt that there have been improvements from the catastrophic inflation of the 1990s and the military dictatorship of the 60s, 70s and 80s, Brazil still, sadly, ranks high in social and economic inequalities and human rights abuses.
Widespread rural poverty is increasing and the number of landless families is growing. In Brazil, two percent of the population owns 42 percent of the land, much of which lies idle or underutilized or is used for export production that does little to support local economies. A huge peasant population remains landless and lacks access to even the most basic resources.
By Saulo Araujo
April 15th, 2011
The Via Campesina declared April 17 as "International Day of Peasants' Struggles." This day commemorates the 1996 slaughter by the Brazilian police of 19 peasants of the Landless Worker Movement (MST) while they mobilized to gain access to some land. The struggle for recognition of peasant rights remains a priority of the Via Campesina, one of Grassroots International's partners, and they are coordinating hundreds of actions worldwide.
April 17 commemorates the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle for land, water, food and justice.
Gilberto and Natalia Silva are in their mid-thirties. Married and parents of a beautiful little girl, Geovanna, they exude hope for the future. “In life, nothing comes easy,” Natalia says as she works tirelessly in the kitchen. Gilberto nods in agreement from the other corner of the room.
Members of the Brazilian National Forum for Agrarian Reform and Justice announced this week the results of a non-binding referendum about whether the Brazilian government should limit the concentration of land held by individuals and businesses. Voters in 23 states and the capital overwhelmingly agreed that land holdings should be limited.
In the northeast of Brazil, the landscape changes from dry, spiny vegetation to humid, verdant scenery dominated by sugar cane plantations. Driving through villages inhabited mostly by sugar-cane cutters is like winding through a slum in a big city. Barefoot children sell candy beneath the traffic lights, Coca-Cola signs light up bars and open-air sewage gives an indication of the pervasive poverty.
In the middle of a “green desert” of sugar cane (grown mostly for export), from the road I saw two adults and a young boy working in what appeared to be a tiny oasis teeming with lush fresh vegetables that shined from afar.
As part of a larger campaign to support the right to land, this week Grassroots International provided a $10,000 grant to boost education and organizing around a powerful national referendum in Brazil. The referendum, being organized by social movements for the first week of September, probes public opinion regarding the size of land holdings.
Although non-binding, the referendum provides an opportunity for land rights activists to educate voters about the growing problem of landlessness in the countryside caused by the expansion of agribusinesses in peasant and indigenous communities.
Some of the most important lessons I know about grassroots organizing come from the poet Wendell Berry, who advises, “Invest in the millennium; plant Sequoias.”