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date: 04 April 2020

Summary and Keywords

The struggle for land pervades Brazilian history, but it was not until the 1950s that various groups coalesced, thus forging the basis of a national peasant movement. Prior to the military dictatorship, small farmers associations and Peasant Leagues, irrespective of their strategies, had placed agrarian reform in the public spotlight. Since then, the issue has become the driving force for rural social movements.

The 1964 coup violently suppressed these organizations, persecuting peasant and rural labor union activists. At the same time, it created legal mechanisms to make land expropriation viable while giving incentives for massive technological modernization in rural areas. It also encouraged the occupation of frontier zones by corporations. Such initiatives aggravated the land issue in the country in areas of recent and historical occupation rather than alleviating it. By the late 1970s, new actors emerged, putting land disputes back onto the political arena: landless workers, rubber tappers, small farmers, squatters, and the indigenous peoples. New organizations emerged, sometimes in opposition to rural workers’ unions, which performed a relevant role during the dictatorship while at other times working from within them. One of these emerging actors was the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra, MST), which stood out nationally and internationally due to its innovative approach in terms of strategies such as land occupations and encampments, and in the late 1990s by building networks with other organizations worldwide, as is the case with the Via Campesina. In parallel to that, family farmers also became politicized as they demanded public policies through union organizations to survive in a rural environment controlled by large entrepreneurs.

Keywords: land struggles, agrarian reform, peasantry, rural trade unions, peasant movement, Peasant Leagues, MST

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