RIO DE JANEIRO - Demonstrators in dozens of cities
throughout Brazil and around the world marked International Day of
Farmers' Struggle on Tuesday, protesting police massacres of rural
workers, genetically modified seeds, and agricultural trade that
jeopardises food security.
In one major mobilisation, some 2,000 landless peasants and
small farmers blocked the international bridge in the border city
of Uruguaiana, in southern Brazil, to halt imports of farm
products from Argentina.
Brazilian farmers are forced to sell their maize at prices 25
percent less than production costs, or they have to store it,
because of the heavy volume of the same grain imported during the
local harvest season, complained the protesters, who say they
intend to hold the bridge for three days.
Members of Brazil's Landless Movement hold crosses during a demonstration in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife April 17, 2001, marking the fifth anniversary of a police massacre of 19 rural workers. Landless workers, trade unions and Roman Catholic Church groups have called for a day of protests to remember those killed in the 1996 massacre in which police opened fire on farmers demanding land in the remote Amazon state of Para. REUTERS/Teresa Maia/Diario de Pernambuco
In Carazinho, 450 km northeast of Uruguaiana, another thousand
people - mobilised by the powerful Movimento dos Sem Terra (MST -
landless workers' movement) - gathered outside a dairy processing
plant of the Italian transnational Parmalat, preventing the firm's
administrators from entering the site.
MST targeted Parmalat as one of the corporations favoured by
the Brazilian government's agricultural policy.
One demonstrator explained that a dairy farmer in southern
Brazil today receives 20 percent less per litre of milk produced
than in 1994, while the price has more than doubled for consumers.
Parmalat and its Swiss counterpart, Nestlé, pay just 15 cents
on the dollar for every litre of milk produced in the developing
South, compared to the 48 cents per litre paid to European
farmers, but their prices are nearly the same in supermarkets
everywhere, pointed out Joao Pedro Stédile, an MST leader.
The protests on this ''day of the farmer'' aim to denounce
cheap food imports, which hurt the domestic agricultural sector,
to defend sovereign policies on food security and to condemn
agricultural commerce regulated by the World Trade Organisation
The peasant farmers and rural workers want to abolish the WTO
rules that, for example, force developing countries to import up
to five percent of their domestic consumption of agricultural
Farm production destined for export, a dynamic required by the
globalisation process and adopted by the Brazilian government,
''only benefits the big producers'' and harms small farmers and
agrarian reform, charged Gilmar Mauro, another MST leader, as he
led protests in Sao Paulo.
Protesters threw rocks, eggs and tomatoes at a McDonald's
restaurant - another symbol of the neoliberal globalisation
process - in Campo Grande, a capital in Brazil's central-west,
where an estimated 3,000 activists gathered, including rural
workers from neighbouring Paraguay.
MST reports indicate that peasant farmers and rural workers in
dozens of countries took part in demonstrations Tuesday promoted
by 'Vía Campesina,' a movement founded in 1993 that unites more
than 80 peasant and farm organisations.
In Europe, protests focussed on genetically modified seeds, but
also served to express solidarity with agrarian reform movements
in developing countries and to condemn violence against peasant
April 17 was chosen as International Day of Farmers' Struggle
because it was on this date in 1996 that police assassinated 19
landless rural workers during a protest in Eldorado do Carajás, in
Of the 19 victims, 13 were killed with hatchets and scythes
after having their hands tied, according to the MST, which
organised that fateful march.
Now, five years later, peasant protests throughout the state of
Pará, where Eldorado do Carajás is located, condemned the fact
that not one of the 154 military police who participated in the
massacre has been brought to justice.
One case did reach the courts in 1999, absolving the three
commanders of the operation, but the trial was annulled due to a
series of irregularities in the proceedings.
Landless peasants in southern Brazil, who have lived in
encampments for the last several years as they await the
implementation of agrarian reforms, blocked numerous roads for 19
minutes - to commemorate the 19 people killed in Eldorado do
The protests throughout the country were mostly peaceful, and
did not involve the takeover of government offices, as officials
had feared. In some states, such as Mato Grosso do Sul,
demonstrations in the cities were preceded by weeks-long marches
through rural areas and smaller towns.
The impact of this ''day of the farmer'' on the international
arena was quite limited, despite the numerous events in Brazil,
and indicates that turning April 17 into a date as powerful as May
Day (International Labour Day), or March 8 (International Women's
Day), will require a great deal of mobilisation and coordination
of the rural workers' movements around the world.
It is a date created 110 years after International Labour Day -
a tribute to industrial workers - and is intended as a response to
the neoliberal globalisation process that threatens to eliminate
small farm production, according to organisers.
But the efforts to consolidate April 17 as International Day of
Farmers' Struggle occur at a time when the world's rural
population has been greatly reduced, except in some areas of Asia
Copyright 2001 IPS