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Farmers Rise Up Against Agribusiness, Face Down Riot Police in Brazil

Nearly twenty thousand march for stronger reforms in 'a country with one of the most unequal distributions of land in the world'

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Military Police creates barrier in from of presidential palace during MST March, Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014 (Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)Thousands of farmers marched on Brazil's capital Wednesday in the face of riot police, tear gas and rubber bullets, demanding justice for the millions of landless farmers they say have suffered for years under the country's agricultural policies.

The farmers, organized by the Landless Workers Movement (MST), numbered around 16,000 in the streets of Brasília where they were confronted by riot police in the city center as they headed towards the presidential palace.

Many of the MST protesters today are angry that President Dilma Rousseff is backtracking from the policies of the past two administrations and allowing "agro-business to undercut chances of land reform."

“Dilma’s government has been the worst in terms of land reform,” said Alexandre Conceicao, a member of MST’s national coordination committee. “She’s done nothing to help Brazil shirk off being a country with one of the most unequal distributions of land in the world.”

MST is marking its 30 years of organizing, protest, and do-it-yourself land reform—decades spent demanding that the government redistribute unused land to farmers in need and occupying large tracts of land when need be.

"Over the past three decades," the Guardian reports, "the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) has fought to settle 'unproductive' plots of land held by the state, banks or big landowners, putting activists in the vanguard of campaigns against monocultures, genetically modified crops, forest conservation and inequality."

"Since 1985," explains the Friends of MST website, "the MST has peacefully occupied unused land where they have established cooperative farms, constructed houses, schools for children and adults and clinics, promoted indigenous cultures and a healthy and sustainable environment and gender equality."

"The MST has won land titles for more than 350,000 families in 2,000 settlements as a result of MST actions, and 180,000 encamped families currently await government recognition," they state.

Coinciding with the March, from Monday until Friday, the MST has been holding its 6th National Congress in the capital to map out strategies going forwards in the fight for land reform.

Rousseff has agreed to meet with a delegation from MST to discuss their demands later this week.

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