Thousands protest Brazil’s agrarian reform policy

BRASILIA, Aug 20, 2012 (AFP) – Thousands of landless peasants, indigenous militants and small farmers on Monday protested what they see as the failure of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government to push for agrarian reform.
“Agrarian reform has been frozen for two years,” Joao Pedro Stedile, head of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) — Brazil’s largest social movement — told reporters in a city park where protesters were camping.
“The government is not meeting the needs of small farming but instead keeps promoting the interests of the powerful agribusiness sector,” he noted.
He complained that since Rousseff took power in January 2011, her government has ignored the demands of rural workers.
“We don’t agree with this policy which keeps the people in poverty,” said William Clementino, of the National Confederation of Farm Workers, calling for a “genuine agrarian reform with means, incentives and technology for small farmers.”Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian groups with rights to land settlements slammed the government for recently approving measures that encroach on their rights and clear the path for more energy and farming projects by outside interests on their lands.
In Brazil, less than three percent of the 191-million-strong population owns two-thirds of the land, and more than half the farmland lies idle.
MST works throughout the country to gain greater access to land for the estimated four million homeless, landless and jobless peasant farmers.
The conflict over land — with homeless peasants on one side, and landowners’ armed thugs and the police on the other — has been rife in Brazil for decades.
It has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 landless peasants. Landless and rural people are also facing malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, sanitation and basic health or education services, their supporters say.
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