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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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Studies, statements & references -> Terra: The Photography of Sebastião Salgado 16 resources (Archive edited by Else R P Vieira. Photographs © Sebastião Salgado)

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Sebastião Salgado


Prologue to the section The struggle for the land

Tens of thousands of Brazilian families live in encampments along the high-ways in various parts of the country. These are families of the landless who have generally come together to form veritable cities, sometimes containing over 10,000 inhabitants.

Conditions of life are very rudimentary. Everything is lacking: water, food, sanitary facilities, schools for the children, medical attention, etc. In addition, the people live in the greatest insecurity, subject to provocations and violence from jagunços, or hired gunmen, and other forces of repression organized by the estate owners, who fear the occupation of their unproductive lands by the landless. In reality, the situation in these ‘cities’ of the landless is worse than in refugee camps in Africa, for they cannot depend upon any protection from the authorities, they do not receive the slightest institutional assistance and neither the United States nor any humanitarian organization comes to their aid.

In any case, the disinherited of the earth nurse the hope of better days. And one thing is certain: they no longer wish to flee to the cities that cannot absorb them, provide them with jobs or the conditions of a life of dignity. Shielding themselves from the threat of delinquency and prostitution in the large urban centres, they prefer to remain in the encampments along the highways and await the opportunity to occupy the land so long dreamed of, even at the risk of their lives. The plan of each one is identical: to work a piece of land that will finally be his own, to build a house for his family, to guarantee its support and, through the cooperative to be created, sell the surplus of his agricultural production, ensuring the maintenance of the school for his children. In synthesis, this is the common dream of the landless.

Salgado,Sebastião. Terra: Struggle of the Landless. Preface by José Saramago. Verses by Chico Buarque. Translated by Clifford Landers. London: Phaidon Press, 1998, pp. 141. Thanks to Sebastião Salgado for providing free use of his photographs and captions on this web site. For further information about the photographs and captions contact


November 2002

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