BRASILIA, Brazil - Thousands of poor rural
workers held protests across Brazil on Tuesday demanding the
government deliver land and funding the workers said they had
Starting at the presidential palace, about 1,000 protesters
from the radical Landless Movement, or MST, marched past
government buildings in Brasilia, while members of the group
held similar peaceful protests in 23 Brazilian states.
The group has set up makeshift camps on the large
government esplanade in Brasilia where they will remain for 40
days to press their protests, said Joao Paulo Rodrigues, an MST
leader in Brasilia.
A protester lays down on a Brazilian flag to protest against government labor policies in front of the presidency building in Brasilia September 4, 2001. Hundreds of labor unionists, students and members of Brazil's Landless Movement (MST) demonstrated against government labor policies and clashed with police just a stones' throw from President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's third floor office at Planalto Palace. REUTERS/Jamil Bittar
The MST, one of Brazil's few strong social groups,
advocates illegal occupation of unused farmland for poor rural
workers in this country where a handful of the rich own the
vast majority of arable land needed to make a living.
``We have almost 85,000 families camped out and waiting for
land to work, while families that were already settled have no
credits (funding) to cultivate anything,'' Rodrigues said.
''There is an explosive situation in the countryside.''
Rodrigues said leaders of the movement had met with
Agrarian Reform Minister Raul Jungmann in recent days but he
''did not meet our requests, so we decided to protest.''
According to a statement from the group, the government has
not freed up funds for settling the landless because of new
commitments to meet strict fiscal targets agreed with the
International Monetary Fund.
The MST said the government has cut the budget for land
reform to $520 million last year from $1.12 billion in 1997.
Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's government
strongly defends its record on land reform, saying it is the
government that has given most land to the poor since Brazil
returned to democracy in 1985 after 20 years of dictatorship.
The government said it gave land to 482,206 families
between 1995 and 2000.
Protests by Brazil's landless have periodically led to
violent confrontations with the police. In the most violent in
recent times, 19 rural workers were killed by military police
during a land occupation in the Amazon in 1995.
Copyright 2001 Reuters Ltd