This text was first published as a preface to the book Vozes da marcha
pela terra [Voices from the March for Land(1)], which gathers the
life-stories of 16 people who took part in the Grand National March for
Agrarian Reform, Employment, and Justice, whose columns, coming from every
corner of Brazil, arrived in Brasília on April 17, 1997. The author, one
of the founders of the MST and current member of the National Directorship,
draws attention to the importance of listening to the individual anonymous
voices of those who, albeit not leaders, are also involved in the struggle for
Much has been said and written, for and against, about the struggle for
agrarian reform; about its economic viability; about the historical trajectory
of the peasant movements and their leadership; about the need to overcome the
overwhelming concentration of land in our country; about the economic, social,
and political power of the rural landowners; about the promising results
obtained by the settled families. There has been no lack of reports on the
various governments that always promise to make agrarian reform, as demagogues,
but never achieve it.
Running the risk of appearing contradictory, it is exactly because it has
never been achieved that agrarian reform writes one of the richest pages of the
history of our country. The struggle of the rural workers to liberate themselves
from the oppression of the latifundia and to make access to the land more
democratic has been the source of notable events in our history, from the
arrival of the Portuguese to the present day: the struggle of the indigenous
peoples to avoid being enslaved or physically and culturally exterminated;
nearly four-hundred years of the struggle of black people against the bonds of
slave labour; the sustaining pillar of the great farms; the heroic courage of
the backland people led by Antônio Conselheiro in the Northeast, and of
the peasants of Contestado in the south of the country; the achievement of the
Peasant Leagues, which so frightened the elites of this country simply by
organizing and fighting for the right to work on the land, free from the
humiliations of the mill-owners. These are only a few examples of the historical
struggle of our people against the latifundia.
Now, after being forgotten for a long period, the struggle for agrarian
reform has returned to take up space in the media and in the discussion of the
central problems of our country. Contrary to the statements of many scholars and
specialists, who considered the agrarian question already resolved, and breaking
through the blockade of information imposed by the elites, the debate on
agrarian reform is once again present on the national scene.
There are those who think that the attention obtained today by agrarian
reform is only a passing wave, the result of the popularisation of the theme
thanks to a television serial(2). For the government, it is simply a matter of
the clamour made by some small groups opposing it. Many try to underestimate it
by saying that it has no political motivation, as if agrarian reform were not an
essentially political problem. They forget that, behind the struggles, the
protests in the square, the long marches, beneath the black plastic of the
encampments, there are lives. Lives that have suffered from hunger and cold.
Lives threatened by the murderous weapons of the latifundia and the
arbitrariness of the police. Lives marked by the pain of hearing the cry of a
hungry child. Lives that were deprived of access to health, education, and the
benefits provided by scientific and technological advances. Lives silenced by
the social exclusion to which they were submitted for five-hundred years of our
But behind the struggle for agrarian reform there are also lives joyful at
seeing their children write their first letters of the alphabet. There are
hopeful lives that dream of the first planting, the first harvest, the first
table laden with food. There are lives that feel the solidarity of receiving
visits, incentives, gifts from those who share the same dream of seeing agrarian
reform work. There are courageous lives that have no fear of cutting the barbed
wire of the latifundium, the only alternative for a glimpse of better
days for their families.
With so many lives, how can one imagine that the struggle for land is a
passing fad or political manipulation? It may be that the space on the media is
a passing thing, since, like the land, the means of communication are almost all
concentrated in the hand of the conservative elite, greedy for wealth and power,
completely identifying with the interests of the landowners.
The stubbornness of our people, the need to satisfy the basic conditions of a
dignified life and the certainty that it is possible to build a democratic,
socially just and egalitarian Brazil, guarantees us that the struggle for
agrarian reform will only cease when the ownership of land is made truly
There are lives in the struggle for land. There are voices. Voices that often
seem to come only from the leaders who get space in the media, in debates, in
public demonstrations. They are the amplifiers of the voices of the encampments,
of the marches, of struggles and victories.
These Vozes da marcha pela terra [Voices of the March for Land]
are the historical record of those who really make history: the anonymous
workers, our militants of agrarian reform.
The life-stories of the people interviewed are the best defense that can be
made for agrarian reform. In them, we find the dramas, the victories, the joys
and sorrows, the courage and the fear of those who struggle, the challenges that
were overcome, the pride of taking part in the struggle for companionship,
solidarity, and the identity forged in the life of a camp, the daring to defeat
How can one not be moved by the story of these fighting men and women? How
can one remain unmoved before the song composed by Cristiane, 14 years old: "I
am a child and I know how to think. I have rights and I will demand a dignified
life"? How can one not admire the courage of Maria José, who does not
hesitate to say: "if I have to die in the struggle, I will die. But I am not
leaving here with a bowed head"? How can one not be moved on learning that
Lúcia, 23 years old, "is filled with happiness on feeling that she is the
cause of a better life for her family, and daily lives in common with people who
believe and love"? This is the struggle for agrarian reform. These are the
people who are carrying out the struggle.
The interviews are fundamental for those who want to understand what the
struggle is, what the fuel is that moves these people, what their dreams are.
They are indispensable material for those who want to quench their thirst at the
fount. These stories exhale the smell of the earth, of the people, of life.
But the testimonies of these interviews are not only intended for those who
want to know and understand the struggle for land. The interviews are also
fundamental for those who are already a part of the struggle. They are
testimonies that serve as incentive and encouragement. They are witnesses of a
life that make us certain that we are on the right path and that victories are
rewarding. They are the certainty that each militant in the struggle for
agrarian reform will find in these pages the necessary incentive to continue the
struggle. They are the life history of our struggling people.
The wealth of these stories would be compromised, however, if they fell on
insensitive ears. The interview was not limited to asking questions and
collecting the answers. It had the merit of capturing the feelings, of knowing
how to listen and respect the characteristics of each person interviewed. The
interaction between interviewer and interviewee has resulted in a collection of
testimonies on life, which is not a mere pile of interviews. In this detail,
too, lies the wealth of this book.
The book will surely be of great importance for agrarian reform to reach
broad sectors of society and attract a larger number of sympathizers and
militants to our struggle. We are grateful to all who have contributed in some
way to the making and publishing of this precious historical document.
(1) Ed. Andrea Paula dos Santos, Suzana Lopes Salgado Ribeiro, José
Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy. São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 1998).
Produced by the Department of History of the University of São Paulo.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
(2) The author refers here to the television serial 0 Rei do Gado [Cattle
King], produced by the Globo Network in 1996, which treated the theme of
agrarian reform and the MST.
Editor Note:The author graduated in Economics from the Pontifícia
Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, with post-graduate course at
UNAM (Mexico). Assisted the Pastoral Land Commission. One of the founders of the
MSTand current member of the National Directorship. Author of Questão
agrária no Brasil [The Agrarian Question in Brazil] (São Paulo:
Atual Editora, 1997), A luta pela terra no Brasil [The Struggle for Land in
Brazil], with Frei Sérgio (São Paulo: Scritta, 1993), A reforma
agrária e a luta do MST [Agrarian Reform and the Struggle of the MST]
(Petrópolis: Vozes, 1997), Brava gente: a trajetória do MST e a
luta pela terra no Brasil [Brave People: the Trajectory of the MST and the
Struggle for Land in Brazil], with Bernardo Mançano Fernandes (São
Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 1999).