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August 20, 2015

Landless Rural Workers Invade Sugarcane Plantations in Brazil

In addition to low prices and adverse weather, the sugar/ethanol sector in Brazil has one more thing to worry about and that is squatters attempting to occupy some of their sugarcane land. In the state of Sao Paulo alone, 20 sugarcane plantations have been invaded over the last few months by members of the Movement of Rural Workers Without Land (MST). Most of the invaded properties are sugarcane plantations or sugar/ethanol mills that have either declared bankruptcy or are in the process of reorganizing their finances.

It is not just in the state of Sao Paulo where this has occurred, similar actions are occurring in the states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, Goias, and Pernambuco and MST leaders concede that this is part of their national strategy.

MST leaders contend that the Brazilian Constitution is clear on the fate of unproductive land or land that is not being used in an environmental sound manner. They contend that the Constitution deems that the land should be part of agrarian reform and redistributed to landless rural workers. Needless to say, not everyone agrees with their interpretation of the constitution.

The idea of agrarian reform has been simmering in Brazil for decades, but it reached new heights after Lula and his Workers Party assumed the presidency over a decade ago. Members of MST are some of his most ardent core supporters and after he became president, the government embarked on a more aggressive program of agrarian reform. The government has purchased land and redistributed it to landless workers, but the demand for land has far exceeded the supply. The country is now in the midst of a recession, so increasing this program is not feasible, at least at the present time.

Emotions surrounding this entire movement continue to run very high. MST members routinely block major highways in Brazil (sometimes for days) as a way to pressure the government to do more concerning agrarian reform. Owners of the invaded properties contend that their property rights are being violated and they demand that the authorities remove the squatters from their property. The squatters usually move on to other properties because they really don't want the land that they invaded. The invasions are part of their strategy in pressuring the government to do more official land redistribution.