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The Sights and Voices of Dispossession: The Fight for the Land and the Emerging Culture of the MST (The Movement of the Landless Rural Workers of Brazil)


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The Struggle for land: Dispossession, journeys, occupation, eviction


MST, São Paulo
(Editor of the archive: Else R P Vieira. Translator: Bernard McGuirk. Reproduced with the permission of the MST, São Paulo.)


Roots of the Land


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1. "If we take the constitution, regarding the question of land use, article numbers 185/186, what does it say? First, the land must be productive, with a minimum production of 80%. Further, it must have 20% left as natural reserve and also must meet labour laws. So, in our understanding, addressing this question of the social function of the land, if we have a government serious enough to tackle this issue, it is possible to achieve agrarian reform and it is possible to settle all the landless not only here in Paraná but also in all of Brazil, that is about 4.8 million families. "

2. "It's as follows: we've already set foot in the Promised Land. So, comrades, those who've already untied their feet at the entrance can now feel certain, can now feel that they own the land. There is now one question, comrades, it's us that have to organize effectively in order to guarantee this land."

3. "Look, the Movement, in my view, is something very important for Brazil. I see no government policy that moves in any way seriously in the direction of rehabilitating the citizens, the struggle for citizenship. For, in reality, it is a Movement that has led its participants to take up such a responsibility."

4. "That's when the difficulties began, first as a lack of work, of food. Water was more or less two kilometers from the encampment, and had to be fetched by bucket. Very difficult, under a hot sun, you get back burnt to the marrow by the sun, in that heat, like fire!
It was a long way away, difficult to get to, the town was 26 kilometers away and just to get the bus you had to walk 12 kilometers, passing through gunmen, so it was a very big hassle."

5. "There were 220 families without resources, without the means to live, with nothing. There I really experienced hunger. Hunger to make you weep, everyone like this and no solution. People ate cashews, they were in agony, they sucked sugar-cane, but there was no way people could put up with the hunger."

6. "Everyday people could not eat, sleep, the children didn’t have the freedom to sleep with the men nagging us. And on the day of eviction, they came on horseback, they brought dogs, everything imaginable to massacre us… There was a gunman."

7. "I have orders to carry out and I'll do it whatever the cost. I carry out my boss's orders."

Roots of the Land
This film, produced by the MST, initially mentions articles from the Brazilian Constitution that give rise to the understanding, on the part of the Landless, that non-productive latifundia do not fulfill the social function of the land as prescribed by law, thus showing the process of occupation as a form of access to the land and a way of pressurizing the government to carry out agrarian reform. The internationally renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado makes a statement on the importance of the Movement in terms of its participants taking on responsibilities, once the government, thus far, has not undertaken to rescue the citizenship of the landless. Images and various interviews show the difficulties of life in the encampments as well as the vulnerability, constant threats and extreme discomfort faced by their inhabitants. At the same time, forms of organizing cultural activities to rehabilitate rural traditions are sought. In a striking moment, the film shows a scene of eviction of the encamped landless and a confrontation with the police. The song "Acampamento" / “Settlement”, composed and sung by Chico Buarque de Hollanda, signals the transition to a new phase, that of the land already conquered and the start of a new life in the settlements, in terms of collective production and distribution, the system of cooperatives, social organization, housing and children’s education.


November 2002

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Project Director & Academic Editor: Else R P Vieira
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Last updated: July 5th 2016