Jonathan V. Pacheco Rodrigues is a student of economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and member of the Brazilian Center for Solidarity with the Poor (Cebraspo).
In the history of Brazil several peasant revolts have occurred and intense agrarian conflicts have never ceased. The 2014 Annual Report of the Pastoral Land Commission contains 793 complaints of agrarian conflicts, with more than 600 thousand people involved. Peasant organizations fighting a concentrated agrarian structure of large landholdings, which is certainly the main cause of this type of conflict is a constant over many years of history.
Although the law that established the first steps of “land reform” in Brazil (Law 4.504, 1964) remains in force with some alterations, and the 1988 Constitution reaffirms the duty of the state to break up unproductive landholdings, this country continues to have one of the highest concentrations of landownership in the world.
Data from the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) show that out of the whole area of land holdings registered in Brazil in 2014, 47.23 per cent are large farms, while small farms represent only 10.2 percent of the total. Even after the 2002 election of Lula, who always defended land reform in speeches before being elected and had candidates supported by the largest peasant movement in Brazil, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) – there were no significant advances in the distribution of large estates.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government allocated less land then his predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso. In the administration of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, also of the Workers Party (PT), we seen the worst indicators related to land reform in the past twenty years. Facing an agrarian reform project of the State that for 50 years ago has not democratized access to land and has only disappointed the segment of the population expecting effective results, various peasant organizations persist in the struggle for land. Some focus their action on pressuring the state to enforce the law and settle families on land that is not fulfilling a social function.
The League of Poor Peasants (LCP) is one of the leading organizations fighting for land in Brazil. However, it does not focus on the enforcement of land reform, but strives for an “agrarian revolution” to break up the large landholdings. Like other campesino organizations which have suffered from state repression and violence by armed groups in the service of landowners, the LCP has faced the murder of several of its leaders, in the midst of the struggle for land and for the implementation of its program of Agrarian Revolution.
On October 22, 2014, in Pedras de Maria da Cruz,in Minas Gerais state, the peasant leader Cleomar Rodrigues de Almeida, 46, was killed with a shotgun in an ambush near the area where he lived. He was leader of the LCP of Minas Gerais and southern Bahia, another state. Cleomar helped lead the people’s court (as the LCP terms the division among the peasants of the land taken from the large owners) in dozens of areas of the agrarian revolution, and organized along with comrades production of honey in the area where he lived and in 2014 contributed the honey produced by them to help political prisoners and persecuted activists in Rio de Janeiro during the FIFA World Cup.
The death of Rodrigues Cleomar follows a similar script to other assassinations of leaders, where farmers meet with representatives of the State to denounce threats from landowners and gunmen, and regularize their property and are later killed in ambushes. A few days before his murder, on October 9, Cleomar participated in a public hearing with the government, the Public Ministry and the command of the military police, denouncing threats by landowners and involvement of police and a bailiff in attempts to evict peasants from the lands taken by the Agrarian Revolution. Nothing was done.
“He was an example of why we should have no illusions about the State which refuses land and denies water to farmers. Breaking any illusion the public prosecutor denied justice to this comrade. How many times was he threatened? What happened? Nothing! No action was taken. ”
In May 2015, farmers in the area where Cleomar lived and worked opened the Cleomar Rodrigues de Almeida Popular School. The school was built by the farmers themselves and teaches beginning literacy,reading, writing, mathematics and general knowledge. This was a victory for popular organization. Despite the intimidation and terror promoted by large landowners, the LCP remains firm in its goal of seizing all large landholdings independent of the state, and making the Agrarian Revolution in Brazil.